Friday, February 26, 2010

Keep It Simple

"Faites simple", said Auguste Escoffier, over 100 years ago.

Cleverness is an overrated virtue.

Keeping it simple is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn of all. The more avid the cook, the harder the lesson, it seems. What do you yearn to eat when you're tired or hungry or in need of soul food? Cooking that honestly strives to nurture and glorify the essential savours of good ingredients, thus coaxing the very best from them? Or fussy, egotistical exercises in let's be brutally honest here vanity and self-absorption? Which is not to say the latter can't be good to eat. Just that it's all too easy to get carried away by flights of fancy, thus losing sight of the main object, which is to nourish and beatify those who sup at your table.

Call a spade a spade, and the emperor's new clothes just that. Cleverness for the sake of cleverness? Please, leave that to the clever. Me? I'm happy to take steak frites slathered in béarnaise over overwrought faux comestibles any day (speaking of keeping it real, please do check out Au Bœuf Couronné if you ever get the chance; it is unrelenting, time-stood-still old-school, proudly unfashionable beefy magnificence à la française at its probable best).

Where cake is concerned, I've many a time had to rein in my natural unchecked impulses to make it all pink-iced, frou-frou and over-the-top. Embellished and curlicued to the nth degree, Marie Antoinette-meets-Mardi Gras, all fairy dust and unicorn sprinkles. Hey, I'm a girly girl.

Luckily, I sometimes need to feed cake to manly men, W often included. Which helps keep my frilly excesses in check. I speak from experience; no manly man will be caught dead tucking into a pink-iced, frou-frou, over-the-top, Marie-Antoinette-meets-Mardi Gras confection. Unless he is doing so in the midst of a very private (read: party of one) midnight fridge raid. Which translates into a lot of forlorn cake lying about in the fridge.

So if you bake often and often for your manly male loved ones, that alone is reason aplenty to keep it fuss-free.

Sans the chintzy plate shown above, with a plain white plate in lieu, I've often served this simple and simply beautiful Pistachio Torte - moist with freshly ground pistachios, fruity olive oil and citrus juices - accompanied by rose-scented strawberries and whipped cream, to many an uncomplaining in fact I daresay pud-admiring male diner. Nary a peep about how real men don't eat things with rosewater.

I love butter.

Life is short.

Fat tastes awesome.

So much so, it makes other stuff taste awesome.

Why shortchange yourself of one of the very reasons for eating, nay living?

OK, now that that particular opinion is out of the way. The only thing I possibly love more than butter?

Browned butter.

Ah. Beurre noisette. This is simplicity itself perfected with a capital P. If you're similarly inclined, and if you haven't already, please do look up:

-Vogue, June 2009 issue. Jeffrey Steingarten has a fantastic feature on the stuff. Read an excerpt here.

-Jennifer McLagan's Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredients, with Recipes . Many ideas on how to use browned butter. And while we're on the subject of the much-maligned three-letter F-word, how to get the best out of everything from schmaltz to graisse de canard, not to mention lard, suet and tallow.

As for the best use of browned butter? In my opinion, that has to be in the financier. These Plum & Hazelnut Financiers – crisp and chewy of crust, rich and moist of crumb – owe their sublime, nutty, caramelized flavour to browned butter.

*Both the recipes for the pistachio cake and plum & hazelnut financiers are part of the lineup in Fruit Desserts, a demo class I'll be teaching on 13 March 2010 , 14 March 2010 , 27 March 2010 and 28 March 2010. For all inquiries, please call the school at +65 6479 8442 or 6479 8414, or email

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Blueberry & Yoghurt Sherbet

There are many reasons why I love Paris, and have become rather adept at contriving ever more reasons to visit. On that long list you will find crammed somewhere between the entry for le vin and le pain, le yaourt. Take a stroll through any grocery aisle - and by any, I really do mean any, be it the ubiquitous neighbourhood Monoprix, destination food shopping at La Grande Epicerie, or wandering amidst the handcrafted raw milk wonders in some 7th arrondissement temple to fromage (I like Barthélémy, Marie-Anne Cantin and Quatrehomme) where you may if you wish ponder whether the flintiness of the soils and the herbaceousness of the grasses whence Buttercup the Froment du Léon cow grazes contribute to the deep yellow of the beurre de baratte from Brittany as you wait patiently in a very long line in a very concise space - and you'll be absolutely floored by the staggering selection of yoghurt.

Packaged in little glass jars, ceramic pots or plain ol' plastic, you'll find a yoghurt to suit every taste and budget. If at the supermarket, you will of course find lurking in the midst the kind of carton featuring gums or gelatine or other thickeners designed to create the illusion of creaminess, flavoured with a dash of ethylvanillin to boot, as if your palate needed further clarification concluding that the guck is indeed a synthetic substance not anywhere to be found in nature. But by and large, there's a fair bit of good stuff, the kind of stuff that comes to mind when we think of European or French style yoghurt. Of the more readily available brands, I am especially partial to La Fermière. Super creamy and naturally so, made from the best quality whole milk and cream, with an unbelievably plush mouthfeel, it's the kind of yoghurt that self-professed inveterate yoghurt-haters happily make an exception for; I should know, I live with one.

