Thursday, May 29, 2008

L'opéra est un succès!

I was so excited with the announcement of this recipe for May that I immediately churned fantasies of how my process will be. I’d make this cake with Pavarotti playing in the background, remember the Parisian opera cake I had last year with my favourite friends, and perhaps celebrate a special occasion with this cake.

Well, this was a very, very good cake indeed. My opera cake did have a touch of brown however. I used almond meal that was ground from unblanched almonds – I had a lot left over from a previous recipe, and really had to use them up. And then I ran out of white sugar and decided to use brown sugar for the syrup. For the flavouring, I kept it really simple – just real vanilla all the way through with a touch of orange flower water.

I didn’t make the cake with Pavarotti in the background. The weather wasn’t great over the last weekend – in fact, it was downright dreary. I was filled with doubt about whether I could pull this cake off. There’s something intriguing about my baking exploits – on some level, I’m sure it’s possible, but that feeling is never quite as loud and resonant as that part of me that’d focus on the seemingly endless layers and components and steps as if they were insurmountable obstacles.

Therefore, I decided to break the challenge up into two temporal parts. I made the syrup, joconde, buttercream and ganache the night before, and assembled them the next morning for this gathering that I was going to. This was a good idea, except I ended up not being able to distinguish the buttercream from the ganache in the morning!

When I got to the venue with the cake, the ganache started slip-sliding off the cake. It did look a mess, but the taste made up for it. I was getting heaps of compliments for the cake - and it once again reminds one how gratifying it is to make a good cake. Because it is an offering to your friends!

I think being in DBB has changed my baking mental framework forever. Why ever bake for yourself when you can be baking for everyone else?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

When the sum of the parts is not tastier

Until very recently, I'd bake a cake every weekend - that was how dedicated I was to feeding my sweet tooth. So, of course, I welcomed this challenge to bake an actual cake, especially after the several intervening months of making non-cakes.

The strange thing about this cake is, all of the parts were beautiful, but became less appealing upon assembly. I would have loved to have eaten the cake by itself, sans frills; the white buttercream was heavenly to look and work with; my raspberry jam was an excellent version which I would've loved to have on hot buttered toast. But when assembled, I just didn't like it so much.

I mean, look at how light and silken the buttercream is, and how fine the crumb turned out on the cake.

I asked myself why I didn't like the assembled cake, and came up a few possible explanations:

- I just don't like raspberry jam on cake, and I didn't know that. While I was careful to spread the merest whisper of raspberry jam on the layers, I was nonetheless extremely assiduous in doing so, ensuring that every inch out to the edges was covered. As such, no bite offered a respite from the raspberry flavour.

- I used up all the buttercream on the cake, and frankly, this was just too much cream for me. I started to feel a little nauseous even while spreading it on. Even if I could've done things differently, I imagined all the DBBs in the world making this cake, and couldn't bear the thought of deviating from the instructions. I ended up with a half-inch of icing on the cake, with more in between. (I realised, however, that it was the perfect amount of icing for ensuring a good cloak over the naked cake.)

Maybe there's something psychologically irksome about making a super-creamy cake yourself, than if you were to consume only one slice of super-creamy cake in a restaurant.

- In spite of its name, I didn't have a party to bring this cake to, and don't know that I would. Last time I made a cake for a party, it was an Italian recipe that used much less fat, and which incorporated heaps of fruit. That was a hit. It sat alongside a store-bought creamy cake which hardly anyone touched. The compliments I had on the cake were uniformly along the lines of, "it's not too sweet at all", "it's healthy", "it tastes different, and healthy!". I guess this is a sign of the times.

However, I enjoyed a couple of slices of it after it was all done. I enjoyed it in the obligatory manner that you would a festival food, like a red-dyed egg when a baby turns one month old (in the Chinese tradition), or a mulled wine at Christmas.

My overall assessment, however, is an overwhelmingly positive one. The base recipe is so fundamentally good, and such a pleasure to work with, that it can stand being deconstructed and reinterpreted in other contexts. And I'm definitely going to do that.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A comparative study of my Daring(tm) attempt at making Pain Francais (using Julia Child's recipe) with my memories of the real deal

It’s not my first time making bread.

