Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Peach Tatin Cake

I get asked a lot about how I like the winter/cold weather in Chicago by my Chicagoan colleagues. It also happened to be one of the questions in my three rounds of interview. And guess what I told them?

"I love it! It is perfect for baking!" And I am not lying. I love fall and even winter. I love the cooler temperature that nudge me to turn on the oven for warmth and the Christmas decorations that stores couldn't wait to put up right after Halloween. Everything just put me in a festive baking mood. Which I am surely not the only one who feels this way.

peach tatin

Over at work, we have been using lots of apples, pears and pumpkins for the seasonal desserts. The apple tarte tatin in particular,has been a popular one when it was on the menu. I often find myself scrambling to make more in the middle of the busy service nights. No matter how many I have made before the beginning of service. People just can't have enough of them. But how could I blame them? The combination of puff pastry, warm baked caramel apple and rum & raisin ice cream is downright comforting and delicious.

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I wish I could share the recipe with you, but I couldn't. Instead, here's a delicious cake, almost the same idea as the apple tarte tatin. Except that it's in the form of cake and meant to be shared with company. I made this with OCT sometime ago to use up the peaches we had. While peaches season has long gone, I am thinking that you could use sauteed apples or poached/canned pear in place of the peaches.

We paired the warm cake with cocoa nib ice cream, but vanilla ice cream will be a great option too.

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Peach Tatin Cake
adapted from Tish Boyle's "The Cake Book"

caramel peach topping
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
5 tablespoons butter,cut into tablespoons
4 large ripe peaches (18.3oz /520g),cut into wedges

cake base
1.5 cups all purpose flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup natural yogurt
2 tsp vanilla extract
9 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 10x3-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and grease the paper.

to make the caramel:
Combine water and sugar in a medium saucepan, heat over medium heat. Stir with a heat resistant spatula until the sugar dissolves. Stop stirring and increase the heat to high. Cook until the mixture turn a golden caramel. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Be careful when you do that- the mixture will bubble up furiously. Very carefully pour the hot caramel into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Arrange the peaches around the edges of pan, overlapping them slightly;Arrange another circle of peaches in the center, facing the opposite direction, covering the caramel completely. If you have extra peaches, dice and save them to mix into cake batter.

To make the cake
Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon, set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt and vanilla extract; set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Next, add in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

At low speed, add in flour mixture in three additions, alternating it with the yogurt mixture in two additions and mixing just until blended. (Mix in the diced peaches, if you have leftover)

Pour the batter over peaches, then smooth it into an even layer. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and spring back when lightly touched. Set the pan on a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes.

Run a thin bladed knife around the edges of the pan. Using pot holders, very carefully invert the cake onto a cake plate or platter. Serve cake warm or at room temperature.

The cake can be kept in airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days or refrigerate for up to a week. Bring to room temperature before serving.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

What makes a place home

champagne grapes financiers

Personally, I associate home with the scents of warm food and baked goods. Home is a secure, comfortable and inviting space with food on the table. For me, the aroma that lingers in the air when something is baking is hard to beat. Perhaps that is what draws me to choose baking as a profession.

Sadly, when I reached our home in Atlanta last month, the first thing I noticed, was the lack of said aroma. I was determined to remedy the situation as soon as I put down my luggage. Upon a quick inspection of our pantry and fridge, it occured to me that my options were limited.

Judging from the recipes on my blog, one can probably tell that I am never one who sets ambitious goals in home baking, so something simple and fast is just fine. And what could be easier than financiers?

All I did was brown the butter, combined the dry ingredients with the eggwhites. The batter rested in the cooler overnight, while I catched up on my sleep!

champagne grapes financiers

After a quick trip to the Farmer's Market the following day, I returned with armful of fruits and vegetables. I was ready to perfume our apartment with the aroma of home cooking. I know only by then, I would feel like I am finally home.

For the financiers, I topped them with figs, blackberries and some beautiful champagne grapes that my good friend Grace introduced me on my last trip home. Ever since then, I can't stop munching these beautiful morsels. Too bad that the champagne grapes season is fleeting. However, given the versatility of the financier batter, you can use any toppings.

champagne grapes

I was short on eggwhites, so I replaced some of it with fig puree. You can safely replace 1/4 of the eggwhite with apple puree/sauce too, if you happen to have some handy.Do you know that apple puree is great at retaining moisture? Just thought you might want to know one of those things I learned from pastry school. ;)

adapted from Dorie Greenspan's blog.

