Monday, October 31, 2005

More Maison Kayser Recipes

Happy with how the Galettes à l’Orange from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan turned out, I really wanted to try the other Maison Kayser recipes in the book. Not having any visual reference apart from that in my mind's eye, may I confess, is turning out to be strangely liberating. The road less travelled (read: books bereft of pictures) beckons.

Fondants aux Pommes

Succulent apple slices and raisins plump with rum, barely bound by creamy batter. Baked awhile, the little treats emerge, fruit picturesquely engulfed by puffy golden cake. The interior? Moist and so impregnated with running apple juices it's more custard than cake.


Cubs courtesy of the mini muffin pan used, these tiger tea cakes are so-named for their tan-and-chocolate appearance. However, seeing as the effect I wound up with is more speckled than striped (finely chopped bittersweet chocolate is simply folded into the almond-rich batter just before baking), perhaps I should call my specimens Panthères instead! Charming as they are in their buttery, close-crumbed simplicity, an optional corona of silken chocolate ganache magically elevates them to dinner party mignardise status.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Birthday Meal

This past Sunday, we celebrated W's Mum's birthday with a cosy family lunch.

Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Dashi Jelly & Ikura

To start, a little chilled something based on a recipe from Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook, a book I always turn to when I want to make something special. The soft-set cauliflower cream is topped by a translucent layer of dashi jelly (made by infusing reduced chicken stock with bonito shavings and konbu kelp) in lieu of the gelled oyster juice used in the original recipe. The salty piscine intensity of the salmon roe (you could use beluga instead as called for in the book) somehow brings the mellow roundedness of the panna cotta into focus.

Fresh Egg Pappardelle with Tiger Prawns and Shellfish Essence

When I have the time, I love making these broad hand-cut noodles, which have a fabulous affinity with butter and cream based sauces. Something about kneading the mass of eggs and flour into a supple, silken dough is highly therapeutic, as is cutting the thinned sheets of pasta into long yellow ribbons, their slight irregularity an inevitable (which is not to say un-lovely) mark of the handmade.

This pasta dish is something W and I treat ourselves to when we are feeling self-indulgent. We thought it might be something the family would enjoy too. I am hardly the most organised person around. But the one thing I'm diligent about is replenishing the stash of assorted stocks I make and keep in the freezer - shellfish fumet is one such precious standby. When reduced to a syrupy shellfish essence, it becomes the ultimate finishing touch to bisques and crustacean-based risottos and pasta dishes. In this particular instance, the potent concentrate is flavoured with a touch of saffron and enriched with a little mascarpone, resulting in a velvet textured sauce that's warmly embraced by the porous weave of the flat egg noodles.

Navarin d'Agneau

Another Thomas Keller recipe, this time a comforting slow-cooked dish from Bouchon. The lamb is seared before being braised in a rich veal stock. The vegetables that go into the cocotte with the meat in the beginning are discarded, spent and tired having given their best to the braising liquid and meat. To serve, each type of vegetable garnish (carrots, turnips, potatoes, spring onions, broad beans and peas) is cooked separately to the point of perfect doneness before being added to the stew. As Keller puts it, "It's an excellent way to turn a rustic stew into an elegant dish."

The Concorde

A beloved Gaston Lenôtre classic comprising of chocolate meringue and chocolate mousse layers, from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé (Hermé had started apprenticing at age 14 with the legendary Parisian pâtissier before quickly rising through the ranks). While not necessary, I dressed the cake up with a dark chocolate glaze before scattering on the meringue rods.

Friday, October 21, 2005

SHF#13 The Dark Side: A Week in the Life of A Chocoholic

Until some years back, I always thought of myself as more of a cook than a baker. Once bitten by the baking bug, however, there was no turning back. Suddenly, a whole new world opened up to me, a landscape dotted by mounts of sifted flour and clouds of whipped egg whites. What started it all? Why, an all-consuming obsession with chocolate, of course. While I find certain other ingredients and their related handling techniques fascinating, nothing whets my appetite more than a dessert involving chocolate, nothing creates as urgent a need to head straight for the kitchen.

If I sit down and do the math, I fork out a disproportionately large chunk of change stocking up on bars of Valrhona (mostly Manjari 64%, the rest Lacté 41% and Blanc 35% as I adore milk and white chocolate too) every month. Thanks to some unmitigable disasters resulting from the use of what I think of as econo-bars, I've long since learnt that great chocolate desserts start with great chocolate - scrimp on the choice of chocolate and it's practically pointless lavishing all that time and effort on a recipe. Strange but true; cheap chocolate is not going to magically transform into a decadent dessert through the alchemy of the kitchen.

Hardly a week goes by without a chocolate dessert or two (or three) that simply begs to be tried - I've earmarked enough intriguing recipes as must-make in my books to last me a lifetime. The terrific theme for the 13th edition of SHF hosted by Lovescool is The Dark Side. Below, a chocolate dessert diary of sorts, a typical week's worth of curiousity (and craving) sated. The recipes pair bittersweet chocolate with caramel, with liqueur, and with coffee respectively. All three feature flavour combinations that I like; I have been really psyched about giving these recipes a whirl.