But. Having only recently returned from Paris, where I ate baguette literally everyday; I still have such fresh memories of how it should be that I was, from the beginning, already a little psychologically prepared that my home made baguette just probably won’t be the same. I wasn’t just an eater of baguette, I purposefully sought baguette out from different boulangeries, never stepping into the same one twice (which was easy enough to do). I cradled, listened to, and savoured the taste of every single baguette. I felt that, at the end of my 3 week stay in Europe - especially after concurrently experiencing a number of very different Italian breads when in Italy, and a brief encounter with Belgian baguette when I somehow got lost between countries - that I can say, I developed some very personal memories of French baguette.

What can I describe of my experience of French baguette? It produces this tantalising crackle when you slice through it, there’s that soft fluffy bread belly that is sort of like a super elastic cotton candy. I was told that kids love to just eat that fluff and forget the crust. Baguette has a full bread flavour – that’s not very descriptive, but suffice to say, it gives one a feeling of well-being. You feel like going for a walk through the Tuileries, even when it’s cold and grey.

There’s always a baguette in my backpack with some cheese – truffle brie, Roquefort papillon, whatever. My backpack smelt so much like a stinky old shoe - even though it was midwinter - that I felt vaguely paranoid whenever I opened my backpack on the metro. Sometimes, the crust wore my gums out – too much, too tough - but I crave the bread again the next day. It’s true that I had so much baguette, that I sometimes fantasised about rice or noodles.

However, I fell deeply in love with French cheese, all because of baguette.

My white pain, with a tinge of brown

The comparison between my pain francais and my memories of the actual pain francais frankly fails – not surprisingly - but there were some saving graces. I finished all of the bread on my own in two days, in a number of combinations with other foodstuffs. It was still a pretty damn good pain.

But since this is a comparative study, some comparison needs to be made.

My crust was rather more hard than crackly, and it didn’t produce the tantalising music of baguette when I sliced it through. The “brush with cold water when fresh out of the oven” trick really lent a golden sheen – nice. And actually, in spite of the disappointing texture - the flavour of my pain francais was just downright delicious. I think it was the salt. I was initially shocked at the amount of salt I had to add – in this day and age? - but that is something I’m going to be doing for all future breads I make from now on.

The texture of the bread belly was most inauthentic. As you can see, it simply wasn’t elastic enough. It came off like a humongous crumb, even though there were some very pretty irregular holes from the perspective of the cross section. I’m sure it was the flour – I used a normal plain flour because I simply could not locate any flour anywhere that printed their gluten content anywhere on the package that I can inspect. I went all over town, squinted at flour packages, but there was no special gourmet or AP flour to be found. Furthermore, I used up every last bit of flour I had with only a couple of pinches left for flouring the kneading surface that, half way through, I bit my lip and floured the surface with wholemeal flour. So my pain francais had that quirk of being mostly white, with a smattering of brown.

I'm an artisan enveloping a bubbly clod

I believe that many home bakers of bread agree that the breadmaking process always brings with it a little bit of self-discovery. Maybe it’s the time you have to spend indoors with yourself – pretty much the whole day. Or the attention you suddenly have to devote to taking care of something that seems to have a life of its own – a breathing, sweating clod. Or something to do with the softness of the dough – like this dough - that somehow has a soft yielding quality that’s similar to flesh. During the second kneading, I had a vague impression of it somehow feeling like a rather moist baby. It encourages you to treat it gently.

This was also the longest recipe I’ve ever read - man, was this a long read. But it was worth it. I can see the results of the enveloping – something that at first I cursed silently at (“why can’t I just shape it anyway I want”). Thus, I tamed my impatient nature momentarily, my tendency for action – which was very satisfying. It was especially exciting watching the bubbles develop, whenever I peeked in at the fermenting dough every so often. Then it was fun puncturing the gas bubbles during the kneading, the way I would bubble wrap as a child. I imagined myself, while kneading the dough, as an artisanal French baker who would wake up at 4 am in the morning, in order to bake fresh bread for my regular customers; but one who is also so on to the times, that she would dedicate her afternoons to making Youtube videos of her art – kneading, enveloping and such - in order to share the baguette tradition with the rest of the online world.

It's a coup!

Then I used my Henckels slicing knife to execute la coupe. German knives on French bread – pourquoi pas, c'est wunderbar! I’m very proud of my knives, so I took lots of pictures of various slits. At first, I thought that the paring knife might be best, but that pulled at the dough, and was no good. The slicing knife, however, was perfect.

