Thursday, December 30, 2010

Strawberry Shortcake and New Year Resolutions

I was on a break from work for almost the whole of this week, yet the days scurried by and it's almost the end of 2010, wow. In real life, this was definitely my best year yet. Though busy, but I enjoyed every single moment of it, really. In baking, this was a year of breakthroughs - I never thought I'd ever produce an entremet but I did, never thought I would have the patience and determination to pull off daunting bakes yet I did with mum's constant help and encouragement.

To end off the year, I made a Japanese Strawberry Shortcake using Patisserie Glace's sponge recipe and the stabilised whipped cream recipe from here. Korean strawberries were in season, popping up in my face everywhere from supermarts to fruit shops and makeshift fruit stalls.

I couldn't resist, grabbed two punnets of varying varieties and promptly set out to make this. The recipe was a breeze to follow, but I can't say the same for the decorations part. It took me two tries to get the little cream dots to look decent and the lines to look straight. Well, I'm glad it at least turned out alright! I might have went overboard with the cream and spread too much between the layers...hopefully it'll taste alright! *fingers crossed*

**Update: Ok, my friends have tasted the cake and gave the thumbs up for the sponge and cream! Feedback was that the sponge is light and fluffy and the cream was lovely :).

Ok, now time for New Year resolutions. I figured I would like to at least write down some of the baking resolutions for the year ahead to keep me a liiiiittttle more here goes!

1. Pâte à choux
I tried this once but it didn't turn out too well! Hopefully with more practice it will succeed.

2. Tiramisu
One of the most popular desserts among my circle of friends but I never got around to making it!

3. Bread
Another one of my must-fulfill resolutions! Been saying I wanna bake breads for far toooo long...

4. Puff Pastry
Mille-feuille is one of my all-time favourite desserts! With berries!

5. Plasir Sucre
Possibly my favourite entremet and I've been eyeing the recipe for the looongest time! Time to get the book and start making this already.

Hmmm, I probably have a ton more of these at the back of my head, but I seriously "intend" to finish all these in the New Year! Off with the fickle-mindedness and time to be more focused! Heh.

Happy New Year everyone!

Strawberry Shortcake

3 medium eggs
60g sugar
15ml warm milk
60g cake flour, sifted
20g unsalted butter, melted
[Whipped Cream]
2 tsp gelatin powder
8 tsp cold water
1.5 cup whipping cream, cold
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla

250g punnet of strawberries, sliced and whole

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line the bottom and sides of a 15cm cake pan with parchment.
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the sugar and place the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until sugar is combined and mixture is warm to the touch.
3. Transfer mixture to electric mixer and turn up to medium speed. When the mixture is white and fluffy, add the milk and beat for another 1-2 minutes until it's light and fluffy again.
4. Add the flour and gently mix in one direction until well incorporated. Do not overmix.
5. Do the same with the butter.
6. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 17 minutes. When it's done, remove from oven and cool on wire rack. When cooled, slice into 3 layers.
[Whipped Cream]
1. Chill mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer for 10 minutes.
2. Put the cold water in a small saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin over the surface of the water and let stand for 5 minutes. Place the saucepan over low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon just until the gelatin dissolves. Remove the saucepan from the heat and cool to room temperature.
3. Remove mixing bowl and beaters from freezer. In the mixing bowl, combine the whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla and whip until slightly thickened. Then, while beating slowly, gradually pour the gelatin into the whipped cream mixture. Then whip the mixture at high speed until medium soft peaks.

[To Assemble]
1. Spread a layer of whipped cream onto the bottom layer, top with sliced strawberries and spread another layer of whipped cream on it. Sandwich with a layer of sponge.
2. Repeat step 1.
3. Cover the rest of the cake (top and sides) with whipped cream. Decorate with remaining whole strawberries.

Yields a 15cm round cake.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas and My First Buche de Noel

Merry Christmas! Just had the awesomest Christmas family dinner ever. My mum whipped up a couple of dishes, a Roasted Rosemary and Honey Mustard Pork Loin and Grilled King Prawn Thai-Style Noodle Salad, bought some Fresh Oysters as well as Salmon and Scallop Sashimi, and put together a simple Vegetable Salad for the big day. All I had to do was to make sure I have a dessert in time to end off the meal!

My mum's a real genius, and often, a perfectionist and an over-doer. But that's also what I love about her...haha. I merely suggested having a simple, home-cooked Christmas dinner and she went over the top and spent two whole days shopping for ingredients and putting together this delicious spread.

Appetisers from top: Grilled King Prawn Thai-Style Noodle Salad, Fresh Oysters, Salmon and Scallop Sashimi

The sashimi were fresh and good! Didn't touch the oysters at all cos I really detest oysters...but they do look good!

This was my favourite dish of the night - Grilled King Prawn Thai-Style Noodle Salad. The sauce was absolutely delicious! Restaurant-standard definitely :).

The mains - Roasted Rosemary and Honey Mustard Pork Loin, was crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. I love the flavourful and tender meat with juicy insides...super yummy!

Vegetable Salad, for a balanced meal  :).

