Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lemon Tart- my greatest weakness

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I would like to think that I possess tremendous self restraint as far as desserts are concerned. Considering the amount of sweets I bring home on a daily basis, I ended up eating only 15-20% of them. May I also add that ALL of them are temptingly delectable? However, like everybody else, I have an achilles' heels.

As it happens, lemon cream tart is my greatest weakness. After I took some pictures of the tart this morning, I cut a slice for a cross section picture. I could barely wait to devour my allocated 15% of the tart.I need to know if it tasted better than Dorie's version, which has been my favorite so far. When I got back from school with another tart this evening, I couldn't shake my mind off the lemon cream tart! I felt like a married woman who was still thinking of her ex boyfriend. So I did something unprecedented - I cut out two more slices: one for now, one for tomorrow. Knowing fully that I should reserve some for my friends A & D who are visiting this weekend, and OCT who are coming the following week.

lemon cream tart 1

So is it better than Dorie's Lemon Cream Tart, you ask? I think both are equally good.I love both of them. The school's recipe uses some gelatin, which gives a firmer lemon cream and cleaner cut, when one slices into it. Dorie's version set softer, which in my humble opinion has a nice mouthfeel. Both are lemony, delicious and would make any lemon lovers really happy. The french meringue shells were first piped, baked and arranged on top of the lemon cream when assembling. Although chef said the meringues are optional, I like the contrasting texture of the various elements in this tart.

There's another lemon tart we made at school, with lemon curd as filling and topped with italian meringue. Something like the lemon meringue pie in one of the past Daring Baker Challenges. I wouldn't know how it tastes because it went home with my partner. But I bet it's pretty darn tasty! It may sound crazy, but if I could squeeze in some time tomorrow, I may use my scrape dough to blind bake another shell and fill it with meyer lemon curd! That would make me really happy.

lemon cream  tart 2

Tart is something I don't bake very often in the past. It was a humbling experience seeing more than one side of my tart collapsed yesterday. It was equally nerve racking when the dough cracked at the bottom before I sent it to the oven this afternoon. Chef reassured me that it'd patch back on its own under the oven heat but I doubted it. But as they told us on the beginning of the course- "Chef is always right!". My shell turned out in one piece. It brings a smile to my face when things work. No matter how simple or mundane they are. Or maybe I am just happy knowing there's another slice of lemon cream tart waiting for me in the fridge!

As I have mentioned before, I don't have the liberty to share recipes and techniques I learned from school. But I must say that Dorie's Lemon Cream Tart tastes really close to the version we make in school. And if you decide to be fancy, pipe and bake some french meringue shells and arrange them on top of the tart!


Monday, February 23, 2009

The exam is finally over.....


Yes, I was having my first exam in pastry school last week and that explains the quietness around here. The self imposed expectation made me tense up and stress the whole week, which on hindsight, was pure silliness on my part. I think I did ok in the exam, even though a few mistakes were made and some of the final products were not how I envisioned them to be. But all is water under the bridge now. I am glad that I learnt a lot in the process.

Next week, we are learning to make tarts! The first tart recipe is none other than my favorite - lemon tart! I couldn't wait to see how it compares to my all time favorite.


Here's a picture of my fondant covered dummy wedding cake sans gumpaste flowers. Surprisingly piping the string work on the middle layer was not as daunting as I imagined. I made all my cake layers white with ivory borders because my posy has some really crazy color. Moreover, I was too lazy to knead color into my fondant. I was a bit regret seeing how beautifully my classmates' cakes turned out. You can see some of them in my flickr.

On my train ride home, some of the strings broke, but most of them remain intact.This dummy cake is currently occupying almost a quarter of my small dining table. I am waiting for OCT to see the cake when he comes visit in March before I tear it down.

