Monday, 24 December 2007

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

After 11 months of being in London, I'm finally back in sunny Singapore for a well-earned (I think) Christmas and New Year's break. Even though its not a white christmas - i mean its sunny and 30 degrees celsius out - I'm spending it with my folks and that's what's its all about, isn't it? I'll probably be absent from my blog the next two weeks so here's wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I promise to be back in the new year with more cooking and baking adventures! Till then, eat well!

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Baking for Christmas

Since my previous experiment with shortbread, I've been looking for an excuse to bake another batch and try to make them a little crisper. I've finally found one in the Eat Christmas Cookies blog event hosted by Susan.

This time around, I've chosen to make a chocolate version studded with chocolate chips for everyone can use with an extra dose of chocolate over Christmas. Since I'm also serving this at a small party we've having where there'll be some kids, I figured the extra dose of chocolate would make this cookie more kid-friendly.

Although this recipe also uses rice flour (similar to the corn flour used in the last one), the proportion of rice flour to regular flour is much less which makes the resulting cookie slightly crisper - just what I was looking for. Additionally, the baked cookies slice easily into clean pieces as long as you do it while its still warm. The only difficult thing is deciding how big or small to make each piece. I know which way I'm going at my party - large, hearty pieces that could be a meal in and of themselves! After all, it just wouldn't be the same without a little bit (or a lot of) overindulgence during the holidays.

Intensely Chocolate Shortbread
From ChocolateChocolate

2 3/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup rice flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups plus 3 tbsp confectioners' sugar
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
2 tbsp granulated sugar, for sprinkling on the baked shortbread

Preheat the oven to 325F. Have 2 fluted 8 1/2-inch round tart pans (each 1 inch deep, with a removable bottom) at hand.

Sift the all-purpose flour, rice flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder onto a sheet of waxed paper.

Cream the butter in the large bowl of a freestanding electric mixer on moderately low speed for 2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat on moderately low speed for 2 minutes. Blend in the vanilla extract. On low speed, blend in half of the sifted dry ingredients, a little at a time, then the chocolate chips. Blend in the remaining sifted mixture, mixing until the particles of flour are absorbed. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl frequently to keep the dough even-textured.

Divide the dough in half. Place half of the dough in the tart pan and press it into an even layer with your fingertips; repeat with the remaining dough. Prick each shortbread dough round with the tines of fork in 12 to 15 random places.

Bake the shortbreads in the preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until firm and set. Remove the shortbreads from the oven to cooling racks and immediately sprinkle the surface of each with granulated sugar. Cool for 15 minutes.

Carefully unmold each shortbread, keeping it on the base. cut into 10 triangular shaped pieces while still warm, using a serrated knife or chef's knife; cool. Or, cool completely and break the shortbread into rough pieces. Store in an airtight tin.

Makes 2 8-inch cookies, creating 10 pieces each

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Beef Rendang

I love curry and like many people, I used to make them using the widely available curry pastes in the market. But since I first gave it a try, I have to say that there's something satisfying about making your own curry paste from scratch. So as far as possible, I try to do exactly that although sometimes, when in a crunch, I will still use the ready-made stuff. In particular, I find the Mae Ploy brand from Thailand unbeatable. In fact, when I took cooking classes in Bangkok, the chefs there even recommended that we use it.

For dinner this past weekend, I chose to make a Beef Rendang, a curry that originated from Indonesia and is traditionally made with buffalo. The hallmark of this curry is that the gravy is extremely thick, almost dry even. This is one of M's favourites and it is one of the rare times that I ever see him order red meat.

If you can find the ingredients, making the spice paste is not hard at all. I suppose if you were to remain true to tradition you would make this using a mortar and pestle. I'm not one to shun modern conveniences, however, so I whipped mine up in a food processor. If you do the same, the active preparation time is only 15 minutes or so and the rest of the time the rendang just simmers slowly in its pot. You have to be careful towards the end, though, as when the curry dries, it is prone to scorching. Thus, it is prudent to stir constantly when the rendang is almost done.

The rendang is delicious with a side of rice or even some crusty baguette which you can use to soak up the sauce.

Beef Rendang
From Shiok!

1 kg rump or stewing steak, cut into large chunks
800 ml coconut milk
3 stalks lemongrass
6 lime leaves
4 slices galangal (blue ginger)
1 tsp salt

Spice paste
5 tbsp freshly grated coconut
8 dried chilies, soaked till soft
2 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp minced ginger

To prepare the spice paste, fry coconut in a dry wok over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until light brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Grind with remaining spice paste ingredients until fine.

Combine spice paste with all the beef and other ingredients in a large heavy-based pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, partially cover and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until beef is tender and gravy is very thick and shiny with oil. Serve hot.

Serves 2-4

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Green Papaya Salad

Anyone who's ever been to Thailand or a Thai restaurant for that matter, has probably had som tum, or green papaya salad. As in common in many Thai dishes, som tum is a mixture of salty, sweet, sour and spicy which makes it a perfect appetizer, in my opinion. The combination of flavours seems to open up your palate, as if to prepare you for what's to come.

I'm a huge fan of Thai food, in general, and this salad, has got to be one of my favourites across all cuisines. I've made it several times for dinner parties and its always well received. The best thing is, its really not that hard to make either. Finding some of the ingredients outside of Asia can be challenging but since Thai food is so popular globally, its becoming increasingly common to be able to buy things like lemongrass stalks and galangal (also known as blue ginger).

If you've never tried this, I highly recommend it. Watch the chilies though, they can get really spicy!

Green Papaya Salad (Som tum)
From Green Mangoes and Lemon Grass

3-4 cloves garlic
4-6 red or green bird's-eye chilies
2 tbsp dried prawns, soaked to soften
2 tsp sugar
1 small tomato, diced
2 long beans or green beans, cut in 2cm lengths
1 unripe green papaya (about 300g), peeled and shredded
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
2-3 tbsp coarsely crushed dry-roasted peanuts

Divide the garlic, chilies, and dried prawns into 2 batches. Put half into a mortar, add 1 tsp of sugar into a mortar and pound until well broken up. Add half of the long beans and pound a little to bruise, then add half of the chopped tomato and pound a few times just until they are broken up. Add half the papaya to a mortar, a little at a time, pounding until lightly bruised. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and repeat with the remaining garlic, chilies, dried prawns, sugar, tomato, beans, and papaya.

Add the fish sauce, lime juice, and peanuts to the bowl of papaya mixture, tossing to mix well. Taste and add a little more lime juice, fish sauce, or sugar if you like, and serve immediately.

Serves 4-6

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Oodles of noodles

You may think that since I am Chinese, it is only natural that I love noodles, but actually, my love affair with noodles didn't start till I was an adult. I was an extremely finicky eater as a child and I loved rice but would hardly touch noodles. Nowadays, I find that its often the reverse. I often order noodles but seldom eat rice anymore.