And you know what, this totally blew me away:

A Tropical Fruit Punch, done in a fresh and novel way! It was basically orange juice and pineapple juice with pineapple chunks and fresh blueberries, topped with a starfruit slice! This is super delicious and cheery!

After seeing the amount of effort she put into the dinner, I feel a little bad about my dessert. I "cheated" and left out one of the layers as I was too busy running around doing things and errands the entire month. Hence, this was what I ended up with:

A pure chocolate Buche de Noel, comprising chocolate mousse, chocolate hazelnut praline feuillitine, chocolate caramel ganache and chocolate dacquoise decorated with hazelnut praline pieces and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. It was pretty simple and straightforward to put together, since I "cheated". The overall taste was good and my family members each had two slices at a go, which is really good to see! I'm glad they enjoyed it. Given a second try, I would have loved some raspberries or liquor to give the chocolate noel a little more kick.

Despite the mad rush to get all the presents and cards together, this is my favourite Christmas of all time. The times spent with my friends, family and loved ones were so so precious. I wish every Christmas can be like this, or even better.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Favours - A Sweet Way for Giving Thanks

Feeling really really tired at this point in time but felt I had to pen this down somehow. I had the awesomest Christmas party ever just an hour ago - one with awesome people within whom were awesome hearts. These were people in whom God is very real in their lives, and they were the very same people who are very real in my life. I really appreciate them for who they are, how they inspire me to be who I can be and the vision they've put in my life.

The Christmas Macarons I shared in my last post, they were wiped out within seconds, literally. I was really awed by their response, even overwhelmed to a certain extent. It was definitely worth the time and effort put into making three different batches of macarons (yes I made three - mint dark chocolate, orange hazelnut dark chocolate and hazelnut praline to be exact) - just to see how much they enjoyed them.

Besides the macs, I also put together these chocolate almond rounds, baked using the same recipe I used the last time round. These were hardy enough to withstand the movement and shaking without breaking, yet are delicious enough for a midday snack, hence the choice. I found these lovely plastic tube boxes at Phoon Huat, jazzed them up a little with doilies, ribbons and stickers...and there you have it - Christmas Favours!

My favourite part of Christmas giving is always in the wrapping of presents. I didn't have time to shop around for presents and thought this will make fast and personal handmade gifts. I'm glad they turned out pretty well and conveyed my thanks across to the ones who matter to me. It definitely does not mean that those who don't receive it don't matter. Each and every one of you who've come into my life, you matter to me. With my limited time and resources, this was the best I could do to convey my thanks in action.

Using the same boxes, I filled them with some of my favourite candy for some of my favourite people as well! Don't this look cute too?

Now I wish I'd kept some candy for myself!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Macarons - Tis the Season to be Jolly lalalalala lalalala

Tis the season to be jolly lalalalala lalalala...hoho Christmas is coming! In just 10 days time! I'm starting to panic...I have tons of presents I haven't buy, many favours and desserts (including a Buche de Noel) I haven't planned nor prepared for, and cards to write! Ahhhhh!

Okay I need to calm down, I pray that everything turns out well and the tasks get done eventually. Haha...I kinda feel better now :).

My first Christmas bake this year is Christmas Macarons. I just love the very festive colour and flavour combination - red and green shells with mint chocolate ganache - totally gets me into the Christmas mood! These are actually made for an upcoming Christmas party this about being last minute!

Interestingly, my red and green macaron batter were of slightly different consistencies even when they were from the same batch. The red shells turned out alot nicer and smoother with prettier feet compared to the latter...I wonder why.

The filling for these Christmas Macarons caused me a little bit of trouble. I tried 3 types of chocolate - Ghiradhelli 72% dark chocolate, Valrhona Manjari and Valrhona Equatoriale. The first two were wayyyy too bitter. I was so upset that i used up two of my favourite chocolate without any success. In the end, I had to make an additional trip down to the bakery store to get Valrhona Equatoriale, which turned out perfectly matched with the peppermint essence.

Anyway, minor setbacks aside, these are such a joy to photograph! I hope my recipients will enjoy them as much as I do :).

I'm submitting this to the Christmas giveaway hosted by Swee San of The Sweet Spot. She has a really lovely blog, do hop over to visit!
Oh, since this fits the Aspiring Bakers theme for the month, I'm also submitting this to the group! Check the the link here to participate!

Christmas Macarons

150g ground almonds
150g icing sugar
120g egg whites (divided equally into two portions)
150g granulated sugar
40g water
1/4 tsp cherry red powdered colouring
1/4 tsp green powdered colouring

[Mint Dark Chocolate Ganache]
80g Valrhona Equatoriale 55% dark chocolate (roughly chopped)
80g heavy cream
10g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp peppermint essence

1. Pulse the ground almonds and confectioners' sugar together in a food processor. Sift together the blended mixture and divide into two equal portions. Set aside.
2. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and cook till the sugar syrup reaches 118 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, beat 60g of the egg whites in the electric mixer on medium speed till soft peak form. When the sugar syrup is ready (both should come together at about the same time), pour the syrup in a steady stream into the egg whites with the mixer running on low. Increase the speed to high and beat till you get a thick, glossy meringue and the mixture is cool to the touch (around 10 minutes).
3. Mix half of the remaining egg whites with the first portion of the almond/sugar mixture, and the other half of the egg whites with the second portion of the almond/sugar mixture. Add the green colouring to the first portion, and the red colouring to the second portion. Fold in half of the meringue into each mixture. Fold gently till it flows like lava, with a thick, steady stream flowing from the spatula. Be careful not to overwork the batter as a couple more turns will result in over-runny batter.
4. Transfer the batter into piping bags fitted with big round tips. Pipe onto pre-drawn circles on parchment paper. Leave it out to set for around 25-30 minutes before baking it at 150 degrees Celsius for 13 minutes.
5. Once done, remove the baking sheet from the oven and slide the parchment onto a cooling rack. Let cool for a few minutes before removing the shells from the parchment.