Chocolate Caramel Sandwich Cookies

Aside from loads of delicious ideas for all manner of savoury sandwiches, Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book also has a whimsical (and equally delicious) chapter dedicated to "sandwiched sweets". Each of these pretty treats features two intensely chocolatey cookies sandwiching a rim of vanilla-scented caramel dotted with a fudgy chocolate centre. As all that peeks out of the circular cut-out is the fudge, biting into one presents a lovely surprise. The finishing touch - a few grains of fleur de sel - adds further to the surprise.

Carmen Meringay

How could I resist a name like that, not to mention the surreal appearance of this dessert in Alice Medrich's Bittersweet? Once baked, the crisp meringue shells can be filled with anything you fancy, be it mousse or whipped cream-and-berries or ice-cream - think of them as edible containers. I filled them with a bittersweet chocolate and Cointreau mousse.

Tarte au Café

For me, no bout of chocolate dessert making is complete without a Pierre Hermé recipe - this tart is based on one found in Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan. A cookie-like pâte sucrée crust is filled with mocha ganache (the original uses a white chocolate and coffee ganache) and topped with coffee whipped cream. In the original version, white chocolate acts as a vehicle for the coffee flavour. Using bittersweet chocolate reverses the roles; coffee here acts to accentuate the seductively dark flavour of the ganache.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Galettes à l’Orange

I’ll be the first to admit that I eat with my eyes first. What this also means is that I gravitate towards recipes with a pretty picture attached, particularly when it comes to desserts. The process of reproducing or tweaking the look of a cake, say, as captured in a book’s pictures gives me as much pleasure as recreating its taste, as captured in the book’s words. On the rare occasion that I do decide to try something based on the author’s persuasive prose alone, however, I am reminded that judging a recipe by its photograph (or lack thereof) is as silly as judging a book by its cover – I am overlooking a potential goldmine of in-all-likelihood fantastic recipes right under my nose.

Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan is a book I know I should use more often – of the recipes I’ve tried, most have turned out well. While there’s nary a glossy picture in sight, it is charmingly illustrated by Florine Asch, whose watercolours have been commissioned by even the likes of Hermès. Then there’s Ms. Greenspan’s wit and style, rendering photographs virtually redundant in this special instance.

The Galettes à l’Orange are her adaptation of a signature sweet by Eric Kayser. While best known as a boulangerie, Maison Kayser turns out a simple selection of sweets possibly every bit as splendid as their Monge baguette or Le Tourte. Described as "an orange meringue tart masquerading as a cookie", a flaky butter cookie base is spread with a layer of apricot jam spiked with Grand Marnier before being topped by a fat swirl of hazelnut meringue, which bakes up crisp-yet-chewy. This is one teatime treat I plan to revisit.

Friday, October 07, 2005

No Ordinary Sugar

There's no such thing as a quick grocery trip for an aisle lurker like me. Even when all I really need is a carton of milk and a packet of caster sugar, I somehow manage to get distracted along the way, turning what should have been a speedy exercise into a protracted tour, making a mental checklist of what's in stock and what's not, what's newly available and what's been sadly discontinued. I like to think of these excursions as foresight - getting to know the shops better makes one a better shopper. So the next time a recipe calls for say, farine de blé noir, I know exactly where to look.

Maple sugar, hard to find in these parts, is one such gem spotted on said excursions. As with maple syrup, it's made from the boiled sap of the maple tree but further cooked down and crystallized, with a resulting flavour complexity that develops as the sap concentrates and the sugar caramelizes. This unusual sweetener also happens to cost a minor fortune. I've resisted the urge to splurge on the beautifully blond sugar for the longest time. Just as I know it isn't exactly sensible to buy shoes that will require a brand new dress, I know it isn't rational to buy an ingredient, however exciting, with no particular recipe in mind - I have a cupboard full of exotic, and by and large unused, comestibles to prove the point. So coming across a recipe that read "In a pinch, you can substitute brown sugar, though the cakes won't have that same mapley, earthy sweetness" was my perfect excuse to make a beeline for the real stuff.

Mini Maple Bundt Cakes

The recipe in question comes from Nancy Silverton's fantastic book, Pastries from the La Brea Bakery. The batter is rich in butter, eggs, crème fraîche and of course, maple sugar, which makes for a cake with a superbly moist crumb and excellent keeping properties. Toasted walnuts and a coffee-flavoured maple syrup glaze further gild the lily. While I really liked the unadulterated maple taste, intense without being too sweet, W said he would have preferred the cake sweeter - experiments with substituting part of the 2 cups of maple sugar called for with caster sugar are in order.

Pecan Caramel Sandwich Cookies

These, luckily, W enjoyed as much as I did. Adapted from a recipe in Regan Daley's In the Sweet Kitchen, ultra buttery pecan shortbread sandwiches a stickily-good caramel filling. The contrast between rich crumbly cookie and creamy goo (I used maple sugar in lieu of part of the light brown sugar specified in the original recipe for the filling) makes these truly something else.