I admit that the dough baby fantasy went on for a bit, that by the time slashing time came, I couldn’t really do a good samurai on them, but only very shallow, careful slits. I really loved the slashing most. If bakers actually worked in some sort of a chain process, I would most like to be La Slasher. I was a little disappointed I could only do three coupes per bread.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lemon Meringue Love

This is one truly good pie. It may not look like much, but it was so good.

I followed the recipe exactly, and produced an absolutely delicious Single Free-Form Tart.

The "fruit slices" on top are thinly sliced pate de fruit (grapefruit) from Hediard's, which I bought from my recent trip to Paris. They went perfectly with the lemon meringue.

However, it was not all plain sailing. (So far, none of my attempts have been - and I'm wondering if that is not actually part of the joy of it.)

First, there was the self-doubt. "I don't know that I'm up to it this month." "I don't have x or y equipment - it's going to be too hard." "Sure, I like cake - but who's going to eat ALL that cake?" "I'm not too fond of this kind of cake though."

Then, somehow, you find the grit to make it anyway. Even though you've just returned 3 days ago from a month-long backpacking "holiday", are feeling a little under the weather, and had just found your lost luggage the day before. Somehow, you find the equipment . Your food processor's broken, so you make short pastry using the rubbing in method you learnt in home economics class. You don't have a juicer, so you use the underside of a mini strainer to squeeze out 9 tiny warmed up lemons. You use a full bottle of fish sauce as the rolling pin.

And you discover that there's plenty of people to share your cake with, if you stopped to think for a couple of minutes.

You also realise how competent you actually are, in spite of your self-doubt, creating a cake you'd never even think to make. You fall in love with lemon meringue pie.

Most of all, you discover how much you really, really do like your own homemade cake. Unreservedly!

By the time I finished the pastry dough, I was starting to glow with pride. But (as is usual), that quickly disappears as the realisation dawns on me that I don't have any beans to weigh the dough down with, not enough lemons, 50g short of the total amount of required butter, and probably cornstarch.

But a quick dash out to the supermarket at 9.30 pm took care of that.

Once the dough is chilling, the rest was about strategically timing everything so that I can get to bed before 12.30am. Bake dough, juice and zest lemons, bake dough again, break eggs, and so on.

When I made the meringue, I had my victory. How satisfying it is to watch the white satiny swirls in the bowl. I was at peace. A perfect play putty. I learnt that every stroke you make when piling the meringue onto the pie counts. It's like an egg white sculpture which you send into the kiln.

I was going to give the whole pie to Joanna -who's moving into her new place in Newtown - as a housewarming gift. But even when the pie sort of crumbled on me, due to my miscalculating the fit between pie and cake box, I was unfazed.

She loved it, and she's not one to mince words. I happily enjoyed the remains.

Next time - and there'll be many more times - I'll be making a sunburnt snowman out of this.

And here's the recipe for posterity - big thanks Jen!:

Lemon Meringue Pie

Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:

¾ cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces

2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour

¼ cup (60 mL) granulated sugar

¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt

cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:

2 cups (475 mL) water

1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar

½ cup (120 mL) cornstarch

5 egg yolks, beaten

¼ cup (60 mL) butter

¾ cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest

1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:

5 egg whites, room temperature

½ tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar

¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt

½ tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract

¾ cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

For the Crust: Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt. Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of ⅛ inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about ½ inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

For the Filling: Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated.

Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

For the Meringue: Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Buche de Noel

This was one of those culinary exercises that showed me why I'm part of the Daring Bakers. I took calculated risks and overcame resistance on a number of fronts. I progressed from hesitation to flow in the 4 hour process (from shopping to frosting).

Among the things I did at the planning stages included: buying a good jelly roll pan, considering if I needed parchment paper (since I had foil), and making the *gasp* executive decision to make the marzipan mushrooms with my own recipe instead of the one recommended! I plead guilty, and I hope I'm not going to be booted from the DBB's for this.

I mean, I live right by the Mediterranean Warehouse - a store that, arguably, ranks among the top for Wellingtonian gourmands (not that I am one, but...) - and if they don't carry almond paste, I don't know that New World would.