Makes 24 mini muffins size cookies

1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces; 180 grams) unsalted butter
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1 cup (100 grams) ground almonds
6 large egg whites (I substituted 60g of fig puree for 2 eggwhites)
2/3 cup (90 grams) all-purpose flour

Make the brown butter- Put the butter in a small saucepan and bring it to the boil over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally, so that it doesn't burn at the bottom. Allow the butter to bubble away until it turns a deep brown. Pull the pan from the heat and keep it in a warm place.

Combine the sugar and almonds together in a medium saucepan. Stir in the egg whites, place the pan over low heat, while constantly stirring with a wooden spoon, heat the mixture until it is runny, slightly white and hot to the touch, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour, then gradually mix in the melted butter. Make sure that everything is well incorporated. Transfer the batter to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface of the batter to create an airtight seal, and chill for at least 1 hour. (The batter can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Butter and flour the mini muffins pan.

Fill each mold almost to the top with batter and add in your choice of toppings. Slide the pan into the oven and bake for about 13 minutes, or until the financiers are golden, crowned and springy to the touch.


Friday, September 18, 2009

What to do with leftover eggwhites - Mini Pavlovas

having fun with leftover

When I was home last week, friends asked if I still bake at home since I do that at work everyday."Of course! I can bake anytime for the people I love." I am sure a lot of people feel the same way too. It doesn't matter if it's an elaborate cake or some simple cookies. Freshly baked goodies make people feel loved and special.

Although I have just started work in the hotel for less than a week, I already noticed that colleagues from different departments like to stop by the bakeshop from time to time. Everybody is curious about the goodies we make for the day. If luck is on their sides, they may even get a taste of something fresh out of the oven. It still amazes me sometime to see people's contented smile, when given something as simple as a warm chocolate chips cookies.

Which is what I almost baked when I was home, but there's leftover eggwhites from other baking projects that OCT brought to my attention.
"Can you use up the eggwhites first before making other recipes?"


Almost immediately, some dessert ideas come to mind. The first one is pavlova. Minimum effort, improportional gratification. Instead of making one big pavlova, I piped the meringue into individual portions. Store in an airtight container, they can be kept for a week under room temperature or up to a month in the freezer. A perfect standby for the unexpected dinner party!

mini pavlova

I topped the meringue shells with some whipped cream + homemade lemon cream and fruits we have in the fridge. A few strips of candied citrus zests help to balance the sweetness of the meringue but it's completely optional.

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A simple and low fat dessert that both OCT and I enjoyed. Next, another simple recipe to use up MORE of the leftover eggwhites(much to OCT relief).

Mini Pavlovas

4 large egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
fruits of your choice

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
Place a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet pan.

Place the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites on high speed until firm, about 1 minute. With the mixer still on high, slowly add the sugar and cornstarch, followed by the vanilla extract and beat until it makes firm, shiny peaks, about 2 minutes.

Fill the meringue into a piping bag with star tip. Pipe the meringue onto the parchment paper. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the outer side feel dry and hard when touched. Turn off the oven, keep the door ajar, and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven, about 1 hour. It will be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

Remove the meringue disks from the parchment paper when they are completely cool. If not consumed immediately, keep them in airtight containers. They can be stored at room temperature for a week or freeze for a month.

When ready to serve, top meringue shells with sweetened whipped cream. Note that the recipe below is just a guide. I usually just whip some heavy cream in a bowl to soft peak, combined with vanilla extract and fold in some lemon cream. Taste to adjust.

Sweetened Whipped Cream:
2/3 cup cold heavy cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup lemon cream

Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (you can also use a hand mixer). When it starts to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until firm. Don't overbeat! Fold in the lemon cream.

Pile your choosen fruits onto the cream. Enjoy!


Friday, September 04, 2009

Light at the end of the tunnel and a simple cake

As my friend J aptly pointed out, this has been the longest break ever on my blog. I didn't realize that some of you still take a peep into this space from time to time to check on me! Truth is, the past month was nothing short of a roller coaster ride. From the despair of inevitable unemployment to the various empty promises, I was all ready to pack my stuffs and head back to Atlanta.