One of our favourite casual places to eat here in London is Wagamama, an Asian noodle bar that started here in London but now has 80 restaurants around the world. Inspired by our frequent visits, I searched the web for an Asian noodle recipe and came up with this Soy Chicken with Soba Noodles. Although the original recipe called for pickled ginger, I opted to leave this out as I am not much of a fan.

True to its source, the noodles were delicious. On top of that, they were quick to make - 15 to 20 minutes tops. A perfect, easy-to-make meal to add to the weekday repertoire.

Soy chicken with soba noodles
Adapted from delicious.

1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp rice vinegar
4 x 150g skinless chicken thigh fillets
250g soba noodles
2 tsp sesame oil
3 spring onions, thinly sliced

Heat an oiled chargrill or barbecue to medium-high. Whisk soy, sugar, mirin and vinegar in a bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Reserve marinade and cook chicken on barbecue or grill for about 4 minutes each side until cooked through.

Meanwhile, cook noodles according to packet instructions, then drain. Toss with the sesame oil and all but 2 tbsp of the spring onion.

Bring marinade to boil in a small pan.

Simmer on medium heat for 2-3 minutes until thickened. Place noodles in bowls with thickly sliced chicken and sauce.

Garnish with reserved spring onion.

Serves 4

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Scottish Treats

I have been a shortbread fanatic ever since I was a kid. I remember vividly the boxes of Walkers shortbread that always came in festive hampers in Singapore. Usually, I find that the contents of these gift hampers usually leave much to be desired but Walkers shortbread, for me, was the exception. These were what I would always plead with my parents to open the hamper for.

Interestingly enough then, since I started baking heavily, I have never attempted to make my own shortbread. No real reason, I suppose, other than the fact that there are just too many recipes to choose from. Having recently been on a short trip to Edinburgh, where I had a fantastic shortbread at the Edinburgh castle, I was inspired to finally attempt my own.

Comparing the various recipes that I found in my books, I finally settled on this one from Tartine which uses cornstarch to make the shortbread very tender. Other recipes that I saw either omitted this or used rice flour instead of cornstarch.

The two main things that concerned me about making the shortbread were excessive spreading of the cookie and being able to cut the shortbread cleanly without breaking them. Thankfully, neither of them really posed a problem. I got around the first issue by baking my shortbread in a rectangular fluted tart pan, which meant there was really no way they could spread sideways. As for the second, I followed the recipe's instructions to slice them while still warm, but to remove them from the baking dish only after the shortbread had been thoroughly chilled (I left mine overnight in the refrigerator, wrapped well with clingfilm).

Seeing as it was my first attempt at shortbread I was extremely happy with the results. The cookies did indeed have a tender and crumbly texture. I must say though that I prefer my shortbread with a bit more crunch. Next time then, I'll try a recipe without the cornstarch. If you like melt-in-your-mouth cookies though, this one's for you.


From Tartine

255g unsalted butter, very soft
1/2 tsp salt
255g all-purpose flour
75g cornstarch
70g granulated sugar
55g superfine or granulated sugar for topping

Preheat the oven to 325F. Butter a 6-by-10-inch glass baking dish (or baking dish of your choice with approximately the same dimensions).

Place the butter in a mixing bowl. The butter must be very soft - the consistency of mayonnaise or whipped cream. Add the salt to the butter and mix well with a wooden spoon or whisk so that it dissolves completely before you add the rest of the ingredients. Sift the flour and cornstarch together into a bowl. Add the granulated sugar to the butter and mix until just combined. Add the flour mixture and mix just until a smooth dough forms.

Pat the dough evenly into the prepared baking dish. The dough should be no more than 2/3 inch deep. Bake until the top and bottom are lightly browned, about 30 minutes. The middle of the shortbread should remain light. Let cool on a wire rack until warm to the touch.

Sprinkle the shortbread with the superfine or granulated sugar. Tilt the dish so that the sugar fully and evenly coats the surface and then tip out the excess sugar. With a very thin, sharp knife, cut the shortbread into rectangular fingers about 1/2 inch wide and 2 inches long. If the cookies have become cold they will not slice well, so they must still be warm to the touch at this point. Chill thoroughly before removing from the baking dish.

The first cookie is difficult to remove, but the rest should come out easily with the aid of a small, thin offset spatula. The cookies will keep in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 2 weeks.

Makes one 6-by10-inch pan, about sixty 2-by-1/2-inch bars

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Healthier cookies... or so I tell myself

I'm a big fan of Alice Medrich's Bittersweet so when her new book, Pure Dessert, came out several months ago, I knew I had to get myself a copy. Even though I was drooling while eagerly flipping through it upon its release, it wasn't until this past week that I finally got around to trying one of the recipes.

Given the number of must-try recipes in this book I was hard pressed to pick just one. Ultimately, however, I settled on what I think are healthier cookies - whole wheat sables. In truth they are just as laden with butter as any other cookie but the dough is half made of whole wheat flour and whole wheat is good for you, isn't it?

Instead of just making plain sables, I chose to use one of the suggested variations and added cacao nibs to my cookies to add a delightful crunch. Even as the cookies were baking in the oven I could tell from the buttery aroma that permeated the air that these were going to be good. In her book, Alice Medrich describes them as "meltingly tender, butter cookies with the nutty flavor of whole wheat" and they were exactly as advertised. Fresh from the oven my cookies were, thin, crispy, crumbly and mind-blowingly buttery. They are supposed to be even better the next day but the cookies almost didn't last till then. Thankfully I managed to restrain M and myself from eating them all so that we had enough to serve as a welcome treat for M's brother and his wife who were visiting from New York the next day.

Nibby Whole Wheat Sables

From Pure Dessert

1 cup all-purpose flour
Scant 1 cup whole wheat flour
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk the all-purpose and whole wheat flours together. Set aside. In a medium bowl, with the back of a large spoon or with an electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar, salt and vanilla for about 1 minute, until smooth and creamy but not fluffy. Mix 1/4 cup cacao nibs into the creamed butter. Add the flour and mix just until incorporated. Scrape the dough into a mass and, if necessary, knead it with your hands a few times, just until smooth.

Form the dough into a 12 by 2-inch log. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or, preferably, overnight.

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Use a sharp knife to cut the cold dough log into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place the cookies at least 1 1/2 inches apart on the lined baking sheets.

Bake until the cookies are light golden brown at the edges, 12 to 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and fron to back halfway through the baking. Let the cookies firm up on the pans for about 1 minute, then transfer them to a rack with a metal pancake turner and let cool completely.

The cookies are delicious fresh but are even better the next day. They can be stored in an airtight container for at least 1 month.