Moving on to something edible. The last wedding cake we made was a croquembouche, the traditional french wedding cake. Croquembouche is basically a tower of choux pastry glued together with caramelized sugar, sitting on top of a nougatine base. As the chef explained, croquembouche means "crunchy in one's mouth". So each choux pastry is coated with a thin crisp crust of hard crack sugar. The traditional version has each choux pastry filled with pastry cream, but due to time constraint, we skipped the filling.


As I carefully dipped each of the mini puffs into the caramelized sugar, I could hardly resist the temptation to pop a few into my mouth as I worked. The thin crisp layer of sugar gave off a crunchy sound when one bit into it. Ah, the satisfaction. Not to mention, it was really addictive. I am glad that we made enough choux pastry to build the croquembouche!


Too bad I couldn't take a decent photo of this elaborate dessert. I was rushing out the next morning so the pictures were hastily taken, without proper lighting. I was planning to retake the picture the following day, but alas, the croquembouche fell apart when I was still in bed. Needless to say, my delicate spun sugar decoration on top of the croquembouche broke into a million pieces. :(


On a happy note, it's finally Monday! I can't wait to start on tarts classes! And my friends A & D are visiting this Friday! Which means more eating ensues. :)


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Confession of a clumsy cake decorator

chocolate tart 1

Looking at the chocolate tart we made in class 2 weeks ago makes me happy. It has been a solid 2 weeks when I last brought something edible home from school. These 2 weeks have been spent on gumpaste flowers, wedding cakes and fondant. In fact, there may be a 3-tiers fondant covered dummy cakes following me home tomorrow. It will be decorated with the gumpaste flowers that we spent almost a week to make. Another inedible creation before we conclude the 2 weeks wedding cake chapter of my pastry course.

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I know I don't sound too enthusiastic about wedding cakes. As a matter of fact, I would happily spend extra time on cakes, tarts, breads and petit fours. Sitting down the whole afternoon to make flowers only makes me tired and exhausted at the end of the day. Luckily, we have a really great instructor. Chef Laura makes the wedding cake classes so much more bearable. Her demo and clear instructions help even the most clumsy cake decorator like myself to perform the task at hand confidently. I am happy with how things turn out. Admittedly, I didn't set a high expectation on my decorating skill. My piping and flowers still suck compared to many of my classmates. I was totally in awe, seeing some of their creations. As for myself, I see obvious improvement in my piping and frosting, and that's all that matters to me in this stage! I only wish we have more time to practice. Although deep down in my heart, I couldn't wait to start the tart classes!

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Instead of torturing you with my gumpaste flowers pictures, here's the picture of pate a choux we made awhile ago. When filled with hazelnut pastry cream, they are a real treat.

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I also wanted to show you the coconut passion cake we made in cake class, which is one of my favorite. The various components like coconut mousse, passion fruit mousse, candied pineapple and coconut dacquiose are flavors that I can identify with, growing up in a tropical country.

side of my cake

I decided to show you a snapshot of my buttercream wedding cake even though it's far from perfect. I didn't have a clear idea on how to decorate it, so I simply piped with the techniques and patterns I learned. Please try not to laugh too hard. It's already the smoothest frosting I have ever done in my short baking life. I wish I could show you some of the pretty buttercream cakes my classmates have done! But I promised not to post them on my blog. If you go to my flickr, you can see some of their wedding cakes!


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Chilli Chocolate Financiers

Chili chocolate for financiers

"I miss leisure baking!" I lamented to Grace when I saw her eclair pictures on Flickr.

Unconvinced, she thought I must have enjoyed the more "professional" baked goods I bring home from school nowadays. To the contrary, that is totally untrue. I miss those days when I could go into my fairly well equipped kitchen and whip up whatever my stomach desires. It could be a recipe I see on cookbook or a crazy idea I dream of. Or an old recipe that never cease to comfort me whenever I am homesick. The whir of kitchenaid in the otherwise quiet apartment and the smell of baked goods that permeated the air was once an important part of my life. So yes, despite the amount of baking I do in pastry school, I still miss leisure baking at home!

