Wednesday, May 28, 2008

May Daring Bakers Challenge and My Fallen Opera Cake

I was really excited when the May Daring Bakers Challenge was revealed in the beginning of the month. It is L'Opera, the cake that I have always wanted to tackle, but have constantly putting off because of the many components it requires. Now that our hostesses Ivonne and Lis, together with co-hosts Fran and Shea have chosen it as our May challenge, it gives me the necessary nudge to make it. No excuse to sit on it anymore.

My Opera Adventure

Except, I actually did sit on it until the last minute. Even though I have gone through the possible flavor combinations of the Opera cake for no less than 10 times in my mind, I didn't get to tackle it until 2 days before the posting date. Life is so unpredictable, and May just happens to be a month full of emotional roller coaster rides.

Unlike the classical Opera, in which chocolate and coffee are the dominating flavors; Our hostesses stressed that only light colors are allowed in this challenge. The reason? We want to dedicate our individual Opera Cake to Barbara of Winos and Foodies, the force behind "A Taste of Yellow", a food blog event that unites food bloggers around the globe to rally for LiveStrong Day. "It is Lance Armstrong Foundation's one day initiative to raise awareness and fund for the cancer fight". You can read more about LiveStrong Day here

slices of opera

I settled on a french vanilla buttercream and rhurbarb mascarpone mousse combination for my L' Opera. They tasted exquisite on their own, so I have high hope that the cake would turn out a huge hit. The buttercream was on the runny side when I made it on Monday midnight, but I thought it would firm up once it's chilled. And with that optimistically naive mindset, I charged on and assembled the cake.

slices of fallen opera

As you can see, the buttercream didn't firm up, and I have a fallen Opera cake. Did I tell you that I didn't halve the recipe? The original recipe is good for 20 servings. Arghhhh...I am debating what to do with the rest of the cake. I hate to waste food, so I am risking my reputation (even though I doubt I have any)to shove the cake to OCT new colleagues.

So my first Opera Cake adventure isn't as successful as I have hoped for, but I certainly have fun putting it together. I finally tasted Pierre Herme's French Vanilla Buutercream and the Tartelette inspired rhurbarb mousse. I will certainly try making it again because I love all the components here, or perhaps I will do one with coffee and chocolate, or one with Asian inspired flavors. The flavor combinations are endless if you check out the Opera Cakes our 1000+ Daring Bakers have come up with for this month's challenge. You can check out their fascinating Opera Cakes here


Monday, May 19, 2008

Looking at the bright side: Mango Mascarpone Mousse Cake

mango mascarpone mousse cake

Just the other day, OCT and I lamented on the higher cost of living here in Atlanta, compared to our previous stint in St Louis. Not only do we pay a steeper rent, we also find the price of grocery here more expensive. We could no longer find the one dollar a bunch asparagus, nor 3 for two dollar red bell peppers that we were spoilt with at St Louis Soulard market. The rice which is a staple in our household is five dollars more per bag; even the all purpose flour demands fifty cents more than before.

mango cake

Surviving on a postdoc fellow income, we certainly feel the pinch. But what good does it serve to whine about things we couldn't change right? Looking at the bright side, I have found some juicy sweet mangoes that could rival those from my childhood. Not to mention, they come with an endearing price tag too. They were fifty cent each in the Dekalb Farmer's Market the last time I looked. I told OCT that I intended to eat mango for breakfast / lunch / dinner / dessert from now on. Like any mango deprived people would do, I loaded a dozen of them into my shopping cart. At the same time, I started to think of all the wonderful things I'd do with them. Sorbet is definitely on the menu. Maybe a tropical tart or pavlova loaded with mango? OCT however, requested for a mango mousse cake. Sure, I can do that. It's only once in a blue moon that my rice-craving husband asks for something sweet for a change.


I don't really have a recipe for the mousse and mango mirror, I simply tasted and adjusted the flavor as I moved along. However, I want to bring your attention to the sponge cake base. The recipe comes from none other than Christopher Kimball, the editor of Cook's Illustrated. He calls it the fool-proof sponge cake. The method of mixing is new to me, and I doubt it would work. But who am I to argue with the editor of Cook's Illustrated, who has all the answers to the perfect recipes of everything under the sun? So I sceptically followed the recipe as it was written. To my surprise, the recipe yielded the most amazing sponge cake I have ever whipped out. Plus it doesn't require much folding, which could intimidate many novice bakers. I highly recommend anyone who needs a fool proof recipe for sponge cake to give this a try.