Who would have thought that the last interview I had in less than a week before my scheduled departure would land me a job on the very same day? It feels so surreal and call me superstitious, I try to keep it really quiet before I sign the contract. No job status updates on Facebook, because that has been "established" to jinx whatever good things coming my way.

The first thing I did after signing the contract, was to buy a plane ticket to Atlanta. A much needed break before the commencement of a new career; some quality time with OCT and baking in my long neglected kitchen are in order.

fig & blackberries cake

No fancy, multi steps recipes that take days to complete. I have set out to use the seasonal fruits to bake something for my friends and loved ones. This easy fig and blackberry coffee cake simply fit the bill!

I have combined some sierra figs that a friend passed us, together with some blackberries and peach in the batter. The inspiration comes from Zoe's cake, which is an adaption from Dorie Greenspan's blueberry crumb cake.

fig & blackberries cake

It's a lovely cake to be eaten with a scoop of ice cream or a cup of tea in the afternoon. I bake the cake as a gift for OCT's colleague and a smaller one to nibble in the afternoon.

Note that the cake rises significantly, so you don't want to fill the cake pan too full. If using a smaller pan or a taller pan, you can add some thinly sliced fruits in between the batter for extra moisture. Although it's not absolutely necessary, I find that resting the cake overnight allow the flavor and moisture to redistribute itself. The cake tastes much better the next day.

Ah, the joy of home baking and taking photos under natural light! Stay tuned for more recipes to come. :)

Fig, Blackberry and Peach Coffee Cake
adapted from here

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 freshly grated nutmeg
2/3 cup sugar
zest from half a lemon
3/4 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk + 1/4 cup plain yogurt
a couple of figs halved/quartered
a pint of blackberries
half a peach, sliced

Preheat the oven to 350F and lightly oil an 8-inch square pan.

Combine the all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground cinnamon and nutmeg, sift into a big bowl or onto a piece of parchment paper.

Beat the room temperature butter with sugar, vanilla extract and lemon zest until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time; make sure that the first one is well incorporated before adding the second. Scrape the bowl to make sure all ingredients are well mixed.

Add in 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by 1/2 of the milk + yogurt mixture. Alternate the addition of dry and wet ingredients, mix until just combined. Overmix will lead to a tough cake.

Pour the thick batter into prepared pan and arrange fruits in a decorative pattern on top. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean in the center.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Happiness is........

Being surrounded by beautiful macarons.

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Happiness is - Helping the macaron shells to find their destined other half.


Happiness is - Eating the rejected, overfilled macarons. :)



Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Still here.......

Despite my best intention to update this space, I could barely muster the energy to organize my thoughts or form coherent sentences by the end of each passing days. The past month was hectic to say the least but so fulfilling. My waking hours had been occupied by many exciting opportunities that I don't even know where to begin!

graduation buffet2

First, there's my internship at the most amazing patisserie in Chicago and another photo shoot for an esteemed organization with a renowned pastry chef. Then there's my final exam in pastry school and the graduation.

graduation buffet3

Ah, the graduation, the closure of a chapter in my life. I couldn't believe 6 months has just fled in a blink of an eye. It feels like it was only yesterday , when chef Jacquy addressed my class about how fast time will pass when we are in school. How we should relish every seconds when we are there and soak up the informations and techniques like sponges.

Now that school's over, the next stage of my sweet life commences. I am a full time intern at a marvellous french patisserie. The works that the guys at the patisserie do are beautiful and inspiring at the same time. I count myself lucky to have the opportunity to spend some months learning from them. Never in my wildest dream had I imagined the hobby I started as a way to kill time could turn into a career. I still don't have a job offer yet, but I figure I am on the right track. So I am just,going to focus on learning and doing my best during my internship.

chocolate candies

Unfortunately, there will not be any recipes on this site for awhile. After all the hard work in a bakery, baking at home seems the least likely way to unwind for me. But I will try to post my random thoughts/ observations while working in the bakery as often as I can....


Thursday, May 14, 2009

My first photo shoot assignment!

Seriously, has it been more than 2 weeks already? I hope everyone is enjoying the gorgeous Spring weather and forget about my temporary disappearance. I was preoccupied by my best friend's visit, school work, exam and a very special photo shoot assignment.


Let's talk about the photo shoot assignment. I couldn't remember how it started. But I showed Chef Dimitri Fayard- one of my admired pastry heros and chef instructor some of my food shots. He likes them and asks me to take some pictures of his entremets at Vanille Patisserie for some work related projects.