[Mint Dark Chocolate Ganache]
1. Warm the cream in a small saucepan. Pour the cream into a bowl containing the chopped chocolate and let steep for a minute before stirring. Stir in the peppermint essence until a smooth ganache is formed.
2. Let the ganache cool till 40 degrees Celsius, then stir in the unsalted butter until smooth.
3. Pipe a dollop of the ganache onto the red macaron shell and sandwich with a green macaron shell.
4. Refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.

Yields 30 macarons.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Valencia - An Orange Chocolate and Hazelnut Entremet

Wow, it's December already! And it seems like everyone is in the holiday mood :). In recent weeks, I've received requests from some of my gal pals to visit my place for a baking session, one of it from the birthday girl herself. She wanted to bake an orange-flavoured cake, hence I searched the net and my books archive to find a suitable recipe for the occasion. I've been eyeing this Sadaharu Aoki's Valencia recipe on Evan's blog for ages, but never got around to it cos of all the "new" ingredients I needed to buy - like almond paste, orange marmalade, feuilletine and cognac. In the end, I decided to leave out the liquor and plunge into this seemingly complicated 5-layer entremet anyway!

The girls' schedules are really challenging to coordinate. We finally decided on a weekday night, with around 2.5 hours to play around with. I made the almond paste from scratch (it's alot cheaper this way), as well as the hazelnut dacquoise and chocolate almond sponge layers beforehand, while the girls made the hazelnut praline feuilletine, milk chocolate mousse and orange mousse layers within 2 hours...amazing! As a result, we completed the most complicated entremet I've ever done...almost like a milestone!

Tonight, we will be celebrating Christa's (very belated) birthday. Lacking ideas, I stuck a Happy Birthday tag onto the cake so that it looks like a birthday cake! I seriously need to go for some cake decorating lessons before all my cakes start to look the same! I also trimmed the cake to a smaller 6-inch size as there's only going to be 3 of us at the cosy celebration. I cut the rest into slices and topped them with a shard of hazelnut praline each :).

If you noticed, I actually made the orange mousse thicker, 1.5 times the amount in the written recipe, for more citrus oomph. The entremet ended up really tall, which my mum wasted no time in pointing out =.=". I can't even cheat a little with my mum watching us so closely...roar. After tasting it, I find it really good! The different textures and flavours melded well together, much tastier than a recent cake I purchased of the same flavour combination.

Can't wait for tonight! We're going to this quaint cafe called The Garden Slug :). I hope the girls will like this too...excited!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Orange Chocolate Chiffon Cake

Squeezing this in at the very last minute! This post was specially done up for Small Small Baker's Aspiring Bakers November Event. The theme for the month is chiffon cakes! As you may know, I love chiffon cakes as they're light, fluffy and easy on the palate. However, I haven't baked any for some time since macarons have taken over as the regulars on my blog in recent months...haha. Well, it's now time for a chiffon cake resurgence!

Throughout the month, I scoured the blogosphere and saw many interesting variations of the chiffon cake, like the mango coconut chiffon and sakura chiffon by Cosy Bake, hazelnut chiffon cake by Frozen Wings and the purple sweet potato chiffon cake by Evan's Kitchen Ramblings - all very pretty and delicious looking cakes! I toyed with the idea of making a very girly Rose Raspberry Lychee Chiffon versus a more rustic Orange Chocolate Chiffon and eventually settled for the latter. I rummaged through my baking stash, mixed up the the two different flavoured batters and got two 16cm chiffon cakes  and one mini chiffon into the oven within half an hour. Ahhh the beauty of making simple, rustic cakes like this - no fuss at all! :)

The resultant cake was soft, fluffy with a fresh orange fragrance and light chocolatey taste - perfect for breakfast or as a light-as-air midday snack! The orange zest added to the batter makes this smell so so good!