As for the mango mascarpone mousse and mirror, I promise the recipe will follow, after I have infiltrated my blood stream with enough caffeine tomorrow morning. Or afternoon. ;p Meanwhile, checkout the fool proof sponge cake recipe below.

Foolproof Sponge Cake
adapted from Christopher Kimball'sThe Kitchen Detective

Softened unsalted butter for the pans
1/2 cup cake flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons milk (I used soy milk)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease two 8-or-9-inch cake pans and cover pan bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.

Whisk/sieve the flours, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside. Heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan over low heat until the butter melts. Take the sauce pan off the heat and add in vanilla extract; keep the mixture covered and warm.

Separate the eggs, placing the whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer or whisk) and reserving the yolks in a small bowl. Beat the whites on high speed until foamy. Gradually add 6 tablespoons of the sugar and the cream of tartar and continue to beat the whites to soft, moist peaks. If using a standing mixer transfer the beaten egg whites to a large bowl and add the egg yolks to the standing mixer bowl (you don't need to clean the bowl).

Beat the egg yolks with the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture is very thick and turns a pale lemon color, about 5 minutes. Add in the beaten egg whites to the yolks, but do not mix.

Sprinkle/sieve the flour mixture over the egg whites and mix on low speed for 10 seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer, make a well in one side of the batter and pour the melted butter mixture into the bowl. Fold gently with a large rubber spatula until the batter shows no trace of flour and the whites and yolks are evenly mixed, about 8 strokes. Also make sure that you have incorporated the butter into the mixture. There should not be visible grease/oil as you pour the mixture into the cake pans.

Immediately pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake until the cake tops are light brown and feel firm and spring back when touched, about 16 to 18 minutes for 9-inch cake pans and 20 to 22 minutes for 8-inch cake pans.

Cool completely on racks. Run a thin knife around the inside of the cake pans and then invert them onto the racks (or onto cardboard rounds or tart pan bottoms) to release the cakes from the pans. Remove the parchment paper.

To make the Mango Mascarpone Mousse
2 cups mango puree, from 2 large ripe mango
1 teaspoon of lime juice
3/4 cup heavy cream,
3/4 cup mascarpone,
1 (1/4oz)pack of gelatin powder,
1/4 cup sugar or more to taste

Puree flesh of 2 large mango in a blender to obtain 2 cups of mango puree. Add in the lime juice.

Sprinkle the gelatin powder in 1/4 cup of water, set aside for 5 minutes. After that, heat the mixture in microwave for 10 second, until the gelatin has dissolved.

Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer/hand mixer, beat the mascarpone and sugar until it becomes light, add in the mango puree mixture and beat for another 3 minutes to combine. Taste, make sure that it's slightly sweeter than how you would like the mousse, keep in mind that the heavy cream fold in later will somehow dilute the flavor. Add in extra sugar, one tablespoon at a time until the desired sweetness. Pour the mango-mascarpone mixture to another big bowl, gently stir in the gelatin mixture. Mix well to combine.

Without washing the whisk attachment and mixing bowl, beat heavy cream until medium peak form. Fold the heavy cream into the mango mascarpone mixture.

To assemble:

Using a 8/9-inch sprinform pan or ring, layer one sponge cake at the bottom of the pan, and pour half of the mousse in. Use an offset spatula to smoothen the mousse. Next, layer the second sponge cake on top of the mousse. Follow by the remaining mousse. Cover the mousse with saran wrap and chill the cake while preparing the mirror.

To make the Mango Mirror:
1 cup of mango puree, from one ripe mango
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
2 to 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 a pouch of gelatin powder

Sprinkle the gelatin powder in 1/4 cup of water, set aside for 5 minutes. When the gelatin is softened, microwave the mixture for 10 seconds, until the gelatin has fully dissolved.

In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup of mango puree with 1/2 teaspoon of lime juice and 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar, to taste. Mix in the gelatin powder. Once the mirror is made, immediately pour on top of the mousse. Chill in fridge for at least 4 hours.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Breads Distraction

I guess I just wanted to distract myself, so I baked a batch of bread. They were meant to be plain, like dinner rolls, but I thought they would be more photogenic with some embellishments.


I cut half a sheet of nori into random shapes and pieces,not exactly knowing how I want to decorate the dough. The thought of shaping them into cute animals has briefly crossed my mind, unfortunately the breads have made up their minds against that idea. Instead of adorable animals, they turned out looking more like characters from a halloween party than anything. Spooky, I tell you!

bread family

To make the bread less scary and more comical, I adhered some pork floss on them after they have cooled down. The first two turned out looking like a kind beardy old man, and a grumpy lady with a bad hair day.