Naturally, I am excited about the opportunity. Food photography is as dear to my heart as pastry. And taking pictures for Vanille - arguably the best patisserie in Chicago? I couldn't ask for a better client for my first assignment. I am given a lot of creative freedom with the entremets, so the whole process is a lot of fun. Looking through my camera lens and I see all the entremets are made meticulously with great attention to details. They look so pretty that they don't need much styling or post processing after the photo shoot.


If you are in Chicago area and have never been to Vanille Patisserie, I hope this series of pictures will whet your appetite and nudge you into visiting the charming patisserie soon. While you are there, remember to grab some macarons and chocolates. Ah, the chocolates, they are soooo good! And please, tell whoever behind the counter that Mandy sends you there. *wink*


Monday, April 27, 2009

Finally Spring and my chocolate showpiece

When I look up the sky today

It finally feels like Spring in Chicago this past weekend! I take a long solitary walk around the neighborhood for the first time without my winter jacket. Everywhere I past, I see flowers blooming. And that barren trees in front of my apartment? They turn out to be cherry blossom trees! Everything has finally come alive after the interminable winter. I couldn't help smiling when I look up and being greeted by the dense and snowy white blossoms.

spring chocolate showpiece

The gorgeous weather beckons pictures to be taken outdoor. So I carry my chocolate showpiece out and start snapping away. Perhaps the noon heat is a little too much for the chocolate. After a couple of shots, my rose shows sign of melting. Time to bring it indoor!

As you can see, I am not much of an artist. It took me two attempts to come up with something that vaguely resembles a rose. My leaves are horrible and the white curly looking things? Mine just didn't make the cut. In the end, my friends come to my rescue and pass me their remaining curls so I can finish my showpiece.

chocolate showpiece

I would like to think of this chocolate showpiece as a collaborative effort. It warms my heart that my artistic friends come over to help when crisis strikes. They attach the right pieces in the right places when I couldn't make up my mind. Not only that, they stop me in the track when I am ready to attach one too many leaves on the showpiece. That's what true friends do. They tell you the truth, not afraid of hurting your feeling, while having your best interest in mind. And they come through when you need a hand.

chocolate showpiece

Too many times I see "friends" back stabbing each others when the other is not looking. I felt particularly bad during the last exam when someone let her friend's products turned brown to the point of burning in the oven without saying a word. I felt so bad that I went to tell that "friend" to check on her products. Even an acquintance would do that. But she would rather let her friend's products fail, so hers may look better. What kind of friends do that?!

I am thankful that I make some real friends in school. Friends whom I can depend and trust. Friends whom I know will not let my pate a choux or breads turn black without uttering a word. I imagine they will either yell at the top of their lungs for my attention, or quietly pull the products out before it's too late. That's what we will do for each other. Without a doubt, this showpiece is the shining evident of our friendship. :)


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Petit Fours

It has been awhile since I last updated my blog. What have I been up to, you asked? Well, the usual. School in the day time and dreaming about pastry at night. Except, I am also spending a considerable amount of time thinking about the direction I am heading after graduating from pastry school. It scares me a little to think that I will be out in about 8 weeks time. How time flies and yet,there's still so many things to learn!

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We are making chocolate showpiece in class this week, which time passes painfully slow. Hopefully, I have pictures to show end of this week! Meanwhile, here's some pictures from the petit fours classes sometime ago. All the mini pastries are definitely not good for my waistline! They are deceptively dainty that I dont feel guilty snacking a few everytime I open the fridge. As a result, I polished everything I brought home in no time. I think I must have gained a few pounds after the petit fours classes.

Petit Fours

But guess which item I enjoy making the most? The macarons of course. There's something captivating and magical about these little cookies. It's always a thrill to see those frilly feets form as the macaron shells baked in the oven. Although we are supposed to fill most of them with vanilla buttercream, I bring some shells home to fill with lemon buttercream filling, made with homemade meyer lemon curd. It's by far my favorite flavor.


If only I have all my equipments and tools with me in Chicago, I would be baking macarons everyday and experiments with many flavor combinations. Like many recipes that I want to try, I guess that will have to wait until I return to Atlanta.

The mere thought of leaving this city I have come to love makes me sad. I think I am going to comfort myself with the macarons I saved in the freezer for time like this.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

And the lucky winner is..........