If you'd like to try it out, the recipe is listed below. Can't wait to see what the rest of the bloggers came up with this month! :)

Orange Chocolate Chiffon Cake

95g egg yolks
25g castor sugar
zest of 1 small orange
pinch of salt

80g vegetable oil
80g orange juice

95g cake flour

10g cocoa powder
10g cake flour

200g egg whites
110g castor sugar
15g corn flour

1. Rub the zest with the sugar. Whisk together all the ingredients in (A) in a medium bowl until the sugar dissolves.
2. Add in (B) in their respective order and mix well at each addition.
3. Fold in (C) and incorporate till the mixture is smooth.
4. Divide the egg yolks mixture into two equal portions in two separate mixing bowls.
5. Mix 10g cake flour into one of the egg yolks mixture and 10g cocoa powder into the other bowl of egg yolks mixture. Whisk the mixture till well incorporated.
6. Beat egg whites in a clean large bowl until foamy. Mix together the sugar and corn flour and add in gradually into the egg whites. Beat till stiff peak form.
7. Gently fold in half of the egg whites mixture into the cocoa egg yolk mixture and the other half into the plain mixture. Mix till there are no traces of egg whites.
8. Spoon in the plain batter into three or four different corners of the tube pan, then cover with cocoa batter, layer by layer till all the batter has been used. Bake in a preheated oven at 170c for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer is inserted and comes out clean.
9. Invert the cake immediately on a wire rack and let cool before unmoulding the cake.

Yields 2 16 cm chiffon and 1 mini chiffon.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Coffee Caramel Mousse Cake

November's coming to an end and soon, December will come along and cap off a wonderful year of 2010. This has been a crazy, crazy month for me - one that's filled with ups and downs and adventures along the way. Just earlier this week, I was at a children's camp, helping to plan the programmes and games for these kids. I never had a special inclination towards children, neither do I have special favour with them, but this camp changed everything. Not only did I grow to like them, at the end of the three-day camp, there was an interesting attachment to them. Strange, but very real. For a camp that I didn't know what to expect from it, I ended up enjoying the company of the children and learnt and received much more from it - a lifetime experience I wouldn't trade for the world :).

November's also a month of birthdays. A number of my good friends' birthdays fall during this month and hence I decided to make this Coffee Caramel Mousse cake for these lovely November babies. The cake consists of three main layers - chocolate almond jaconde, coffee mouse and caramel mousse. As usual, my decorating skills are virtually non-existent. I tried painting brush strokes with coffee before glazing the cake but made a mistake of not allowing my coffee strokes to dry thoroughly first. As a result, the glaze and the strokes all combined into one brown mass...sigh...

Layers from bottom: Chocolate Almond Jaconde, Coffee Mousse, Caramel Mousse, Instant Jelly Glaze

Despite my cake looking less pretty than desired, the general reviews I received were good! Thank God for sweet and forgiving friends like this who make me feel a little more encouraged haha :).

Besides the square cake I made for my friends, I had enough leftovers to put together three mini rounds with an extra layer of chocolate jaconde in between just like the original recipe. However, after tasting both versions, I preferred the square cake version with just a single layer of jaconde with the two layers of mousse. The extra layer of cake made this dessert too cakey in my opinion.

Looking at this, I really really NEED to brush up on my cake decorating skills. Then again, it's probably something that will come with more practice and experience with making whole, layered cakes. Oh well >.<...

Coffee Caramel Mousse Cake
recipe adapted from Ken Nishio

[Chocolate Jaconde]
105g eggs
55g ground almonds
55g powdered sugar
20g flour
5g cocoa powder
50g egg white
25g granulated sugar
12.5g unsalted butter (melted)
Almond flakes

[Coffee Mousse]
60g egg yolk
60g sugar
5g custard powder
5g gelatin
250g milk
10g instant coffee
250g whipping cream

[Caramel Mousse]
140g sugar
160g whipping cream
50g salted butter
4g gelatin
160g whipping cream
20g granulated sugar

[Chocolate Jaconde]
1. Stir together ground almonds and powdered sugar in a mixing mould, add in the eggs and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
2. Whip the egg whites with the granulated sugar at high speed until stiff peaks form.
3. Take half of the meringue and fold into the first mixture. Add sifted cocoa powder and flour and fold until well-combined. Fold in the rest of the meringue
4. Add in melted butter and stir to combine.
5. Pour the mixture into a prepared sheet pan lined with parchment and bake at 220 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes.
6. Let cool on the rack before cutting.

[Coffee Mousse]
1. Soften the gelatin sheets in ice water.
2. Whisk egg yolks and sugar until the mixture turns pale.
3. Add in the custard powder and whisk to combine.
4. Heat up the milk in a saucepan until boiling point, add in the instant coffee granules and stir to combine.
5. Pour the milk and coffee mixture into the egg yolk mixture and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and heat till 80 degrees Celsius. Remove the mixture from heat and let cool in an ice bath.
6.Whip the whipping cream until medium stiff peaks and fold it into the coffee mixture.

[Caramel Mousse]
1. Soften the gelatin sheets in ice water.
2. To make the dry caramel, heat sugar in a medium saucepan over small fire until the sugar is melted and turns a dark amber. In the meantime, heat up the whipping cream in a separate saucepan.
3. Slowly, pour the warm cream into the caramelised sugar. Remove the mixture from heat and let cool in an ice bath.
4. When the mixture reaches 40 degrees Celsius, add in the salted butter and softened gelatin and stir till smooth. Sieve the mixture.
5. Whip the whipping cream and sugar until soft peak form. Fold it into the caramel mixture.