Makes about 48 2-inch cookies

Monday, 26 November 2007

The Daring Bakers Strike Again

One of the best parts of being part of the Daring Bakers is that it forces me to make recipes that I would not otherwise have picked but end up really loving (like last month’s Bostini Cream Pie) or those that are out of my comfort zone. This month’s challenge was just that. The recipe for the month, hosted by Tanna, was Tender Potato Bread and bread is definitely not my forte. Sure, I’ve made bread before but it has tended to be of the no-knead variety made popular by Mark Bittman.

This month then I got to confront my inner bread demons and take on the challenge of making bread with potato which I’m told makes the dough softer and slightly harder to handle. Our host for the month helpfully suggested that newbies to bread not use more than 8 oz of potato and since I definitely fall into that camp, I measured out my potato to weigh exactly that.

As warned, the dough was indeed extremely soft and sticky to start. With patient kneading and the slow addition of flour though, the dough became increasingly easier to manage and less sticky. Still, I’m no expert and I must say I was relieved when it came time to put the dough away to rise. I chose probably the easiest, though no less satisfying shape – a regular loaf.

While the loaf was baking in the oven, I was really happy to see how impressively it had risen. Whenever I’ve made no-knead bread, my bread never really rises up that high because I use a dutch oven that’s just way too big for the mass of dough. What that means is that I tend to get great tasting bread that makes short, wide sandwiches! This time, as you can see from the pictures posted here, I finally baked bread that looks like a traditional sandwich loaf. Taste-wise I was also extremely happy with the bread. To me, the most noteworthy feature of this bread was the texture of the crumb which I found exceedingly soft and moist. I’ll definitely be adding this delightful bread to my baking repertoire and thanks once again to the Daring Bakers for showing me that baking really doesn’t have to be that hard.

PS: You can check out the results of all the other DBers here.

Tender Potato Bread
From Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World

4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup whole wheat flour

Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.

Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well.

Measure out 3 cups of the reserved potato water (add extra water if needed to make 3 cups). Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread in – directions will be for by hand. Let cool to lukewarm – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.

Mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes.
Then mix in 2 cups of all-purpose flour and mix. Allow to rest several minutes.

Sprinkle on the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly.

Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated.

At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups suggested by the recipe.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft.

As a beginner, you may be tempted to add more flour than needed. Most/many bread recipes give a range of flour needed. This is going to be a soft dough. At this point, add flour to the counter slowly, say a ¼ cup at a time. Do not feel you must use all of the suggested flour. When the dough is soft and smooth and not too sticky, it’s probably ready.

Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky.

Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.

To shape the large loaf:

Butter a 9X5 inch loaf/bread pan.

Flatten the larger piece of dough on the floured surface to an approximate 12 x 8 inch oval, then roll it up from a narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and gently place seam side down in the buttered pan. The dough should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume.

To make a small loaf with the remainder:

Butter an 8 x 4 inch bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.
Makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf and something more; one 10X15 inch crusty yet tender foccacia, 12 soft dinner rolls, or a small pan loaf

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Chinese Wraps

One of my favourite Chinese dishes from back home is a Peking duck meat lettuce leaf wrap. This is often served when you order a Peking duck in a restaurant and after having consumed the skin, they will use the meat from the duck to make this dish. There are many variations on this dish, some using chicken, others using squab or another kind of meat.

Since pork mince is more readily available in the supermarkets here, I decided to make a version with pork instead. As some of you may recall, this is actually a dish that I served when M's parents were here to visit. At that time, I forgot to take a picture of the dish but since it was such a hit, I have been looking for another opportunity to make it. The opportunity finally arose two nights ago after a particularly easy day at work. It was definitely as good the second time around. Maybe even better!

Minced Pork in Lettuce Wraps
Adapted from Shun Lee Cookbook

8 oz minced pork
1 1/2 tsp egg white
1 tsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
vegetable oil, for passing through

2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp cornstarch

4 celery ribs, string removed, finely diced (1 cup)
4 scallions, white and green parts, trimmed and minced (3/4 cup)
3 carrots, finely diced (1/2 cup)
1 tsp dark sesame oil
2 tsp hoisin sauce
8 whole Bibb or iceberg lettuce leaves
2 tbsp lightly toasted pine nuts

To prepare the pork, place the diced pork in a medium bowl. Add the egg white, cornstarch, and salt; toss to coat.

To prepare the sauce, whisk the soy sauce, vinegar, rice wine, sugar and white pepper in a small bowl. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1 tbsp water in another small bowl. Set the bowls aside.

Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough oil to come 1 inch up the sides of the wok and heat it to 300F. Add the pork and stir gently, keeping the pieces from sticking together, until they turn white, about 45 seconds. Using a wide wire mesh skimmer, transfer the pork to a colander to drain. Discard all the oil except for 2 tablespoons.

Heat the wok with the oil over high heat. Add the celery, scallions, and carrots, and stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 45 seconds. Return the pork to the wok. Stir the sauce, add it to the wok, and stir-fry for 20 seconds. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir-fry until the pork is cooked through and the sauce has thickened, about 30 seconds. Stir in the sesame oil. Transfer the pork mixture to a serving bowl.

To serve, spread about 1/4 tsp hoisin sauce in the center of each lettuce leaf. Add 3 tbsp of the pork mixture, and sprinkle with a few pine nuts. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings

Monday, 19 November 2007

Pumpkin Harvest

Since my previous experiment with pumpkin turned out so well, I’ve been looking for opportunities to use pumpkin in my baking. If I lived in the US, this wouldn’t be a problem since pumpkin features so heavily in Thanksgiving cooking. Thankfully, Sugar High Friday comes to the rescue as the theme for the 37th SHF is The Beta Carotene Harvest. This episode is hosted by Leslie of Definitely not Martha. I very nearly missed the announcement altogether but am glad that I found it just in time to squeeze in an entry this past weekend.

Looking through my treasure trove of recipe books, I found a scrumptious sounding recipe in a book that I really like but haven’t made anything from recently. That’s the problem when you have over 100 cookbooks fighting for your attention and not enough time to try all the recipes and not enough stomachs to feeds.

This time, rather than pairing pumpkin with the traditional mix of spices such as cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, the recipe simply calls for pumpkin and orange juice. Yet, although surprising simple, I found the cake exceedingly flavourful. I think I’m really starting to develop a love for all things pumpkin. Best part is since this cake is called a breakfast cake, I feel like I’ve been given the green light to substitute this for my daily bowl of cereal.

Pumpkin and Orange Breakfast Cake
From In the Sweet Kitchen

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp finely grated orange zest
3 large eggs, two of them separated, all at room temperature
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9-inch fluted tube pan and set it aside. Cream the butter, sugar and orange zest together until light and fluffy. Add the whole egg and the two egg yolks, one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Beat in the pumpkin puree.

