Making bread makes me nostalgic. I miss the days when we’d binge on whatever bread I made that day way too late at night while watching tv or playing PS3. I haven’t made bread at all since I came back, just because it’s not something I’d make for myself- eating homemade bread is a group activity!
But today just felt like a bread day, so I made the milk roux and got the yeast going. I didn’t have enough bread flour on hand so I had to use some plain flour too. It definitely makes a difference, today’s loaf was noticeably less fluffy and “stretchy”. But a decent loaf anyway- nothing a bit of toasting couldn’t fix.
I love this particular bread dough, it’s super supple and silky and soft. Very soft in fact, for a bread dough- a stand mixer would very much come in handy for this recipe. You can make it by hand, just expect to knead for a while! It’s down to all the milk, butter and eggs in the recipe. You’ll know you’ve kneaded enough when it passes the windowpane test as demonstrated in my fourth picture. It’s when you can almost see through it when you stretch it, and when it does break, it breaks in a neat circle.
Recipe is from here, as always. I omitted the milk powder and replaced it with about 2 tablespoons of whipping cream instead. It’s very versatile, I’ve added white chocolate, matcha, black sesame, cheddar cheese, cinnamon sugar and steamed pumpkin in separate occasions before and they all turned out fine.
Neat brownies makes me suspicious. For me, brownies should be so fudgy and squidgy that it’s almost impossible to cut neatly. There’s nothing more disappointing than a brownie that’s more like dense cake! The ideal brownie (for me) should have a shiny, crinkly surface, is super chocolatey and squidgy.
There are millions of recipes out there for brownies and trust me, I’ve tried many. Some calls for all cocoa powder and others for just melted chocolate. From my numerous brownie trial and errors I’ve discovered that brownies that’s made mostly with melted chocolate, but with some chocolate chunks and cocoa powder, has the best texture and flavour. Chocolate has a chocolatier (I dunno..) and sweeter flavour compared to cocoa powder, which lends the brownies a nice bit of bitterness, a satisfying chew and a richer brown colour. The quality and cocoa content of the chocolate is also definitely important. For my brownies, I use 70% cocoa Belgian chocolate.
Then, there’s the technique. Most recipes have the butter and chocolate melted together but a few follow the usual creaming method. I prefer to use the latter method, the important part is to keep beating the eggs, sugar, and butter mixture for a long time until it’s airy, silky and light. This helps to develop the crinkly top and somehow I just find brownies made this way to be fudgier. Maybe because the brownies rise in the oven from all that trapped air but collapse when you remove it from the oven and all the yummy gooeyness condense into a thick, squidgy layer.
I don’t mind nuts in brownies but most of the times I omit them, mainly because I’m indifferent either way so why waste nuts? For the last few batches I’ve drizzled some salted caramel on before baking. The caramel bubbles and semi-dissolves into the brownie batter leaving extra chewy craters. It doesn’t add too much in terms of flavour but I like the chewy gooey texture it lends.
I’ve written about these carrot cakes before over a year ago here. It’s still my favourite recipe for carrot cake; always consistently moist, not too sweet, and subtly spicy. I’ve made them even tinier this time around for a special order and decided that the drippy icing would make transporting the cakes a bit of a messy ordeal so instead of thinning the icing with milk I just piped the thick icing on in spaghetti-like squiggles with a #2 piping tip. It’ll help if the icing is not fridge cold, it’ll be nearly impossible to squeeze it out of the tiny tip and you’ll end up with a sore wrist and a burst piping bag. Lesson learnt.
I used my favourite combination of sprinkles- toasted coconut, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds and toasted nibbed almonds. It gives just the right amount of crunch and nuttiness.
I love chiffon cakes! It’s so light and fluffy that you can easily eat a quarter of the cake in one sitting. And it’s really versatile, you can flavour it any way you like by changing the liquids; ie in this case, I subbed the orange juice called for in the original recipe with a strong cup of earl grey tea. Another of my favourite liquids to use is soy milk, it yields a cake that is slightly denser with a lovely soy fragrance. Or, instead of changing the liquids in the recipe, you can add a dry ingredient like spices, herbs and cocoa powder, or pastes like adzuki bean or black sesame, or even fruit purées.