The bread recipe is the same one I used for caterpillar bread and pork floss bun. The "adhesive" was simply nutella. (It shouldn't surprise anyone that Nutella is one of the staples in this household, given my obssesion with it.) I was going to use mayonaise, but was too lazy to open a new bottle just for that. I am sure melted butter or even jam would work in a pinch too.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

To Aunt Mary

Last Sunday when I was all ready to post a recipe for Mother's Day, brother dropped me a message about my beloved aunt Mary critical condition in the cancer ward back home. She was admitted to the hospital on Sunday afternoon, the day when mothers around the world received tribute and recognition from their children.


Aunt Mary, my father's younger sister is one of my favorite aunts. Growing up, she used to tell me that I bear resemblance to her in so many ways. We share the same love for dark chocolate, romantic novels, TVB dramas, traveling and good food. Both of us are vocal, and wouldn't hesitate to give the rest of our family members a piece of our minds when the necessary occasions arise.


There is one story which I always request her to repeat. It was about her brother (dad) tearing up her textbook because aunt Mary refused to lend her immaculately completed homework to him! She gets all animated everytime she recounts the story(opps, sorry dad!)It makes me laugh so hard that my stomach hurts.

Aunt Mary is more than an aunt for me. She is a good friend who listens and understands me. She would secretly shove money into the hands of her needy college niece whenever I came home for vacation. It was a gesture of love and generosity and understanding. And I would never forget the love she has bestowed upon me.


As I look back, I realise that I have never told her how much she means to me, and that I love her so much. Sure, we catch up whenever I go home. Always remember to get her the imported chocolate that she loves but couldn't find in KK. We would chat for hours, and she would update me on the gossips of our extended family, until it's the airing time for her favorite tv show, then she would leave. But I never once utter the three magical words. And I kept to myself the disappointment when she couldn't attend my wedding due to the chemo sessions, and the fear I felt 3 months ago, when I visited home for Chinese New Year. The fear that it would be the last good bye we bid.


I wish I could tell her all of these now. I wish I could hear her laughter that bears such curious resemblance to ah po (to aunt Mary dismay). I wish we could hang out, gossip and pretend to be chocolate snobs, criticizing the inferiority of Kitkat and Cadbury made in SEA . But all these are just wishful thinking.

Aunty Mary, this one is for you. For all the memories, love, laughters and tears we share. Thank you for playing an important part in my life. I couldn't ask for a better aunt. I love you.

Strawberry Friands
adapted from Donna Hay's Modern Classics Book 2

9 tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 cup almond meal
1 2/3 cups icing sugar, sifted
3/4 cup all purpose flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
5 large egg whites
5 medium size strawberries, hulled and quartered.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Place the butter in a saucepan over low heat and cook until melted and a very light golden colour. Set aside.

Place the almond meal, icing sugar, flour and baking powder in a bowl and stir to combine. Add the egg whites and stir to combine. Add the butter and stir to combine.

Grease 10 x 1/2 cup capacity muffin tins. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the mixture into each tin and carefully place the berries over the top. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden and springy to touch but moist in the centre.

note: I find the friands to be too sweet for my liking. I will probably decrease the amount of icing sugar used and incorporate some chopped berries in the batter next time.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Learning to eat breakfast : Almond and Dark Chocolate Granola

I feel terrible confessing to the world that I don't eat breakfast in my blackberries and mango clafoutis post. The more I think about, the worse I feel. Mum would be sad if she knows that I skip breakfast, wouldn't she? I mean, mothers alway tell their children not to skip breakfast. And here I am, shamelessly proclaiming my undisciplined life. Very bad.


Although a quarter of 2008 has passed, I am going to squeeze "eating breakfast" into my 2008 resolution.It is never too late to add another resolution as long as I can keep it right?

Where are we? Oh yes, da breakfast. Something nutritious, healthy, easy and tasty. After some googling and tastespotting, I decided on granola. One with 70% dark chocolate, just to make sure I will stick with the regime. The granola inspiration comes from one of my favorite bloggers- Molly, who posted a granola recipe, which was in turn inspired by the granola she had in Paris.


If Parisan can eat chocolate for breakfast, why can't I, right? I adapted Molly's recipe to use whatever I have on hand and enjoy eating. She recommended Trader Joe's bittersweet chocolate, but I opt for half a block of the Green and Black 70% chocolate that I got from Target (while it was on sale, of couse). Mostly because the thick slab of Trader Joe's bittersweet chocolate is too hard to chop finely. And using 70% chocolate makes the granola slightly healthier.