Sift together the flours, baking powder an salt. Add to the pumpkin batter in three or four stages, blending gently but thoroughly after each. Stir in the final addition of dry ingredients by hand if you have been using a mixer, so as not to overwork the batter. In a clean, small bowl, whip the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Fold into the batter, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface. Bake in the centre of the oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is springy when lightly touched, the sides are beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan and a wooden skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and cool completely.

This cake keeps very well for several days, well wrapped, and it freezes beautifully for up to 2 months.

Makes 10 servings

Thursday, 15 November 2007

One good turn deserves another

I had my first chausson aux pommes just 2 years ago when we were taught to make it during pastry school at Le Cordon Bleu. I remember thinking at that time that these were great, but for some reason, I haven't made any of my own since then. I guess that's mostly because it involves making puff pastry from scratch which is a hard thing to do properly in the heat of Singapore. Now that I'm in London, however, I figured it was high time that I got reacquainted with the pleasures of homemade puff pastry.

Since I've been reading so much about Pierre Herme's inside-out puff pastry, I decided to give it a try. Apparently, its supposed to be much easier to handle than regular puff pastry even though the bulk of the butter is on the outside of the dough. Sounds counterintuitive, right? I was a little skeptical when I embarked on this mission but I reasoned that the man whom some hail as the Picasso of pastry can't be wrong.

Of course, he wasn't. Even though most of the butter was on the outside, the dough was surprisingly easy to handle, probably because its a relatively sturdy dough. The hardest part of making it was really just planning your day around the time that the dough is required to rest in between turns.

Once the dough was completed, making the turnovers was a cinch. Were they as good as I remembered? Absolutely! In fact, its impossible to stop at just one. So, at least in this context, the old adage, one good turn(over) deserves another, holds true.

Chausson aux Pommes (Apple Turnovers)
Adapted from The Secrets of Baking

For the apple filling:
4 Fuji or other apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 tbsp unsalted butter

1 recipe puff pastry (I used Pierre Herme's inside-out puff pastry)

For the egg wash:
1 large egg
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp water

1/2 cup sugar

Toss together the apples, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla seeds, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat until it turns a light nutty colour, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the apple mixture and saute until the apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the cooked apples to a baking sheet to cool completely before forming the turnovers. After they have cooled, the filling can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

On a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll the Puff Pastry out to 1/4 inch thick. Using a large, round, fluted cutter, cut out circles of dough. Use a rolling pin and lightly press down on the cutter of each circle, creating an oval shape.

Egg wash
Whisk together the egg, salt, and water in a small bowl.

Place a spoonful of filling into the center of each oval (amount depends on the size of your cutter). Using a pastry brush, apply a thin coat of water to the lower half of the oval. Fold the top of the dough down and press to seal the edges together. At this point, the turnovers can be frozen, wrapped tightly, for up to 1 week.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Place a rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Carefully transfer the turnovers to the prepared baking sheet, placing them 1 inch apart. Brush a light coat of egg wash onto each turnover, then sprinkle each with a pinch of sugar.

Bake the turnovers for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan from back to front, turn the oven temperature down to 350F, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until puffed and golden brown. Serve the turnovers warm or cool and store in an airtight container for up to 24 hours.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Childhood pleasures

Back in Singapore, I used to make ice cream a lot as the equatorial climate meant any day was a perfect day for ice cream. Since moving to London, however, I can count the number of times I've churned ice cream on one hand. To me, save for a few days a year, its just never quite warm enough to eat ice-cream in London. M, on the other hand, begs to differ. Ice cream is his hands-down favourite treat and if its sitting around in the refrigerator, its almost guaranteed never to live to see another day.

Since M has been working really hard again, I decided to surprise him with some homemade ice cream, in his favourite flavour no less - Mint-Chocolate Chip. We also purchased the UK equivalent of Magic Shell and some dark chocolate mint flavoured Cadbury fingers as toppings for the ice cream. Apparently, the combination of Magic Shell on ice cream was THE special treat in M's household growing up and though it was slightly disconcerting to see a grown man so excited by a bottle of chocolate sauce, its nice to know that some things never change.

Mint-Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp peppermint extract
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
Pinch of salt
90g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tsp canola oil

In a heavy 2-qt saucepan, combined the mik, 1 cup of the cream, and the peppermint extract. Cook over medium heat until bubbles form around the edges of the pan, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 20 minutes to steep.

Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks, sugar, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup cream in a bowl. Whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup of the warm milk mixture into the egg mixture until smooth. Pour the egg mixture into the pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and keeping the custard at a low simmer, until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and leaves a clear trail when a finger is drawn through it, 4-6 minutes. Do not let the custard boil. Strain through a fine -mesh sieve into a bowl.

Place the bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice cubes and water. Stir occasionally until cool. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

About 1 hour before freezing the ice cream, melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water. Stir the chocolate until it is melted, then stir in the oil. Transfer to a small pitcher. Let cool to room temperature.

Pour the custard into an ice-cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. When nearly frozen and the consistency of thick whipped cream, add the chocolate while the machine is churning or stop the machine temporarily, add the chocolate, and restart to mix. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days, before serving.

Makes about 1 quart

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Back to cooking again

If you've been following my blog, you've probably noticed that I haven't posted many dinner recipes as of late. Instead, most of my posts have been dessert or baking related. Reason is, I haven't been doing all that much cooking lately as M has been working late most nights. Since cooking for one is not much fun, I've just decided to skip it all together.

Yesterday, being Friday, M finally had an early night. As such, I decided at the last minute to get back in the kitchen and whip up a home-cooked meal again. To make up for many nights of eating poorly, I decided to make something relatively healthy and that we both like a lot - salmon.

This time, the salmon was marinated in a mixture of red miso, ginger, soy sauce and mirin and then cooked under a grill. The result is a salmon that is incredibly tender and which just flakes off with the prod of a fork. I chose to serve mine with a side of broccoli and wild rice but I think this would work just as well with other Asian greens or even noodles.

Glazed Salmon

From Bill's Food

1/3 cup mirin
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp grated ginger
2 tbsp red miso
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
4 salmon fillets (each 6 0z), skin on
oil, for greasing

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
2 tsp sugar

to serve:
1 tsp black sesame seeds

Stir the mirin, soy sauce, ginger, miso, sugar and lemon juice together in a bowl until combined. Put the salmon in a shallow dish, pour the mixture over it and marinate in the fridge for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

To make the dressing, bring the ingredients to the boil in a small saucepan, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until syrupy or like thin caramel.

Heat the grill. Remove the salmon from the marinade and place with the skin side down in a lightly oiled, non-stick, ovenproof frying pan. Cook under the hot grill for about 7 minutes, or until the fish is still pink in the centre and is nicely coloured.