Just a quick tip though, if adding an “oily” flavouring like sesame paste, reduce the oil in the recipe slightly to compensate for the additional oil from the flavouring. This is because oil/butter bursts precious air bubbles and this will result in a flat, heavy chiffon cake.
And the most important thing you need to know when making chiffon cakes- don’t grease the tube pan (yes, you need one)! And flip it upside down to cool immediately so it doesn’t collapse when cooling.
Crème chiboust is crème patissiere lightened with meringue, in this case, italian meringue. It’s light, mousse-like and the least rich of all crèmes. But on the other hand, it’s also one of the sweetest because of the meringue. The chiboust tart is a classic French tart filled with caramelised apples, soft crème chiboust, and a crisp caramelised sugar crust. Calvados gives the apple flavour a boost, but I swapped both the apples and Calvados for pears and Grand Marnier because that’s what I had on hand. Overall a pretty tasty tart, although not one I’d usually choose if I had a choice, haha. I think it’s the burnt sugar and meringue combination, it tastes quite like Baked Alaska which is not my favourite thing. But it’s a fun pastry to make, all the components are easy to make and assemble, and caramelising the sugar is fun/dangerous. It’s usually done with an electric carameliser but it’s not a common piece of equipment to have at home, so I just used a cheap but solid chef’s knife with a wooden handle which I placed directly onto a gas burner to get it red hot (yes, scary!) and then used it to brulée the surface of the chiboust which I had sprinkled with caster sugar. I wouldn’t recommend this technique- it’s pretty (very) dangerous. And sugar catches on fire.. so yea. Lol. Do this at your own risk and open all your windows.
When it comes to desserts, I’ll always go for something super creamy or something super sour. This lime meringue tart is mouth-puckeringly sour and the meringue is soft and sweet. I used pâte brisée for the tart shell because it’s less sweet and more sturdy compared to pâte sucrée. For the final touch, I sprinkled some desiccated coconut on the meringue right before browning it- just for a subtle tropical perfume and a slightly more interesting aesthetic- white on white is always pretty, right? I don’t have a blowtorch yet so I just switched the oven to its “top grill” mode (dunno? it’s the little symbol with the zigzag line) and placed the tarts on the highest shelf closest to the heating element. It browned the meringue very evenly (yay!) and quickly (yay!) so do keep an eye on them and don’t run off to do something else!
The lime curd is super yummy and quick to make, do exactly as you would for lemon curd. I used a recipe from a Japanese/French pastry book but the recipe is pretty standard. I’ve adapted it slightly and included it here; it’s a small amount because I halved it but you can always double it back.
56g lime juice
zest of 1 lime
72g butter, room temperature
Bring a pot of water to boil. Whisk the eggs, lime juice and sugar in a bowl and place it on the pot of boiling water; make sure the bowl is not touching the water. This is called a “bain marie”, ie a double boiler. Keep whisking the egg mixture on the bain marie until it thickens (this will be almost exactly when it hits 80°C, but you don’t need to break out your thermometer for this). Be patient, it will seem very liquid and not at all set but it will jell quite suddenly when it hits the right temperature as the eggs cook and coagulate. When it thickens, remove from the heat immediately and continue whisking to bring down the temperature slightly so it doesn’t continue cooking and scramble (if making a large amount, dunk into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking). Leave to cool until only slightly warm (36°C if you want to get technical about it..) then whisk in the butter in three additions. At this point your curd will be thick, luscious and ready to use. This quantity fills about 6-7 7cm tart shells.
Rosemary and apricot, two things I immediately associate with chicken and jam respectively, are actually very complementary. Rosemary, which has a very distinctive scent and flavour is extremely intense and can easily overpower milder flavours. When paired (with some restraint) with sugar apricots which are sweet-sour, floral and with a similar robust temperament, neither flavours are overwhelmed and, is in fact, a very, very delicious combination.