Anyway. The genoise is the best part of this recipe - especially since I kept it plain and added no flavourings. It is truly excellent and is definitely to be recommended. The texture was perfect - as Mark said, neither too dry nor too moist. I made a dark chocolate, instead of the suggested coffee buttercream - which worked well.

But not to keep the suspense any longer, here is the final product from multiple pictorial perspectives.

It will not be an exaggeration to say that Mark was impressed - he felt that the pictures don't quite do the cake justice, thought at first that those were real mushrooms (which were made with ground almonds with their skins on, so they were very brown indeed), and immediately whipped out his camera to get a couple of shots of it for posterity.

So the cake scored positively with user testing within its first 15 minutes. This Buche also reflects the sort of Christmas we have in the Southern Hemisphere. It's the sizzling summertime (with the occasional gusty spell), when people have BBQs, salads and ice-creams by the beach. So, instead of snow, there are shaved woodchips (chopped hazelnuts with gianduja shavings) instead. And crystalline slices of green glazed cherries for the grass, red for the symbolic fruit, and of course, the mushrooms.

But the overall food experience in which the cake featured is also relevant to the experience of the cake.

Mark and I made dinner before eating the log - a green curry fish dish with rice -that completely failed with my over-zealous addition of fish sauce. We corrected the dish with the ad-hoc addition of pulpy orange juice, which amazingly enough, actually worked well. Imagine two people hunkered over a small coffee table, pouring orange juice into platefuls of gravy puddles.

I can only say that the fish was saltier than salty salmiakki (liquorice). However, the excellent provolone with crackers we had with the New Zealand Gerwurz did partly compensate for the failure.

The dinner experience was also awkward because the conversation revolved around a fairly candid discussion of (pretty much) "is something going on between us?", which ended on a doubtful note. It was one of those types of dinners where stuff was put out on the table - imperfections, soft spots, inauspicious timing.

And as the conversation wore on, the cake got chucked into the fridge and forgotten.

My kitchen is the size of a closet, and is therefore not made for multi-tasking. There's just no space for two things to be done at once. In fact, I do a lot of the preparation on the stove top itself, the surface of my washing machine which sits alongside, and the space by the sink which is merely the size of a respectable chopping board. So, the cooking, setting the table, and transferring of dishes from sink to table, all took place within that tiny square foot of space in which we waltzed in a strange culinary dance, interspersed with a song about friendship, life and love all at once.

Then, Mark ate way too much of the green curry fish, and had to stand around for much of the night digesting the "baby". I had a stuffy nose, and kept rubbing at my dehydrated contact lenses.

We talked til late, but he remembered the cake just before he left. We took it out of the fridge, carefully sliced it, and ate a couple slices each. While the cake looked and tasted good, it was too cold really. Much too cold.

My journey has only just begun.

And for those who are interested, here's the recipe for the Buche:

Plain Genoise:
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¼ cup cornstarch
one 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.
2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.
3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).
4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.
5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.
6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.
7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.
9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.
10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Coffee Buttercream:
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder2 tablespoons rum or brandy

1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.

Filling and frosting the log:
1.Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.
2.Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.
3.Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.
4.Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).
5.Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.
6.Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.
7.Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.
8.Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.
9.Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.
10.Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.
11.Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Meringue Mushrooms:
3 large egg whites, at room temperature¼ teaspoon cream of tartar½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugarUnsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

1.Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.
2.Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.
3.Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.
4.Garnish your Yule Log with the mushrooms.

Marzipan Mushrooms:
8 ounces almond paste2 cups icing sugar3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrupCocoa powder
1.To make the marzipan combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed.
2.Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
3.Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.
4.Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth.
5.Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.
6.Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms.
7.Smudge with cocoa powder

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My first attempt as a Daring Baker. . .

October this year is a very special month - not only is it the month of my birthday, it's also the month of my first attempt as a Daring Baker. So, I made the Bostini Cream Pie for a small birthday celebration with Jasmin and Irene - both of whom are October babies too.

I really wouldn't say this was a good attempt. . .I mean, I've done better (even though I'm no expert baker). This cake is basically composed of three parts - a custard base, sponge cake layer, and finally topped off with chocolate sauce. I decided in the end to make one large cake rather than small-sized dainty desserts, because a) I wondered if it could stand as an actual cake, and b) I needed an actual birthday cake.
That Sunday (21 Oct) was terribly busy to begin with (fortunately, it was the Labour Day weekend). I started the day giving a presentation in the morning, literally dashed off to yumcha lunch, then dashed home to make the cake. I was hatching the plan at the back of my mind the whole time on the way home - I would make the first two layers at home, then make the chocolate sauce at Jasmin's house.