Sprinkle the salmon with the black sesame seeds and drizzle with some of the dressing. Serve with a side of greens and steamed rice, if you like.

Serves 4

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Cupcake treats

Cupcakes, in my opinion, make a perfect treat. First, they're small and dainty, which lets you believe you're not eating too much, even if they generally come laden with frosting. Second, because they come in individually sized portions, they're so much easier to share with friends. Thus, when thinking of what to make for my colleagues at work this week, I settled on coconut flavoured cupcakes with a marshmallow pink frosting.

The problem with cupcakes, however, is that they're a bit tricky to transport. If you live in the US, then you can easily get your hand on Oneida's cupcake carrier which not only makes it easy to transport 24 cupcakes without ruining their perfect frosting but the bottom layer of the carrier is also a muffin pan which you can use to bake directly in. Sadly, this nifty little gadget is not available in London although I have seen poor imitations in the market. Since I refuse to settle for anything but the best, I am to this day, cupcake carrier-less.

Still, my cupcakes survived the extra-crowded tube journey to work with decidedly little damage and just like I thought, provided the perfect little pick-me-up for those universal Monday blues.

Coconut Marshmallow Clouds
From Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook

For the coconut cakes:
3/4 cup shredded coconut
2 1/3 cups plain flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
3 egg whites, extra
200g softened unsalted buter
1 3/4 cups castor sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup coconut milk

Preheat oven to 170C. Line two 12-hole muffin tins with cupcake papers.

Using an electric food processor, process the coconut until very fine - about 3 or 4 minutes. Add coconut to a bowl with sifted flour, salt and baking powder. Mix until evenly combined.

In a separate bowl combine eggs and egg whites. Do not beat.

In another bowl, cream the butter for 1-2 minutes. Add the castor sugar a third at a time, beating for 2 minutes after each addition. After the last addition, beat until the mixture is light and fluffy and the sugar has almost dissolved.

Add the eggs a quarter at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.

Add a third of the flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Add half other coconut milk and beat until combined. Repeat this process. Add the remaining third of the flour mixture and beat until thoroughly combined; do not over-beat as this will toughen the mixture.

Spoon mixture into cupcake papers, filling each about three-quarters full. Bake for 18 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from the trays immediately and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before frosting.

For the marshmallow frosting:
3 egg whites
480g white sugar
3 tsp light corn syrup
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
150 ml water
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
Pink food colouring

In a metal bowl combine the egg whites, sugar, corn syrup, cream of tartar and water. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water) and beat continuously with a hand-held electric mixer until the mixture is light and fluffy and forms soft peaks. Take the bowl off the heat and add the vanilla and a few drops of pink food colouring. Whisk the mixture until it forms stiff peaks.

To assemble:

Pipe the frosting in a circular motion, starting around the edge of the cupcake, to form a soft-serve ice-cream effect. Top each cupcake with edible sprinkles.

Makes 24 cupcakes

Monday, 5 November 2007

A whirlwind of a weekend

M's parents were in town this weekend and it was a lot of fun for both M and myself. Although I've been up to Sweden a few times this year, it has always been in conjunction with some kind of event (e.g., weddings) which sometimes means that in the midst of all the frantic activity, there is not that much time to talk. This weekend, thus, felt like the first time that we got to spend "quality" time together since M and I got engaged.

Although the weekend is not a long amount of time, I feel like we were extremely active and got a lot done. My favourite activities of the weekend were afternoon tea at The Capital and finally getting to watch Wicked after years of desperate wanting to see it. My verdict on the musical? Absolutely worth the wait. In fact, it is probably one of my favourite musicals of all time.

Food, of course, featured heavily as well. Besides afternoon tea, we took them to Eight over Eight, a pan Asian restaurant in Chelsea, for dinner. M's parents were also kind enough to bring 1.35 kg of candy for M. If you know any Swedes then this probably doesn't surprise you. At least as of 2001, Sweden topped the world for non-chocolate candy consumption.

Our new stash of candy!

To cap off the weekend, we also hosted M's parents at our home for a home-cooked meal. Now, I must admit that preparing this meal caused me a fair amount of stress. M's parents have been readers of my blog and until Sunday, had never tasted any thing I've made. Thus, I felt under some pressure (all self-inflicted of course) to serve them a good meal. Besides, I didn't want them to think that I couldn't keep their son well fed.

So, I planned a four-course Chinese dinner that would be capped off by an Asian-inspired dessert and some homemade fortune cookies. All in all, I made minced pork in lettuce wraps, poached sea bass, lily in the wood (bok choy with dried chinese mushrooms) and kung pao shrimp. Dessert was a molten chocolate cake with a matcha (green tea) filling. Since I had also spent the afternoon baking, we also had a second dessert course - coconut cupcakes with marshmallow frosting (more in another post).

Unfortunately, in my haste to get dinner served, I didn't get any good pictures so you'll have to take my word for it. (That's what you get for being too lazy to set up the tripod). The photo you see above of the lily in the wood was the only picture I managed to take that was non-blurry. Despite the lack of photographic evidence, however, it was, for me anyway, an evening to remember.

Lily in the Wood
From Shun Lee cookbook

Vegetable oil, for passing through, plus 2 tablespoons
12 Chinese dried black mushrooms, soaked in hot tap water until softened
1 cup chicken stock
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp oyster sauce
12 boy choy hearts
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp dark sesame oil

Bring a medium saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat, and keep it at a low boil.

Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough vegetable oil to come 1 inch up the sides of the wok, and heat it to 300F. Add the mushrooms and gently stir until they are shiny and glossy with oil, about 1 minute. Using a wide wire-mesh strainer, transfer the mushrooms to a colander to drain. Discard the oil.

Return the wok to high heat. Mix 1/2 cup of the stock with the soy sauce, rice wine, 1 tsp of the sugar, and they oyster sauce in a small bowl. Add to the wok, and return the mushrooms to the wok. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce has reduced by half, about 2 minutes.

While the mushrooms are simmering, prepare the boy choy: Return the saucepan of water to a boil, add the bok choy, and cook until crisp-tender, about 1 1/2 minutes. Drain in a colander.

Heat another large wok or a large skillet over high heat. Add the 2 tbsp vegetable oil and heat until shimmering. Add the boy choy and the remaining 1/2 tsp sugar, and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the remaining 1/2 cup chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Dissolve the cornstarch in 3 tbsp cold water in a small bowl. Stir half the cornstarch mixture into the mushrooms, and stir the remaining half into the bok choy. Add the sesame oil to the mushrooms. Transfer the bok choy to a serving platter, and arrange in a circular pattern with the leafy tops in the center. Place the mushrooms in the center of the bok choy and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Pretty pumpkin patch cakes

Happy Halloween! In celebration of this candy laden holiday, I've ventured into the unknown and made something, for the first time ever, with pumpkin. Yes, I lived 10 years in the US but have never eaten, much less made, a pumpkin pie or anything like that. So, in the spirit of crossing yet another item off my culinary to-do list, I decided to bake little pumpkin patch cakes.