I paired the two in a classic tarte tatin, one of my favourite desserts to make and eat. It’s very simple and understatedly chic. It’s a rojak recipe with parts from here and there; I made my go-to rough puff pastry which is robust and fail-proof and winged the caramelised fruit part.
Here’s how I did it, it’s not a recipe per se.. just a tarte tatin technique, I guess? I dunno.
Make the rough puff, you’ll only need half the recipe but you can always keep the other half and make eccles cakes! Halve and stone 1 punnet of sugar apricots (approx… 20 fruit?), leave aside in a bowl. You don’t have to peel apricots. Then, make a caramel with 70g of sugar and just enough water to dampen the sugar. When the caramel reaches a dark golden colour, add 45g of butter. The caramel will split but keep stirring on the heat and it’ll eventually recombine. Pour into a 6″ tart tin (not loose-bottomed) and place 1 small sprig of rosemary in the middle of the pan (discretion is necessary when using rosemary!) then arrange the apricots cut side down in concentric circles on the caramel. Roll out the puff pastry to about 3-4mm thickness and cut a circle slightly larger than the tin. Cover the apricots with the pastry and push the sides down with a knife. Bake at 200°C for approx 25 minutes until pastry is golden. Flip onto a plate, be careful of the hot caramel. That’s it!
One of my favourite places to wander around in London is Seven Dials in Covent Garden. I miss the independent shops and boutiques, Monmouth coffee and, the shop I miss the most, Neil’s Yard Dairy. I remember going through an Eccles Cake Phase and buying one of these St John eccles cake at least twice a week, sometimes with a loaf of bread, until the man behind the cheese counter could recognise me and would tease me with a “Hello, again!?”. It’s never a cheap experience stepping into that shop, one simply can’t buy eccles cake without a sliver of cheese to go with it. The saltiness of sharp Lancashire cheese is the perfect complement to the sweet and spicy eccles cake.
Having left London, it’s impossible to find this sweet pastry on this side of the world. It’s not difficult to make and the St John recipe is easy to come by on the internet, and since I had leftover rough puff pastry from my apricot tarte tatin recipe I think the stars are aligned for me to make eccles cake today, right now, right away. So I did. It was pretty much a 5 minute affair to make the filling, roll out the pastry and fill them. After 20 minutes of baking, they were done and THEY WERE HEAVENLY. They tasted exactly the same as I remembered, only without the accompanying cheese, unfortunately. But thank you, thank you St John’s for generously sharing the recipe without messing it up to deliberately screw us all over.. this happens way too often with “Secret Recipes”. Anyway, here’s the recipe. The temperature is not stated but I baked mine at 180°C. Also, mine are teeny tiny because I accidentally cut the pastry discs too small but they turned out fine, I actually prefer this filling/pastry ratio because we all know the crust is the best part!
This entremét by Pierre Hermé is the ultimate chocolate dessert: dense chocolate cake, smooth chocolate cream, crunchy praline feuilletine and soft chocolate mousse enrobed in chocolate glaze and topped with a brittle chocolate sheet, which I’ve omitted and replaced with tempered chocolate deco instead.
It’s very straighforward to make, it’s mainly just making and freezing the layers one by one. There’s hardly any baking involved actually- just the “brownie” base; the rest is all done on the stovetop and freezer.
I halved the recipe and made it in a 5.5″ square cake ring instead. It didn’t reach the top of the cake ring but it turned out fine, it was just the right height for individual portions. Some points to remember when attempting this recipe is to not over-bake the base and to freeze the entire cake solid before glazing it, it’s much easier and less messy that way.
The recipe is from Best of Pierre Hermé which is French but there are lots of beautiful photographs for guidance. Or you can do a quick google search, it’s not hard to find the recipe.
A custom order from last month- red velvet babycakes covered with fondant and decorated with royal icing, gumpaste roses and glittery bows. I hardly ever make fondant cakes since it’s not really my forte and I find it just too tedious! Aesthetically, I also lean more towards the “haphazardly pretty”, ie casual swoops of buttercream or ganache or a dusting of icing sugar. However this order was for one of my friends and regulars who specifically asked for a Pretty Cake so a fondant cake it was! And now I’m back into fondant cake retirement..