[To Assemble]
1. Cut the chocolate jaconde using a square cake ring. Brush the cake with sugar syrup and pour the coffee mousse over it. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
2. Pour the caramel mousse over the coffee mousse. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
3. To glaze, heat 10g instant jelly, 50g sugar and 250g water in a saucepan. Allow the mixture to cool slightly before pouring over the caramel mousse layer. Refrigerate till set.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Salted Caramel Macarons

This recipe, I've bookmarked for months, but never got around to making them till now. I love all things with salted caramel. Caramel alone is just too sweet for me. With the addition of a pinch of salt, this makes salted caramel extremely palatable to me. There's a deep, sultry character to this - a little mysterious, a little sexy. Totally my type :).

I also tried painting macarons for the first time. Inspired by the macaron goddess Tartlette herself, I decided to try my hand at it by painting the ivory white macaron shells with brown gel colouring. They aren't the prettiest strokes but they do help make the macarons look more interesting than just plain white shells :).

Armed with Pierre Herme's salted caramel macaron recipe, I made caramel from scratch for the first time. I read numerous posts with warnings of splashbacks upon adding cream into the sugar and butter mixture, but none of that happened to me. Making caramel isn't that intimidating after all. I'm sure God was taking good care of me while I was attempting those potentially dangerous kitchen stunts...haha :P.

I'm really happy with how this batch of macarons turned out. The shells had nice, compact feet, and the filling was good and didn't make my shells soggy - definitely a keeper! However, because the filling was salted caramel cream instead of salted caramel, the caramel taste was much lighter, but creamier, smoother and easier on the palate.

After all these batches of macarons, I concluded one thing - making macarons are extremely fun! I love the entire process - from ensuring that my shells have smooth domes and prominent feet, to decorating the shells (with paint or other decorative toppings), to creating delicious fillings to complement these lovely shells - each step of the macaron-making process allows so much room for creativity that it makes it really fun and exciting!

Furthermore, macarons are extremely addictive. A full batch of macarons disappears within days in my household. I barely have enough to pass on to my friends if I didn't reserve them first. Tsk tsk to all the macaron pinchers at home...haha.

Will leave you with the recipe for now. I'm sure there will be more salted caramel macaron batches to come...which leaves me wondering what flavours shall I make for Christmas? Hmmmmm...back to the drawing board...

Salted Caramel Macarons

150g ground almonds
150g icing sugar
120g egg whites (divided equally into two portions)
150g granulated sugar
40g water

[Salted Caramel Cream]
165g granulated sugar
165g single cream
32.5g salted butter
145g unsalted butter

1. Sift together the ground almonds and confectioner's sugar. Set aside.
2. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and cook till the sugar syrup reaches 118 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, beat 60g of the egg whites in the electric mixer on medium speed till soft peak form. When the sugar syrup is ready (both should come together at about the same time), pour the syrup in a steady stream into the egg whites with the mixer running on low. Increase the speed to high and beat till you get a thick, glossy meringue and the mixture is cool to the touch (around 10 minutes).
3. Mix the other 60g of the egg whites with the almond/sugar mixture. Add a third of the meringue into the mixture and fold gently. Add another third and fold before adding the final third. Fold gently till it flows like lava, with a thick, steady stream flowing from the spatula. Be careful not to overwork the batter as a couple more turns will result in over-runny batter.
4. Transfer the batter into piping bags fitted with big round tips. Pipe onto pre-drawn circles on parchment paper. Leave it out to set for around 25-30 minutes before baking it at 150 degrees Celsius for 13 minutes.
5. Once done, remove the baking sheet from the oven and slide the parchment onto a cooling rack. Let cool for a few minutes before removing the shells from the parchment.

[Salted Caramel Cream]
1. Warm the cream but don’t boil, set aside. Pour about 50g of sugar into a large saucepan set over medium heat and cook until melted then add another 50g. Continue until all the sugar is melted. Allow the melted sugar to caramelise until a very dark amber colour. Being cautious of splashbacks, add the salted butter and mix with a spatula. Slowly add in the cream and then cook until the caramel reaches 108C over low heat. Pour into a baking dish and put plastic wrap in contact with the caramels surface. Keep in the fridge until cold.
2. Beat the butter in the bowl of your mixer for about 8 to 10 mins, then add the caramel in two additions and beat till combined. If the mixture is very soft allow to firm up in the fridge slightly before filling the macarons.
3. Pipe a dollop of the cream on the macaron shell and sandwich with another shell.

Yields 50 mini macarons.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Raspberry Dark Chocolate Muffins

Muffins evoke a sense of warmth in me, they are like warm comfort food that perks me up on a sleepy morning and provides that touch of sweetness that makes me a little happier. Though I love muffins, I can be pretty picky about the muffins I eat. It's tough to find good muffins that are readily available here. The most readily available muffin that is acceptable for me comes from Starbucks. I love the Chocolate Hazelnut Muffin, the Blueberry Muffin and the Banana Walnut Muffin. I love how crisp the tops are and how soft and fluffy the insides are, especially when they are warmed up. Other muffin variations, like the dense and buttery ones, I don't quite like. I normally take the first bite and will decide not to finish it if it's not to my taste.

As a result, I prefer to make my own muffins. I'm very particular about the muffin's texture, and it shouldn't have an overly buttery taste. I like them soft, fluffy, light and suitable for breakfast :).

