Saturday, March 29, 2008

My first Daring Bakers Challenge!

Finally got my first DB task down to pat! The theme was Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party cake - the idea was to make a layer cake using her basic recipe and tweak it to any flavour you desire. Deciding on what flavours was no mean feat - there were just too many ideas that immediately popped to mind! Should I stick to the original lemon/coconut combination the recipe called for? Pandan cake with gula-melaka filling for a bit of Asian influence? Something totally wacky and off the beaten track? Believe you me, that got me stuck in a quandry for some time!

After the incessant to-ing and fro-ing and ho-ing and hum-ming, I decided to work close to the theme and use a lemond curd filling and a lighter whipped cream infused with lavender in place of the butter frosting. ("Lick your lips, help your hips", no?) This is the first time I've made lemon curd after reading so much about it, and I'm pleased to say it was deliciously tangy and sourish, exactly the way I like it.
Oh, the lavender cream. Ooh-la-la. All I can say is that it got me floored. Maybe prostrated. Definitely dancing in absolute reverence to light, billowy, lavender-perfumed clouds. It was simply, simply amazing. I had a hard time looking for the lavender flowers but finally hunted it down in David Jones gourmet foods! (Also couldn't help indulging in a pack of black sesame rice crackers there. Heaven.)

As for the cake, it turned out moist, citrusy and full-flavoured. This is the first time I've attempted a Dorie Greenspan recipe and it's no wonder she's so revered in the culinary circle. I must admit that though the cake was delicious and warranted no complaints whatsoever, I would personally prefer something a little lighter on the spongy side for layer cakes.

The most challenging part was probably assembling the cake, what with the Butter-fingers-itis i seemed to have mysteriously contracted over the past 2 days. Looking at the amount of mess I created and the 2 near accidents which almost saw the cake kiss the floor, it's a miracle I emerged out of the kitchen without any cream stuck on my hair! The results were all worth the effort though. I thought the cake didn't look half bad for a first try and the floral tones and citrus pair up ever so seamlessly. Definitely something I'll serve up at a party!

Here are the recipes for the lemon curd and lavender cream. I am usually quite generous with my seasonings, so feel free to chuck in more lemon/lavender buds if you feel like it!

Lemon Curd - the recipe calls for Meyer lemons but I used normal ones
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated Meyer lemon zest plus 3/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Whisk together sugar, flour, and salt in a small heavy saucepan, then add lemon juice in a slow stream, whisking until combined. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then simmer, whisking, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Whisk yolk in a small bowl, then add about one fourth of lemon-juice mixture, whisking vigorously. Whisk into remaining lemon-juice mixture and gently boil, whisking, 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in butter and zest. Transfer filling to a bowl and cover surface with buttered parchment paper. Chill until cool, at least 30 minutes.

Heavenly Lavender Cream
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons mild honey
1/2 tablespoon dried lavender blossoms

Bring cream, honey, and lavender blossoms just to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and let steep, covered, 30 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids, and chill lavender cream, covered, until cold.

adapted from epicurious

Friday, March 21, 2008

a late post on irish soda bread.

I know it's waaay past St Pat's day, but well, dont think it's ever too late to put up a post on irish soda bread! Twas my first attempt (and taste!) at this and I have absolutely no clue or yardstick to measure it by. I was nonetheless thrilled when a nicely browned gigantic scone-looking mound emerged from the oven, all warm and toasty that I wanted to hold it close and hug it lovingly and let out sighs of contentment.


Anyway, the bread was to be an accompaniment to the Guiness beef stew that had been simmering slowly for over an hour, the chunky meat pieces lapping up all the goodness of the black stout. As soon as the stew was ready and the bread was cool enough to handle, I practically lunged at it with my knife, eagerly working it into nice thick slices. I slathered on a thick layer of my precious stock of Lescure buerre flecked with coarse sea salt (I couldn't find Kerrygold butter! La chance!) and sank my teeth into the bread. It was soft, surprisingly moist and had an almost cake-like quality to it, but that's when it happened. The brakes were slammed on my tastebuds as everything came to a screeching halt.

Something was amiss. My feet were still planted firmly on the ground; I wasn't jolted to cloud nine like I was expecting to!

Crap. The bread was SWEET.

I had been reading so much about irish soda bread and how gorgeously it pairs up with the highly salted Kerrygold irish butter, and I did come upon a few recipes offering the sweet version which included raisins, but I steered clear of these. There's nothing more I love than good savoury bread and salted butter, and my expectations of the soda bread laid somewhere between low earth orbit and the vast, vast outer realms of space. Of course this sounds nuts considering I've never even tasted this, but the rave reviews on this recipe just held endless promises!I even dipped it in the stew to see if it changes the taste. Bleah.

But well, all's not lost. It's not great as a savoury bread or with butter for that matter, but it definitely holds its own when eaten plain. I'm sure it'll be delicious with some confiture or thick cream too. As for me, I've got tentative plans for some nice creme brulee style french (irish?) toast..