Finding good artisanal yoghurt here can be tricky. Sometimes, it can prove to be quite the expedition. But if you look hard and know where to look, it need not be a wild goose chase. The French stuff is harder to come by, the Australian less so. For the purposes of testing the Blueberry & Yoghurt Sherbert recipe included in this menu*, I've consciously avoided using the hard-to-find, boutique-y yoghurts that are such a treat to eat at breakfast but perhaps a tad extravagant to use in fro-yo, not least because the milky subtleties are somewhat lost against all that vivid juicy tart berriness. For this purpose, I've been using a widely available natural Greek-style yoghurt that's Australian, with fabulous results. It goes without saying, if budget permits or you are feeling extravagant, by all means knock yourself out and use the fancy stuff. I'm just saying...
There are several things I really like about this recipe. First, the short and sweet list of ingredients - ripe blueberries, good whole milk yoghurt, a bit of sugar, a spritz of lemon juice, plus an optional splash of crème de myrtille. Second, the short and sweet list of things to do to make the frozen treat - namely, blitz, chill, churn, and hey presto. Finally, there's that glorious, mouthwatering shade of puce produced that's truly, to borrow my 17 year-old cousin's favourite adjective for describing anything that's insanely cool, sick.

* I will be teaching Fruit Desserts, a demo class, on 13 March 2010 , 14 March 2010 , 27 March 2010 and 28 March 2010. For all inquiries, please call the school at +65 6479 8442 or 6479 8414, or email

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Fruit Desserts - Classes

I'm very much looking forward to kicking off my 2010 teaching schedule with Fruit Desserts, a demo class, at Shermay's Cooking School on 13 March 2010 (Saturday), 14 March 2010 (Sunday), 27 March 2010 (Saturday) and 28 March 2010 (Sunday). For all inquiries, please call the school at +65 6479 8442 or 6479 8414, or email

On the menu:

Sticky Banana & Caramel Upside-Down Cupcakes A scrumptiously gooey topping of buttery caramel and banana slices crowns these decadent little cakes.

Fragrant and bursting with ripe banana flavour, it's just the thing with a tall, cold glass of milk.

To keep it simple, skip the caramel topping and bake the batter in a fancy pan - I think it turns out beautifully as banana cake rosebuds.

Lemon Custard & Butter Shortbread Bars I couldn't in good conscience do a fruit-themed class and not include this fabulous recipe for every lemon-lover's favourite treat. A lavishly lemony custard filling is baked atop a golden brown shortbread base. The contrast between tangy silken custard and buttery crisp crust is truly something else.

Blueberry & Sour Cream Streusel Cake Generously studded with juicy blueberries and enrobed by a crunchy streusel topping, this special cake owes its divinely tender and velvety texture to the luxurious use of sour cream in the batter.

Fantastic served plain, with a dollop of sour cream, or a scoop of blueberry frozen yoghurt.

Orange & Honey Panna Cotta Creamy, softly-set, orange zest-infused, and honey-scented, this panna cotta is perfect when simply served with a trickle of the same honey used to make the panna cotta. Alternatively, to dress it up, I like serving it with:

Kumquat & Vanilla Bean Compote A delicate and perfumed citrus compote that’s lovely with plain pound cake, ice cream or the Orange & Honey Panna Cotta.

Orange & Stem Ginger Biscuits These biscuits have a melt-in-your-mouth texture and are a great accompaniment to the Orange & Honey Panna Cotta.

I'll post details soon on the Bonus Section with Extra Recipes, Ideas & Serving Suggestions included in the recipe pack:

Chocolate Lemon Ganache & Butter Shortbread Bars The dark chocolate ganache filling (using Valrhona Manjari 64% Dark Chocolate) surprises with its depth of lemony zing, thanks to a heady combination of lemon zest, lemon juice and pure lemon extract

Lemon Confit These candied lemon slices are a delicious garnish for any citrus flavoured dessert, for instance the Lemon Custard & Butter Shortbread Bars or Chocolate Lemon Ganache & Butter Shortbread Bars

Blueberry & Greek Yoghurt Sherbet Just as wonderful whether served on its own or alongside Blueberry & Sour Cream Streusel Cake

Pistachio Torte A beautiful pistachio cake that is lovely paired with:
Rose-Scented Strawberries and Rose-Scented Whipped Cream

Plum & Hazelnut Financiers These elegant little tea cakes – crisp and chewy of crust, rich and moist of crumb – owe their sublime flavour to beurre noisette (browned butter)