I've tried making muffins using two methods - first with the dry vs wet mixture method, the second with the creaming of butter method. Personally, I prefer the former, as it yields softer muffins that I prefer. Also, I tend to prefer muffins made with vegetable oil instead of butter. Weird, I know. But that's cos I'm not a big fan of butter in the first place...haha.

Filled muffin cups before going into the oven

These Raspberry Dark Chocolate Muffins originated from Chelle's post some time ago. I've been wanting to make them but was distracted by the multiple batches of macarons and cakes that I've been churning out. The recipe uses the muffin method of mixing the dry ingredients together and the wet ingredients together, before combining them to form a batter. However, be careful not to overmix the batter as I've learnt from experience that overmixing yields tougher, denser muffins. It's okay to have little flecks of flour scattered in your batter! It's better than having a batch of tough muffins for sure!

Digging in!

These smelt really really good when they were coming out of the oven. The faint smell of raspberries and the buttery fragrance filled my entire kitchen. I can't wait but dug straight into one right away!

Clockwise from top left: Muffins fresh out from the oven, digging in, last bite, half left!

It took just four bites for me to polish off a muffin...haha. Not that I'm super greedy but these aren't that huge actually :P. I love the combination of raspberries and dark chocolate in these muffins. However, I do find them a tad buttery, though I'm sure that wouldn't be a problem with butter lovers. I might just replace it with oil the next time I make them again.

Otherwise, these were a lovely treat! Anything with raspberries and dark chocolate together makes it worth having! Yummm :).

Friday, November 5, 2010

Raspberry Rose Dark Chocolate Macarons

Guess what? Haha I made macarons again! I know I said that I was going to take a break from macaron making but it happened that one of my best girlfriend's birthday was coming up and I had promised her some earlier on. Hence, I made this batch of macs in two different flavours specially for her. I went through my latest chocolate stash to find inspiration and decided to make these lovely Raspberry Rose Dark Chocolate Macarons and Salted Caramel Macarons (coming up soon). The colours for the raspberry rose ones are lovely and the flavour combination so girly - I'm excited just thinking about it!

Since I love all things pink, of course I would favour the pink-coloured ones more. This is the first time I'm taking work-in-progress pictures despite the bad night lighting. I had lotsa fun making these pretty babies - with rose petal flavoured shells and a dark chocolate ganache topped with chopped raspberries...very yummy I would say!

Clockwise from top left: Chopped Ghirardhelli 60% dark chocolate, piped shells on parchment, filling the coloured shells, rose petal topped shells waiting to be filled.

Managing the water content of the fresh raspberries was a little tricky though. I tried to cover all the raspberries with chocolate ganache, but I still found the macs to be a little soggy on the inside after a day or two. Hmmm....any ideas/suggestions on how I can do this better? I love the flavour combination but the way I combined them doesn't seem to make these last. They're fine after 3 days in the fridge, just that they have a tendency to give way easily at each bite...hmmmm...I wonder why?

Fresh red raspberries

These pretty pink babies were such a joy to photograph. I think pink just makes everything more pretty doesn't it? Haha! Or maybe it's just me :P.

I hope the birthday girl likes these! It's my way of saying Happy Birthday my dear and I hope you will enjoy them on your special day :).

Which makes me wonder if anyone's going to make me anything on my birthday? I will be very happy if someone does...haha :).

Will just leave you with the Raspberry Chocolate Ganache recipe. I made the shells using the Italian Meringue recipe. You can find the recipe here.

Raspberry Chocolate Ganache

100g Ghirardhelli 60% Dark Chocolate (chopped)
100g heavy cream
6 raspberries (chopped)

1. Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. 
2. Heat the cream in a medium saucepan until boiling point. Pour over chopped chocolate and let steep for 1-2 minutes. Stir till smooth
3. Refrigerate until pipeable consistency before piping a dollop of the ganache onto the shells, top with chopped raspberries and cover with another dollop of chocolate ganache.
4. Top with another shell and refrigerate till set.

Fills 50 mini macarons.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Not-So-Secret Chocolate Stash

Hoho guess what? went a little crazy and had a mini chocolate shopping spree last week.

And came back with not one, not two, but FIVE chocolate bars. Boy, am I a happy girl :).

I've always lamented the lack of chocolate varieties on the shelves here. Before I started baking, the only varieties I knew were either Cadbury, Van Houten, Hersheys (supermart selection) or Godiva and Sins (premium varieties). Taking up baking really opened my eyes to a myriad of chocolate varieties and brands that are good, yet still very affordable.

I discovered Ghirardhelli, one of my favourite supermart chocolate brands now, by accident when one of my swap pals sent me a HUGE bag of Ghirardhelli mint dark chocolate. I'm a huge fan of the mint and dark chocolate combination and one bite into it, I was sold. I snacked non-stop on the stash I received till one day when I'm left with none. Then I started hunting for Ghirardhelli on our local shelves. Years ago, it might have been an impossible task but now, it's almost everywhere. I happily grabbed a couple of bars at the supermart the other day when I saw them on offer, how timely! :)

The first bar I grabbed was this - the Raspberry Dark Chocolate - my current favourite flavour! I tried a very expensive version bought from Candylicious, before discovering this at a nearby supermart...haha...silly me, spent so much money on a heavily overpriced bag of chocolates then.