Meanwhile, here's a little clip of one of my favourite songs: Brian Boru by Alan Stivell. It might just put you in the mood for some irish bread! :)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Anthony Bourdain on Foie Gras

Came across this video on Youtube yesterday on foie gras (from the Anthony Bourdain show). Makes me feel less guilty about enjoying it now!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spectacular Cupcakes 2008

Cupcakes have always intrigued me. I've always thought of them as some fancy food phase that'll come to pass in time. Pretty as they are, I think the sugary frosting is usually just plain overkill. Or maybe I'm used to the idea that a good cake doesn't need much adornment and should be flavourful straight up.

Yep. Only 2 things seem to be guaranteed out of a cupcake: toothaches and an expanding waistline.

So when I stumbled upon Spectacular Cupcakes 2008 by Arfi of Homemades, I thought tis time for the cupcake to redeem itself. If I dont like what I find out there, why not tweak it to a standard that I'll enjoy?

And if there's one flavour I totally adore but always totally manage to screw up, it's gotta be green tea. The both times I've tried it were in the form of cakes and I've always encountered the same problem - the amount of tea is never enough! I can't bring out the hint of tea no matter how much tea I add! (If anyone knows why, pleeeeaase drop me a note.) The saving grace in this cupcake was the sencha frosting - I omitted 3 quarts of the sugar in the cream cheese frosting but it was still sweet and deliciously tangy. Yummay.. I could polish off the frosting by itself! The recipe can be found here. I used double the amount of sencha and decreased the amount of sugar. I would also decrease the amount of flour by a little for a moister cake. Can't wait to check out what the others have come up with!

Alright to bed...I'm so exhausted! Thank goodness the weekend's almost here. TGIF! :)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Recycling chocolate ganache.

Oh god, just finished cleaning the kitchen inside out. You can't believe the rate at which mould grows here. It attaches itself to EVERYTHING, even the walls! You can't even leave your bread out for more than 5 days 'cos you'll find the little wicked green spores come a creepin' n crawlin'.

Had a really good session out on the water today. We did pyramids up to 160 which felt immensely good on my right side surprisingly, but I ease into my technique on the left side a lot easier. The huge post-padding yum cha was even better - we went to the new resto at the fish market. The food was awweeessoome, and the mango desserts have got to be the best I've ever tried in Sydney! Tender slices of mango tucked into sweet cream are rolled into fat rolls of soft, pliable crepes and one bite had all of us ooh-ing and aah-ing. The mango pudding with its generous portions of mango flesh and ample layer of evaporated milk topping was totally in a league of its own. I shared one with bebe and was so tempted to have another one but my stomach regrettably has its limits *sulk* :(

Well ever since reading this excerpt from one of my all-time fave blogs, I've been consciously thinking twice before wasting any food. I admit one of my bad habits is cooking in excess, only to store the remnants in the fridge and forget all about it til it starts to look suspicious, then into the poobelle it goes. This thoughtful article got me thinking of all the energy that goes into your food, from the farm to the processing factory and finally to your plate. A lot of hard work and an unbelievable amount of resources are involved and it's no wonder the earth is groaning under all that strain. Same goes for all your products. So recycle and reuse if you can!

So when the 2-week old dark chocolate ganache from Jinn's chocolate torte surfaced, tempted as I was to chuck it out, I decided it'll do nicely in a chocolate tart. Perfect for using the gorgeous little beaten tart molds I bought yesterday from QVB. (I got 2 little souffle ramekins and finally a much-coveted butter tray too - they were all on sale! Basement of QVB) A couple of slices of frozen shortcrust pastry and a bit of ganache-reheating is all it took to assemble this. Minimal sweat and absolutely sublime.

Just gotta wait for the ganache to set now and a little bit of Greys and I'm done for the weekend! :)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Baked Thai Curry Fish

Been catching up on missed episodes of Food Safari lately! Watch the videos here.

Meanwhile, here's a pic of the delectable, tender baked barramundi we had last night. Other than the fact that I had to deal with a whole fish for the first time which seemed to feel more and more alive the longer I handled it, it was a breeze to prepare. Quite the achievement for someone who enjoys fishing but who wouldn't touch her catch with a 10-foot pole (there's something about writhing, live things that just makes my skin crawl!). Perfect with a good sprinkling of dry-roasted curry leaves and a light moscato.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Banana macadamia pancakes

Are you a pancake freak? I LUURVE them. Never mind that it takes only one pancake to make me feel queasy at the thought of having another one. Whether I do end up having them or not, it seems like they're forever dancing at the corners of my mind whenever I have time to ponder over what to cook for brekkie or when the brunch menu comes by. Kinda like that old Mac's commercial with the hotcakes singing and twirling and singing "Yummy yum yum!" heehee.

Yesterday night had me craving my mum's banana pancakes. Mum's pancakes are really more like crepes now that I think about it, but since she's always called them pancakes, the name sticks. Gorgeously chewy and banana-y, it's so good on its own and needs no syrup or additional condiments. She uses the overripe, small plantain bananas which are wonderfully flavourful and are used in a variety of Asian desserts. Plantains are not usually found in Australia, so I had to make do with what was available.

Chopped macadmias lend a wonderful crunch to these banana pancakes. Being me, I love everything in excess. I doubled the amount of bananas, mashing half and sliced the rest thinly as the recipe asked for. The pancakes were soft and fluffy as pancakes should be, but still not banana-y enough for me personally. Guess I'll just have to triple or quadruple it the next time round!
Serve with a dollop of thick, plain yoghurt at the side if desired.