Anna! I will contact you for your address shortly.Thanks for participating guys! I wish I have enough gift vouchers for everyone.

Beautiful Kanzan

Here's a picture of cherry blossom taken on the same date last year in Atlanta. Trees in Chicago are still stubbornly barren, which makes me wonder if Spring has eluded us?

Has Spring arrived in your part of the world yet?


Sunday, April 05, 2009

Sweet Giveaway!

A few weeks ago, the nice folks at See's Candies dropped me an email to ask if I would be interested to create a dessert with their candies/chocolate. Not only are they sending me the goodies, they also agreed to give one of my readers a $25 gift voucher! Aren't they sweet?

see's candies

As you can see, I got some chocolate from their Easter Candy selection and will be making something with my friends at a party later. My initial plan was to post a dessert with this giveaway post, but it was a hectic exam week, so that didn't materialise. Also, I am hoping that the winner of the $25 gift voucher can have enough time to select candies from their Easter Candy selection. So this giveaway post has to come before I show you what I make with them.

I am sure you don't mind that. Do you? To stand a chance to win $25 See Candies gift voucher, simply leave me a comment! The closing date is Tuesday 12:00a.m central time. A lucky winner will be chosen at random and announced on Tuesday morning. Good luck everyone!


Friday, April 03, 2009

Rant of a pastry student in distress.

croissant and coffee

Today is the last day of my exam but I couldn't help feeling a little apprehensive. So far, it just seems that whatever things that can go wrong have gone wrong. While products are edible, they are far from being aesthetic. Some of stupid mistakes were made more frustrating considered the number of practice we have in class. Perhaps it is harder to work with a smaller batch as we are required to half the recipe during the exam.

It looked silly to whip 2-3 eggwhites in the stand mixer with the tip of the whisk barely touches the eggwhite. This happened 20 minutes before the end of first day exam as the kitchenaid mixer was occupied by my partner's eggwhite. Seeing the rate at which it was whipping, I knew there would not be enough time for mine. One needs to be unorthodox when the unexpected occurs. However, have I predicted that there is an unlikely chance for me to whip eggwhites till peak manually, I would have practiced it at home! That would perhaps give me a little more elbow strength and stamina to help the situation. Anyway, I was relieved to turn in my piped meringues on time.

croissant and coffee

Today is supposed to be a breeze since we have completed most of the preparation by the second day of exam. I am now hoping that my previously frozen croissant dough will proof and rise well. Unproof croissant was never my concern until yesterday when one of my classmates was almost brought to tears by her croissants that remained stubbornly unproof. That made me worried with my croissant. What if mine do not rise like the ones in the pictures? Will I be able to stand the sight of croissant or eat another one for breakfast like I used to do in the last fortnight?
almond croissant
I will find out the answer in the next few hours. Meanwhile, wish me luck for today! And check back on Sunday, I have a sweet giveaway for you. :)


Monday, March 30, 2009

Danish Pastries


When one enrols in pastry school, keeping a healthy diet proves to be challenging. Although I think I do pretty good in refraining myself from gobble up all the goodies I make, there are some pastries that are simply irresistible.

Case in point, the freshly made danish. Or yeasted laminated dough in general. I told you that I have fresh artisan breads for dinners in the past 2 weeks. But I deliberately left out the details of the sinful breakfasts I partook in that 2 glorious weeks- super flaky, buttery, arteries clogging croissants and danish pastries. The phenomenal croissants is worthy of a post on its own, so let's focus on danish now, shall we?

Although I have made danish with the Daring Bakers before, making this breakfast pastries in class is a totally different experience. Depending on the time of the year and the temperature in the room, dealing with a large amount of butter in a recipe is never an easy feat. For that reason, having ample cooler and freezer space is anytime an unspoken advantage. I remember rearranging my "well stocked" cooler and freezer when I was attempting to chill the danish dough for danish braid last year, and it was a real pain. Cooling space aside, having a machine to roll out the dough is another reason to bring smile to my face. I fell in love with the sheeter the first time I used it. I think of sheeter as a big pasta machine ,it can roll out any kind of dough in no time.

Typically used in laminating dough to minimise contact time, which may result in melting the butter in the dough. My friend told me that the bakery she staged at used a sheeter to roll out cookies dough. Using just 2 fingers, I can have the danish dough roll uniformly to the desired thickness. Pure bliss~ It's great time saver when dealing with a large batch. But rolling out by hands definitely feel more rewarding.