I also grabbed two bars of dark chocolate - the 60% Evening Dream and the 72% Twilight Delight - at half the price of what I initially saw. Phew, what a relief to know that I can eventually find these here.

Besides Ghirardhelli, I also bought a bar of Lindt Orange Intense and Movenpick Espresso Krokant. I've not tried these before so I thought I'd give them a chance! No prizes for guessing what I'm intending to use them for...haha. I'm actually pretty predictable, if you know me.

So excited! Can't wait to use my new chocolate stash. Shhhh just don't tell my mum in case she screams :P.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hazelnut Praline Macarons and a Girly Bake-Off

Friends are amazing. They are there when you're happy, down or simply need a listening ear. I'm really blessed to have friends accompanying me through the different seasons of life - some friendships lasted long, some short, some rather unpredictable at times. Just last Sunday, I had two of my favourite girlfriends at my place for a macaron baking session. One was a primary school friend whom I have known for (gosh) over 16 years while the other was a junior college friend whom I've been great friends with till now. Really appreciate them for sticking with me through thick and thin, through my emotional, unreasonable times and putting up with my mood swings and occasional tantrums. I know I'm not the easiest person to get along with, which makes them even more precious to me knowing what they "suffered" haha. Bottomline is, I love my friends! All of them :).

Well, after seeing my multiple posts and photos of my "mini" macaron successes, these two girls were really excited and wanted to try baking them. So last Sunday, we set out to do just that. After evaluating the pros and cons of using French vs Italian meringue methods, I settled on Italian as it is more foolproof and yields more consistent results. Somehow I feel my French meringue macarons don't keep as well? Or perhaps it's just me...hmmmm....

Anyway, we decided on making Hazelnut Praline Macarons after seeing this post. I've not tried using hazelnuts in my shells before hence it was especially attractive for me as opposed to making a tried and tested flavour which I already did before.

Preparation alone took me a couple of days - I had to shop for ingredients, weigh them, portion them out, ground the nuts and sieve them beforehand. I also made hazelnut praline for the first time and grounded them into fine bits for filling the shells. As a newbie in making caramel, I figured (only afterward) that I took the pot off the heat too quickly before the sugar had a chance to brown fully. Hence instead of achieving a dark amber caramel, I got a nice golden-hued caramel instead. Oh well, I think they still look pretty decent though I would have loved a stronger burnt sugar taste.

The most funny part of the baking process is watching them pipe the macaron shells. One of the girls actually piped them like ladyfinger rounds, swirling from the outside to the centre to make little swirl mountains (like frozen yogurt or soft serve ice cream) was epic! Haha. The good thing is, all of them baked well and came out looking nice and round - even the bottoms were perfectly smooth and dry, not sticky at all!

All in all, it was a truly enjoyable session with the girls and I also made my most successful batch of macarons to date. The texture of the shells was good - crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside - with smooth tops and good bottoms. I especially loved the flavour combination - hazelnut shells filled with Jivara chocolate nutella ganache and hazelnut praline bits - absolutely scrumptious! Perhaps it was the dream combination of awesome company, jovial mood and adequate number of hands in the kitchen that put together this delicious batch of macarons :). Baking in a good mood does help make more delicious desserts (I'm saying this from experience :P).

This time round, we made these into smaller-sized macarons perfect for a light midday snack. I passed some to my mum to try and she really liked the hazelnut flavour with the crunchy praline bits. I guess that means these have passed the taste test and may make them way back to the dessert table in time to come. My dear girlfriends are also hooked on making macarons (like me) after the first successful attempt and are aiming to replicate the results in their own kitchens. Cool, good luck girls! :).

As for me, I'll be taking a break from macaron-making for now. Too many whites used, too many yolks left. Any ideas on what I can do with the leftover yolks? If you have, let me know :).

Hazelnut Praline Macarons

[Hazelnut Praline]
150g hazelnuts, roasted and skins removed
175g sugar
60 ml water

[Hazelnut Shells]
90g ground almonds
60g ground hazelnuts
150g confectioner’s sugar
120 g egg whites (divided equally into two portions)
150g granulated sugar
40g water

[Jivara Nutella Ganache]
200g Valrhona Jivara (40%), roughly chopped
100g heavy cream
1 tablespoon Nutella
2 tablespoons hazelnut praline bits

[Hazelnut Praline]
1. Preheat oven to 140 degrees Celsius.
2. Spread hazelnuts evenly on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes, moving them around with a spatula halfway through . Let cool.
3. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves and turns a dark amber color. Watch this carefully because the sugar mixture can go from caramelised to burnt in the blink of an eye. If using a candy thermometer, cooked until it reaches around 175 degrees. However, you can easily tell when it's done by the color of the sugar.
4. Pour the cooked sugar over the hazelnuts and let cool. Once cool, break the sugar and hazelnuts into pieces and process in a food processor until finely ground.