The sponge cake recipe is really a keeper. Sponge cake is normally a real challenge for me, but this turned out really well. But I screwed up the custard - I did follow the recipe, but I'm sure I mismeasured the cornstarch. It was just too stiff, and while it did chill quickly, it started sweating in the fridge.

Undaunted, I packed it all up in a cake box, dashed off downtown and hoped for the best.
At Jasmin's house (and we were joined by David and his fiancee), I made the chocolate sauce. Now, the chocolate sauce I TOTALLY screwed up, even though it clearly is the simplest part of the whole deal. Just two ingredients - what could go wrong?

Me: "Jasmin, do you have any butter at home?"
Jasmin: "Yes I do!"

As it turned out, the "butter" lovely Jasmin had was some sort of a butter spread. Neither she nor I knew that fake butter wouldn't work in a chocolate sauce. So, the "sauce", as I stirred the pot of chocolate plus fake butter, became a sort of oily black crumby muck. Weird. That's a lesson learnt, but what chemistry was responsible for this oily black product is still unknown to me.

So, I poured it out and was forced to improvise (I hope I'm not going to be denounced by the DBBs!). I was by then totally focussed on making the sauce work - "The sauce will work, dammit!" -while the bunch merrily chatted away in the dining room. I tore through the fridge, found some Yellow milk (skim), and snatched at that. I still had some Whittaker's chocolate left, and thankfully, I actually made a fairly respectable chocolate sauce out of that.

The creation was not satisfactory, but nothing, absolutely NOTHING, could get me down that day. ;) Objectively, the custard was just too heavy (in hindsight, that was how the cake could hold together), but in this recipe, frankly it just won't do. It made the cake rather heavy and too rich.

But who cares about objective evaluation right? Life, as well as food, is all about the qualitative.
Irene and Jasmin gasped when they first bit into the cake, and loved it. They ent back for seconds, and Jasmin had a third (and happily accepted the remaining 1/5 of the cake when the day ended). We washed it down with some sparkling wine - somehow that seemed to go together - and we spent the rest of the afternoon talking up a storm. And man, did we talk! The cake definitely fuelled our conversation about all kinds of cuisines.

So, the cake may not have been exactly a baking triumph, but it certainly was a triumphant day altogether!

And if anyone's actually keen on trying the recipe out, here it is:

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

Custard: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 (EDITED:vanilla extract is okay)
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:
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.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A new era of baking

Yesterday was a very special day. It marked the threshold for this blog between "the past" and a "new era".

This blog, which up til now had an audience of one (namely me), opened up when I joined the ranks as a Daring Baker! (Thanks Lis and Ivonne!) Someone said, a blog that's not public is a contradiction in terms, and I can see what that means, but I disagree. It's not really the opportunity to say what I want to say, but the opportunity for establishing relevant connections that interests me. Otherwise, I am quite happy logging my own cooking notes.

Well, that's not entirely true. I am not quite entirely happy just doing that, especially when I can be a culinary guerilla instead! Actually this is starting to feel a bit like my online gaming days. . .

So, what am I going to get to do as a Daring Baker? There will be a baking challenge once a month, where the Blogroll bakers will all participate by baking exactly the same thing AND then blog about it. I definitely have plans to get my baked goods tested.

I really like Mary of Alpineberry's description of the DBB: "Who are the Daring Bakers you may ask? Well, we're a group of rogue operatives strategically placed all over the world and secretly trying to conquer our baking fears one recipe at a time. At least that's how I see it. In actuality, we're a group of food bloggers who, once a month, make the exact same recipe and then blog about our experience on the same day. It's a fun way to try new recipes and techniques. Everyone has such a unique experience preparing the same recipe and the posts are always interesting to read."

Even as an avid experimenter, there are things I just won't be fussed enough to make unless something happens, like a mistake, that forces me to correct it (like macaroons).

I am far from an accomplished baker/cook, but I am so looking forward to the baking challenges that will be served up in October and the months to come!