I have also grinded half of the rolled oats, for texture,a tip I learned from The Traveler's Lunchbox post on granola. I have just started my breakfast regime this morning, with a cup of granola. Tomorrow, I am eating it with a cup of plain soy milk, as Molly suggested. One thing you need to know about this granola- it's great for snacking too. Definitely make a double batch!


Almond and Dark Chocolate Granola
inspired by this recipe

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds
2 tbsp light brown sugar
Pinch of salt
5 tbsp mild honey
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 block of 3.5oz 70% chocolate or more, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 300°F.
In a food processor, coffee grinder or blender, grind half the oats to a fine powder.

In a large bowl, combine the grinded oats, oats, almonds, brown sugar, and salt. Stir well to blend.

Warm the honey, maple syrup and oil over low heat, whisking occasionally –until the honey is loose, this should not take long, about 15 seconds. Pour over the dry ingredients, and stir to combine well.

Spread the mixture evenly on an oiled baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Stirring the granola half way through for even baking. When it’s ready, remove the pan from the oven, stir well – this will keep it from cooling into a hard, solid sheet – and cool completely.

When cool, transfer the granola to a large bowl, storage jar, or zipper-lock plastic bag. Add the chocolate, and stir (or shake, if using a jar or bag) to mix.

Makes about 5 cups.


Friday, May 02, 2008

Try anything new lately? - Profiteroles with Gianduja Gelato

Profiteroles with Gianduja Gelato

Pate a Choux has always been on my " things to conquer" list. For some inexplicable reason, I avoid making it for a very long time. The mere thought of making Pate a Choux is unnerving;what with the boiling of butter and water, stirring in flour all at once until the whole mixture comes together like a ball, piping and baking. Doesn't reading this makes you feel a little dizzy? And making the task sounds insurmountable?


Then the lovely profiteroles grace the cover of March 2008 Gourmet magazine, and I was seriously smitten. Have you seen that cover? It made me want to run into kitchen and whip up a batch right there and then. But I was too busy packing for our move in March, so the profiterole project was put on hold. Also, I haven't gotten my red hot Ice Cream Maker in March yet, so there was no rush for the profiteroles.

This is until I churned out a batch of Gianduja Gelato with Nutella on Wednesday night. Oh, you must have heard rave reviews of Mr Lebovitz's said gelato here, here,here and here. And I just want to add that all of them are right! The gelato is delizioso.Since gianduja connotes Nutella to me, I decided to swirl some into the gelato instead of Stracciatella that David suggested. In my overzelous, I probably use more Nutella than I should.(ok, that's almost a jar), And my gelato turned out to be richer than Oprah. So I think I will try to use melted bittersweet chocolate next time, and pairing the Nutella with some other flavors.


Having said that, the Gianduja Gelato with Nutella is perfect, when nested inside the crisp puff of pastry in the form of profiteroles. Surprisingly when I confronted my fear of choux pastry face on, it wasn't half as daunting as I made it out to be. To the contrary, it was quite a breezy process. Just make sure that you read the instructions CAREFULLY. The first batch I made was inedible, because I misread the amount of butter. The recipe says 3/4 stick of butter. I misread it and used 3/4 cup of butter. Major mistake! The puffs were sizzling and sweating oil in the hot oven. I wasted 3 eggs and 1.5 sticks of butter, but there is no point crying over oily puffs. Moving on, the second batch rose beautifully and voila, I can now cross off pate a choux from my list.

Since my mini ice cream scoop is used to get the perfect amount of gelato in these profiteroles, I am submitting this entry to the Tasty Tools: Scoop Challenge, hosted by Joelen's Culinary Adventures. Check out Joelen's blog on 5 May to read about many more delicious treats that others scoop out with their ice cream scoops!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Profiteroles with Gianduja Gelato with Nutella Swirl
adapted from and Perfect Scoop

1 qt Gianduja Gelato with Nutella Swirl
3/4 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs

Chill a small metal baking pan in freezer. Form 20 gelato balls with scoop and freeze in chilled pan at least 1 hour (this will make serving faster).

Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle. Butter a large baking sheet.

Bring butter, water, and salt to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until butter is melted. Reduce heat to medium, then add flour all at once and cook, beating with a wooden spoon, until mixture pulls away from side of pan and forms a ball, about 30 seconds.

Transfer mixture to a bowl and cool slightly, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well with an electric mixer after each addition.
Transfer warm mixture to pastry bag and pipe 18 mounds (about 1 1/4 inches wide and 1 inch high) 1 inch apart on baking sheet.

Bake until puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes total. Prick each profiterole once with a skewer, then return to oven to dry, propping oven door slightly ajar, 3 minutes. Cool on sheet on a rack.

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