As I longingly looked through my photos on Flickr,I found these chili chocolate financiers. I made them awhile ago with some leftover batter from another recipe.

Chili and chocolate seems to be an unthinkable combination. However, to the slightly crazy baker like myself,it's an intriguing idea. OCT winced when he saw me placing two bars of Chili chocolate into the shopping cart.

"Why do you need two? You know I will not eat any" He said.
"It's for an experiment! Besides, it's on sale." I replied.

Chili chocolate for financiers

An experiment indeed! I added some into chocolate chips cookies batter, but the spiciness was neutralized by the copious amount of sugar and other chocolate in the recipe. I topped a chunk on top of these financiers and passed them to OCT's labmates, but no one commented about the slightly spicy note of the chili chocolate. I think it's safe to say that the chili chocolate is better to be enjoyed on its own. As for the financiers, it is a great base recipe which one can try with different toppings and flavors. I am thinking of adding cocoa nibs on top for some crunch, or making a matcha flavor one. It is one of those recipes which doesn't require many gadgets. Perfect for my ill equipped kitchen!

Coming back to chocolate. What is the most unusual chocolate you have tasted?Chocolate bacon anybody?

I used this recipe for my experimental chili chocolate financiers. The same one for my fig financiers.


Sunday, February 01, 2009

Thing that makes me happy

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I am a simple girl who derives happiness from many simple things in life. Coffee, chocolate, flowers, books, photography, snow, kindness from a stranger, a thought provoking conversation, emails from friends, silly jokes and most recently, the making of puff pastry.

Perhaps it's the intimacy with the dough that I covet. To make puff pastry,(at least for a small batch), we were taught to do it by hands. Everytime I roll out the dough for more turns, I feel that the dough and I are working as a team. I need to be sensitive to its hints on when to stop rolling, and when a little stretch is desired. This may sound a little superstitious, but I believe that the dough can sense if you are scared to work with it. And if you are intimidated, it will mischievously make things difficult for you.

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Lucky for me, as a member of the Daring Bakers last year, I had my first experience with laminated dough when we made Danish Braid for the June Challenge. Though the process is not identical, there are many similarities. It also helps that I have recently staged at one of the country's top laminated dough master's patisserie. I picked up a few tricks when observing the master make croissants and other breakfast pastries. That experience itself is worth another blog entry.


So back to my puff pastry. The whole process took 3 days, in which we allowed sufficient time for the dough to rest in the chiller. The resulting puff pastry was used to make Pithivier - a puff pastry pie filled with frangipane. The scrape of the puff pastry dough was collected, and used to make apple turnovers. Our thoughtful chefs baked them just before break time, so we can enjoy freshly baked apple turnovers as snack. The fresh from the oven's apple turnovers tasted so buttery and delicate. I almost ate two!

Not a big frangipane fan, I took the pithivier home for picture taking and passed the remaining Pithivier to my friend Heather, who sent her whole pie to her family in Michigan!

apple turnovers

I had so much fun making puff pastry in class that I persuaded Heather to make it again in her apartment this weekend. Unfortunately, that didn't materialize because I couldn't roll out of bed on Saturday morning to buy the ingredients! I blame it on the oily and msg-laden chinese food we ate on Friday night.

As I finally dragged my lazy bum out on Sunday afternoon, I bought all the ingredients and decided to make it on the only table I have in my tiny studio. While the rest of the world is watching Superbowl, I gently work on my puff pastry dough. Rolling, folding, turning and resting when it tells me to. The puff pastry dough has been rested in the refrigerator for 2 hours now, I think it's ready for the next 2 turns.

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After a total of 6 turns, my puff pastry dough will be frozen and waiting to be transformed into a delicious dessert when OCT comes visit in March! A tarte tatin perhaps? Or Nutella turnovers? Or maybe I will fill some with savory filling. OCT is green with envy of all the people who have eaten the pastries I bring home. So I hope the homemade puff pastry will alleviate his jealousy when he comes visit!

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