[Hazelnut Shells]
1. Sift together the ground almonds and confectioner's sugar. Set aside.
2. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and cook till the sugar syrup reaches 118 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, beat 60g of the egg whites in the electric mixer on medium speed till soft peak form. When the sugar syrup is ready (both should come together at about the same time), pour the syrup in a steady stream into the egg whites with the mixer running on low. Increase the speed to high and beat till you get a thick, glossy meringue and the mixture is cool to the touch (around 10 minutes).
3. Mix the other 60g of the egg whites with the almond/sugar mixture. Add a third of the meringue into the mixture and fold gently. Add another third and fold before adding the final third. Fold gently till it flows like lava, with a thick, steady stream flowing from the spatula. Be careful not to overwork the batter as a couple more turns will result in over-runny batter.
4. Transfer the batter into piping bags fitted with big round tips. Pipe onto pre-drawn circles on parchment paper. Leave it out to set for around 25-30 minutes before baking it at 150 degrees Celsius for 13 minutes.
5. Once done, remove the baking sheet from the oven and slide the parchment onto a cooling rack. Let cool for a few minutes before removing the shells from the parchment.

[Jivara Nutella Ganache]

1. Heat the cream in a saucepan till its boiling point. Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and nutella and let steep for a few minutes. Stir till smooth before adding in hazelnut praline bits. Let cool till it firms up and is ready to be used.
2. Pipe ganache mixture onto macaron shells and top with hazelnut praline bits before sandwiching with another shell.

Yields 50 mini macarons.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Matcha Sablés

As I'm writing this, I'm feeling very very tired. Work's been pretty crazy plus I'm helping to plan for a children's camp that's coming in a month's time. Weekends are all packed and hardly leaves me time for my family, friends and my blog. Waking up early on Saturday and Sunday mornings are not on my list of favourite things to do, but I often had to do so. Hmmmm I look forward to the day when I can sleep to my heart's content on both weekend mornings! That'll be soooo cool :).

In the midst of all these, I'm also preparing for a soon-to-come baking session with my gal exciting! Normally, I love to bake alone as it gives me time and space to work and get a little messy. However, I'm looking forward to the bonding time with them as I'm sure it'll be much more fun and awesome with good company in the kitchen :).

Most of the spare time in the past week have been spent preparing for the session - buying ingredients, weighing and portioning them, cleaning up the kitchen and getting things in place. Hardly had time to explore and start on the various desserts that have been on my mind for some time! At the same time, I'm longing for some homemade treats that I can store away for that quiet snacking session when the craving strikes.

Recently, these cute matcha sables have been showing up all over the blogosphere - a sign that they are really really good! I first tried them when Chelle offered them to me sometime back. They were so delicious I made up my mind to make them one day. However, it took me many months before I really got down to it...haha.

In the end, I made two rolls of this, the first with the egg white glaze and the second one without. Conclusion is I definitely preferred the second one. It tastes more like sables and less like Chinese-style cookies. Also, I'll be sure to make these with coarse granulated sugar next time (used castor in this picture as that was the only sugar I could find at home) to increase the crunchiness in the cookie. Nevertheless, this recipe is for keeps! :)

Matcha Sablés
adapted from Okashi by Keiko Ishida

240g plain flour – chilled
15g green tea powder
150g unsalted butter (room temperature)
130g icing sugar
a pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
Granulated Sugar

1. Sift flour and green tea powder twice, set it aside.
2. Cream butter, icing sugar and salt until soft and creamy.
3. Add egg yolks and mix well.
4. Add flour and green tea powder mixture and fold in with a spatula.
5. Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for about 15 mins.
6. Divide dough in half and place both portions in 2 large pieces of parchment paper.
7. Shape into logs about 3.5cm in diameter. Wrap logs with parchment paper and refrigerate until firm.
8. If not using immediately, wrap with cling film and freeze.
9. Preheat oven to 150 degrees. Cut logs into 7mm thick rounds. Dip edges in granulated sugar.
10. Place cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
11. Bake for about 25 mins, remove and leave to cool on wire rack before serving.

Yields 32 cookies.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Toasted Coconut and Raspberry Charlotte

Have you ever had a recipe bookmarked for months, or even years, yet you never get around to making it? I have. In fact, I have tons of such recipes. Perhaps I'm easily distracted, fickle-minded, or just plainly indecisive...but I've changed my mind time and time again even after deciding to bake that particular recipe over that particular weekend. Hmmm...I'm sounding like a tough cookie to crack huh?

This is one recipe that I've bookmarked for really long. I've always loved pretty looking charlottes. They are always the first to catch my eye whenever I pass by a bakery. There's something special about the round ladyfinger wall that really cheers me up and brightens up my day.

When i made these Toasted Coconut and Raspberry Charlottes using Tartlette's recipe, I thought they turned out really really cute! My rendition's far from perfect and I'm not a big fan of the slightly milky-tasting raspberry mousse, but I loved these all the same simply because they are charlottes (yes, I know I'm weird)!

Perhaps next time, I'll make the raspberry mousse without the custard base, make individual lady's fingers instead of piping them together like what I did here and experiment with a mixture of berries for the mousse filling. One thing I really liked about these are the homemade lady's fingers - they are super duper delicious! Topped with toasted coconut, these are highly addictive and were immediately swiped clean by my family.

Hmmm...I might just bake another batch of these for the snack cravings that I have during weekday afternoons....then again, perhaps not, it's just too dangerous to have a box of these lying around my office desk....haha :P.


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