Truth be told, the choice of what to make was made much much easier by the acquisition of a beautiful baking pan by Nordicware in the shape of little pumpkin halves. I bought this at Williams-Sonoma, a store which I absolutely adore. I lament everyday the fact that I did not take more advantage of it when I was living in the US but if I ever move back to America, it will be because of this store. No kidding. In fact, whenever I travel to the States now, I always return with a suitcase full of things that I have picked up from Wiliams-Sonoma. This pan was one of those things that I lugged back to London at the risk of overweight baggage and all.

Since the pan bakes up the pumpkins in halves, one can choose to assemble the cakes into whole pumpkins with a layer of frosting in between (as shown above) or simply serve them as is as little tea cakes of sorts. As the assembled pumpkin turns out to be fairly large, I decided to assemble half of them and leave the rest as is. For those who don't have a special pumpkin shaped pan, don't let that deter you. I used some of the excess batter in a regular muffin pan and it turned out really well. The frosting can then be used to frost the muffin, like a cupcake.

I was pressed for time while making these but I think the pumpkins would do well with some icing decorations such as little leaves or tendrils. Despite the plainer look though, the cake was absolutely delish. A little big to hand out to trick-or-treaters, perhaps, but they'd definitely work well at a Halloween or Thanksgiving party.

Pumpkin Patch Cakes
From Williams-Sonoma

530g all-purpose flour
2 3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
2 1/4 tsp salt
5 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 3/4 tsp freshly grarted nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
220g unsalted butter
375g firmly packed light brown sugar
410g granulated sugar
4 eggs
250ml milk
395g pumpkin puree

For the frosting:
250g cream cheese
125g unsalted butter
125g confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Food colouring as desired

Have all the ingredients at room temperature.

Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 350F. Generously grease and flour the wells of the pumpkin patch (or muffin) pan; tap out excess flour.

To make the cakes, over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the brown and granulated sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with te flour. Beat each addition just until incorporated, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the pumpkin puree and beat until incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer.

Divide half of the batter between the wells of the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted near the center of a cake half comes out clean, 18 to 22 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cake halves cool upright in the pan for 15 minutes.

Gently tap the pan on a work surface to loosen the cakes. Invert the pan onto the rack and lift off the pan. Let the cakes cool completely before decorating. Wash and thoroughly dry the pan, grease and flour the wells and repeat with the remaining batter.

Meanwhile, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the butter and beat until combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in food coloring as desired.

To assemble the cakes, using a bread knife, cut off any portion of each cake that rose above the rim of the pan. Place a cake half, flat side up, on a cake stand or plate and spread the frosting on top. Place its matching cake half, flat side down, on top. Repeat with the remaining cakes. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then decorate as desired.

For unassembled cake halves, decorate the exterior of each half as desired.

Makes 24 cake halves or 12 assembled cakes

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Steaming hot

As the weather turns colder here in London, I find myself often craving a bowl of hot soup. So this weekend, I decided to make a simple noodle soup for dinner. The dish I chose was a variation on laksa, which is a popular spicy noodle soup from Peranakan culture.

I find traditional laksa to be somewhat heavy as it is usually made with coconut milk. The version I chose to make, courtesy of Bill Granger, is much lighter given that it substitutes the majority of the coconut milk with chicken stock instead. While I added chicken and eggplant to my laksa, feel free to mix it up and use things like shrimp or bok choy instead.

Light Laksa

Adapted from this book

1 tsp peanut oil
1 tbsp red curry paste
4 cups chicken stock
150 ml coconut milk
2 kaffir lime leaves, plus thinly sliced leaves to garnish
3 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
500g boneless chicken breasts
soft brown sugar and lime juice, to taste
150g rice noodles, soaked in hot water and drained
1 medium eggplant

Cut the eggplant into thin (5mm) slices and place under a grill for 7-8 minutes. Take out to cool.

Heat the peanut oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the stock, coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves and ginger.

Increase the heat to high and bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat to very low, add the chicken, cover the pan and poach the chicken gently for 7 minutes, or until just cooked through. Remove the chicken and set aside to cool slightly, then shred.

Season the soup with the brown sugar and lime juice, to taste. Divide the rice noodles, shredded chicken, eggplant and bean sprouts among four large bowls. Pour in the hot soup and garnish with thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves.
Makes 4 servings

Monday, 29 October 2007

Another month, another challenge done

Its been a month since I first wrote about the Daring Bakers, the online baking group that I've become a member end, and since its the month end, it means that its time to unveil the challenge for October. The host for this month's challenge is Mary and she's chosen a Bostini Cream Pie to be the recipe for the month.

Now prior to reading about this month's challenge, I had absolutely no idea what a Bostini Cream Pie is. Thanks to the Daring Bakers, not only do I know what it is and how it is made, but I also know what it tastes like and its good. Seriously good.

Bostini Cream Pie is probably one of those desserts which I would never have ordered on my own accord in a restaurant (just because my tendency is usually to head for something that is pure chocolate) so I'm thankful that this challenge forced me to try it out because I got the opportunity to discover something new.

Now for those of you still wondering what I'm talking about, Bostini Cream Pie was created by Donna Scala and Kurtis L. Baguley of Bistro Don Giovanni and selected as the San Francisco Chronicle's best recipe of 1996. It was created to be a take on the famous Boston Cream pie and is really more of a cake than a pie. It is composed of an orange chiffon cake sitting on top of a rich vanilla custard and covered with a warm gooey chocolate glaze. Sounds good, eh? Trust me, it is!

If you're looking for something to serve at your next dinner party, look no further. This will definitely wow your guests but be forewarned, it is incredibly rich. The recipe uses a grand total of 14 eggs so maybe you should just skip right to dessert.

Bostini Cream Pie

(from Donna Scala & Kurtis Baguley of Bistro Don Giovanni and Scala's Bistro)


Custard (Pastry Cream) 3/4 cup whole milk
2 3/4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 whole egg, beaten
9 egg yolks, beaten
3 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar

Chiffon Cake 1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 1/3 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup beaten egg yolks (3 to 4 yolks)
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup egg whites (about 8 large)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Chocolate Glaze 8 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces unsalted butter


To prepare the custard (pastry cream): Combine the milk and cornstarch in a bowl; blend until smooth. Whisk in the whole egg and yolks, beating until smooth. Combine the cream, vanilla bean and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into the egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the custard and pour into 8 large custard cups. Refrigerate to chill.

To prepare the chiffon cakes: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray 8 molds with nonstick cooking spray. You may use 7-ounce custard cups, ovenproof wide mugs or even large foil cups. Whatever you use should be the same size as the custard cups.

Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, zest and vanilla. Stir until smooth, but do not overbeat.

Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten whites into the orange batter. Fill the sprayed molds nearly to the top with the batter.

Bake approximately 25 minutes, until the cakes bounce back when lightly pressed with your fingertip. Do not overbake. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When completely cool, remove the cakes from the molds. Cover the cakes to keep them moist.

To prepare the glaze:
Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place the butter in a saucepan and heat until it is just about to bubble. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir to melt. Pour through a strainer and keep warm.

To assemble:
Cut a thin slice from the top of each cake to create a flat surface. Place a cake flat-side down on top of each custard. Cover the tops with warm chocolate glaze. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 generous servings

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Death by chocolate

Death by chocolate is an oft used phrase and for me, a chocoholic through and through, it conjures up images of the most sinful, decadent, chocolicious dessert imaginable. Every chocoholic probably has his/her own definition of what that dessert might be but for me, I'd have to say its the simple brownie - nothing fancy.

Just like people are split into two camps on chocolate chip cookies - those who prefer them chewy vs those who prefer then crispy - brownie lovers are also similarly divided. Those who like them fudgy vs those who like them more cakey. And don't even get me started on the topic of nuts.

I have just 2 requirements for my brownies. One, they absolutely must be fudgy. In fact, the gooier the inside the better. Two, they should contain as must chocolate as possible. There are probably many recipes that will satisfy those criteria but few probably contain as much chocolate as the Three-Chocolate Brownies from Emily Luchetti of Stars fame. These brownies contain no fewer than 5 different types of chocolate: unsweetened, cocoa powder, bittersweet, milk and white! So if you need a chocolate fix, look no further. Chocolate sauce anyone?

Triple Chocolate Brownies
From Classic Stars Desserts

Butter for the pan
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
4 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz white chocolate, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
2 oz milk chocolate, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan.

Melt the unsweetened chocolate in a double boiler until just melted but not hot.

Put the butter an sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the eggs two at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the melted chocolate and the vanilla and mix until incorporated. Reduce the speed to low; add the white, bittersweet, and milk chocolate pieces and mix to distribute evenly. Mix in the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and walnuts (if using). Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out with a moist crumb, about 30 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Cut into 16 squares, each about 2 1/4 inches square.

Makes 16 brownies

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Another trusted Chinese cookbook

My last post centered around one of my favourite Chinese food cookbooks and I thought I'd share with you yet another. This one is not so much one cookbook but a set of 3 and they are titled Xi Yan I, II and III. Xi Yan, which translates into banquet dinner, is actually a private kitchen which originated in Hong Kong in 2000. Unlike a regular restuarant, Xi Yan dictates many rules for its diners including what time they should eat (there is only 1 seating time per night), how many people should eat (a minimum table size of 6) and what they should eat (there is no menu per se - the chef serves whatever he feels like). Despite this, due to the quality and innovativeness of the food, Xi Yan has enjoyed immense popularity with waiting lists in Hong Kong as long as 6 months.

The food at Xi Yan is based in Chinese cuisine but is also influenced by the different cuisines of East and South-East Asia. It is this creative genius, I believe, that has been at the heart of Xi Yan's ascent in the culinary world. Since its humble origins back in 2000, Xi Yan now also has a branch in Singapore and has plans to open in Shanghai, Taipei and Tokyo. I've had the good fortune to dine at the Singapore branch and I must say that I was blown away. From simple dishes such as Momotaro tomatoes in a wasabi sesame sauce to more unusual dishes such as Shisamo (pregnant fish) in chili oil, the freshness and quality of the ingredients always shone through.

Xi Yan is the brainchild of Jacky Yu who spent 19 years working in advertising before deciding to make a radical change in career. This gives me some hope that maybe its not too late for me to consider a switch in career afterall!

Dumplings before cooking

Sichuan Dumplings in Chili Oil
From Xi Yan

20 pieces wanton wrap
300g pork shank (minced)
diced spring onion

seasoning 1
1 tsp salt
ground white pepper

seasoning 2
3/4 cup ginger and spring onion juice

chili sauce 1 (makes 8 servings)
8 tbsps dark soy sauce
2 1/2 tbsp Zhenjiang black vinegar
4 tbsp cold boiled water
2 tbsp sugar

chili sauce 2
1/3 tsp finely chopped garlic
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
chili oil
diced spring onion
ground Sichuan peppercorn

Mixed minced pork with seasoning 1. Add seasoning 2 and keep stirring until the mixture is sticky. This is the filling for the dumplings.

Wrap some filling in each piece of wanton wrap.

Pour 1 1/2 tbsp of chili sauce 1 in a bowl. Add chili sauce 2 and mix well.

Bring water to the boil. Put in dumplings and cook until they float. Remove from heat and drain. Transfer to the bowl with chili sauce and sprinkle diced spring onion on top. Toss the dumplings in chili sauce and serve.

NB: To make ginger and spring onion juice, put 1 cup of water, 1 small piece of thinly sliced ginger and 3 sprigs of spring onion (shredded) in a big bowl. Squeeze with hands to extract the juice. Discard ginger and spring onion and reserve the juice.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Eggplant with garlic sauce

In keeping with my recent craving for foods from home, I have been reaching with regularity for the Chinese food cookbooks on my shelf. One which I have used with some frequency is the Shun Lee cookbook from the restuarant of the same name in the Big Apple. When I used to live there some years ago, I only ever went to eat there once, preferring to wander into Chinatown instead whenever I needed my Chinese food fix. Still, the book is a treasure trove of good Chinese recipes and everything that I have tried from it so far has turned out good.

This time, I chose to make eggplant with garlic sauce, another dish of Sichuan origin. In order to up the heartiness quotient of the dish, I decided to tweak it slightly by adding some minced pork. The results were surprisingly good and were reminiscent of a ma po tofu. Even M, who isn't big on eggplant, turned out to be a fan.

Eggplant with Garlic Sauce
Adapted from Shun Lee cookbook

4 small Japanese eggplants (about 1 pound total), trimmed
1/2 pound minced pork
Vegetable oil

for the sauce:
2 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp distilled white vinegar
1 tbsp rice wine
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1 tbsp cornstarch

1 scallion, white and green parts, trimmed and minced
1 tbsp peeled and minced fresh ginger
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
I tbsp hot bean paste
1 tsp hot chili oil
1 tbsp dark sesame oil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Keep the water at a simmer. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and place it near the stove.

Using a sharp knife, lightly score the skin of the eggplants in a crosshatch pattern, with the lines about 1 inch apart. Halve or quarter the eggplants lengthwise to make sticks about 1/2 inch wide. Cut the sticks into 2-inch lengths.

Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough oil to come about 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the wok, and heat it to 325F. Working in batches without crowding, add the eggplant to the oil and fry until it softens but still holds its shape, about 45 seconds. Do not overcook. Using a wide wire-mesh strainer, dip the eggplant briefly in the hot water, then spread it out on the paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, wiping the strainer dry after each frying. DIscard all but 2 tbsp of the oil from the wok.

Saute the minced pork in a frying pan until cooked and set aside.

To begin the sauce, mix the soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, rice wine, and white pepper in a small bowl, and set it aside. Dissolve the cornstarch in 3 tbsp cold water in another small bowl, and set it aside.

Return the wok with 2 tbsp of oil to high heat. Add the scallion, ginger, and garlic, and stir-fry until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the hot bean paste and the soy sauce mixture and stir-fry for 15 seconds. Add the eggplant and minced pork, then stir-fry until the sauce is boiling and the eggplant and pork are hot. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir until the sauce thickens, about 10 seconds. Add the hot chili oil and stir-fry for 10 seconds more. Add the sesame oil and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Happy Birthday Dad!

Its my dad's birthday together and since I can't spend it with him personally, I'm taking the opportunity to wish him "Happy Birthday" with this cake that I made for him. Like me, my dad has a sweet tooth. (Unlike me, though, my dad has, for most of his life, been blessed with an amazing metabolism which means that it takes a quite a lot for him to put on any weight.) As such, I'm sure he would love this cake which is made of dark chocolate cake layers, a decadent white chocolate filling and then glazed with a generous layer of thinned dark chocolate ganache. Appropriately, the cake is called Blanc et Noir.

Although the cake has quite a few components to it, it is a relatively easy cake to make. The trickiest parts are handling the cake layers as they tend to be very moist and delicate, and getting the glaze to go on smoothly. Unfortunately, although I managed to cover the whole cake, I had a few small air bubbles on the surface of my glaze which though not fatal, does slightly mar the appearance of the cake. This is somewhat made up for by the marbling effect that is created with the white chocolate on the dark glaze - an easy technique that produces impressive looking results.

Since I can't share the cake with you, Dad, in person today, I'll make this for you another time. Hopefully, it'll turn out perfect. In the meantime, M and I have been enjoying this incredibly rich cake all of today.

Happy birthday again, Dad! I hope you're having a great day.

Blanc et Noir
From Pure Chocolate

White-chocolate ganache filling:
1/2 cup heavy cream
8 oz white chocolate, finely chopped

Noir cake layers:
8 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
5 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar
Dark-chocolate ganache glaze

White chocolate for writing:
2 oz white chocolate, roughly chopped
2 tsp vegetable oil

to make the filling
In a saucepan, heat the cream over medium-high heat just until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat and add the white chocolate, stirring until the chocolate is smooth and melted. Pour into a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap touching the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Let the ganache set up at least 12 hours or overnight at room temperature.

to make the cake

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 300F.

Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch quarter sheet pan and line with parchment paper. Then lightly butter the parchment paper.

In a double boiler melt the chocolate over low heat. Remove the boiler top when the chocolate is nearly melted and continue stirring until completely smooth. Add the softened butter in 3 parts, stirring until no visible traces of butter remain. (If the butter begins to melt and separate, stop and allow the chocolate more time to cool.) The finished mixture should be glossy and smooth. Set aside to cool until the mixture is the consistency of softened butter. Briefly return to the double boiler if it begins to thicken too much.

In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks with half the sugar at medium-high speed, increasing to high speed until pale yellow and tripled in volume, 5 to 6 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the mixer. With a rubber spatula fold in the melted chocolate mixture. The mixture should be smooth and glossy.

Clean the whisk and in another clean bowl begin whipping the egg whites on medium-high speed, increasing the speed and allowing them to become quite frothy. Slowly add the remaining sugar and continue whipping until the peaks are stiff and creamy.

Lighten the chocolate mixture by quickly folding in a quarter of the whites until smooth and no traces of white remain. Then gently fold in the remaining whites in 3 parts, trying not to overmix and lose the volume. Evenly spread the batter into the prepared pan. The pan will be two-thirds full.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. The cake will rise above the edges of the pan, and a light crust will form on top. A cake tester inserted in the center will have a few moist crumbs.

Let the cake cool in the pan at room temperature for 10 minutes. Then chill until thoroughly cold, 4 hours or overnight. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap if chilling for longer than 4 hours. (The layer can be wrapped in plastic once cooled and placed in freezer up to a week prior to assembly.)

to assemble the cake
Have ready the white-chocolate ganache filling.

To remove the well-chilled cake from the pan, run a thin-bladed knife around the edges. Place the bottom of a baking sheet over the cake and invert. Remove the parchment paper.

Place the filling in a mixing bowl. It should be the consistency of softened butter. (If not thick enough, stir and let sit longer to thicken.) With a whisk attachment or using a hand-mixer, mix on high speed until the ganache is lighter in colour and texture and soft peaks form, 2 to 4 minutes. Stop several times and scrape down the side of the bowl.

Using a ruler and the tip of a paring knife, mark the cake in thirds across its width. Cut the cake with a serrated blade into 3 approximately 4-inch-wide sections.

Place one chilled layer of the cake on the serving plate or on a 4-by-8-inch cardboard cake board. With a metal spatula, spread half of the white ganache filling on the layer. Top with the second chilled cake layer and spread with the remaining filling. Top with the last chilled cake layer.

Using a thin-bladed knife, trim the sides of the cake. Let set in the refrigerator at least 1 hour.

to finish the cake

Make the dark-chocolate ganache glaze.

Pour about 1/4 cup of the glaze into a small bowl and place in the refrigerator to chill for approximately 25 minutes. Set aside the remaining ganache to cool about 30 minutes, gently stirring occasionally until it thickens and ribbons off the end of the spatula, 80-85F.

Meanwhile, make white chocolate for writing.

to make writing chocolate
In a small bowl over simmering water, melt the chocolate. Remove from the heat, add the vegetable oil, and stir with a spatula until smooth. Set aside.

With an offset spatula, thinly coat the top and sides of the finished cake with the 1/4 cup chilled ganache glaze. Transfer to a cooling or pouring rack positioned over a rimmed baking sheet.

Slowly and evenly pour the rest of the glaze around the sides of the cake, being careful to cover all the corners. Then pour the remaining glaze down the center using a metal spatula to spread the glaze evenly over the top, letting the excess run down the sides. Before glaze sets, decorate.

Pour the writing chocolate into a small parchment paper cone. Pipe 3 thin white parallel lines, 1/4 inch apart, lengthwise, down the center of the cake over the soft glaze. Working quickly, with a toothpick draw small figure eights crosswise through the ganache and white stripes all along the cake's length.

Chill for 1 to 2 hours to set. Remove half an hour before serving. Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

serves 12 to 18