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A few weeks ago, a representative from POM Wonderful dropped me an email to see if I would be interested to try their 100% pomegranate juice. The answer, as you may already guessed, was YES! I must confess that I was too cheap to buy it from the grocery stores because I wasn't sure if I would like it. How typically unadventurous of me. Even though I love the lovely bottle the pomegranate juice comes in.

POM Wonderful's antioxidant power has well documented as significantly higher than red wines and other fruit juices. Other health benefits on cardiovascular, prostate and erectile function can be read from their website. Although according to the studies, one needs to drink the juice for a long duration to fully reap the claimed health benefits , I think it is definitely a healthy beverage option compared to many in the market.


We had a pomegranate tree in the back yard when growing up, so I am no stranger to the fruit. I remember ripping open the red skin to messily digged out a lump of pomegranate pulps. They were then sent directly to my mouth. Taste of fresh pomegranate juice, extracted in my mouth. After that, a game of seeds spitting ensued, all in the name of hope - that some will grow into pomegranate trees the next day/week. The messy but delicious memory. My first sip of POM Wonderful juice reminds me of the fresh pomegranate juice I had in my childhood. They taste exactly the same! For this, I say "Good Job!" to the folks at POM wonderful for a great product.

POM wonderful has some interesting recipes on their website, but I simply drink the juice as it is. After eating so many croissants and danish, I need to drink something wholesome to counteract the negative effects of overloaded butter. Pomegranate juice definitely fits the bill.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Breads Invasion!

Beer Bread

I used to think that I was a bread girl. Unlike my better half, I could sustain on bread as my sole source of carbohydrate for weeks. I looked forward to the day we started bread classes, I couldn't wait to pack my freezer with breads and never need to do grocery for weeks.

That was the plan. And I certainly filled up my freezers with breads, even had many extra to give away. I started to plan my meals around breads. Salad, sandwich, soup, you name it- to go with the never ending supply of breads. All the freshly made breads I brought home was reason to envy a pastry student. I felt so spoilt for eating fresh artisan breads as dinners for 2 weeks! However, I had to reluctantly admit that I had overestimated my affinity for breads. Turned out I could only eat that many loaves of breads before bolting for a bowl of rice for comfort. I blame it on my unmistakably Asian genes.

breads invasion

There is something satisfying about bread baking. The way the dough reacts when you knead and shape them. The way it rises and fall and rise some more in the oven-the indication that it is fiercely alive. It almost feels like a science experiment, except that it's a pleasantly edible one. Personally I find the process of bread baking more rewarding than eating the final product.

Having said that, it depresses me a little that I couldn't decipher the greatness of one bread from the other. After making breads for a few days, they all tasted and smelled the same to me. I know, I am unsophisticated this way. Telling a good bread from a mediocre one is easy. But differentiating the flavor and texture from 2 good breads is tough. Or it is quite possibly just me. Most of my classmates can eloquently describe the differences between the various kinds of breads we baked. However, when pressed, I will proclaim my favorite to be the multigrain sourdough. Just don't ask me to articulate the reason.

My creation

Instead of attempting to describe the many breads we made, I will leave you with the pictures. If you have a good way to consume them, I am all ears. I think I am going to make french toast and garlic bread next.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

paris brest

Paris Brest, a bicycle tire-shaped confection, was created by a French baker to commemorate the audacious riders who took part in the Paris Brest Paris Randonniers. The grueling bicycle event, which dated back in 1891, required the riders to complete a 1200 km (750 miles) ride from Paris to Brest, and returning to Paris within 90 hours. A daring feat that was unheard of at that time.

Paris Brest

Perhaps that could explain the baker's inspiration of filling the tire-shaped choux pastry with huge amount of calorific praline pastry cream. Someone who have completed the arduous ride has no doubt burned enough calories to justify a generous serving of Paris Brest. Traditionally, a thick layer of pastry cream is piped into the center of choux pastry "tire", and more cream is used to decorate the surrounding of choux pastry ring.

I, who have no plan in participating any bicyle race in a foreseeable future, like the updated version that chef taught us in school. The reason is simple. Another smaller choux pastry ring is inserted in the center of the big choux pastry ring. As a result, less pastry cream is required, which tastes just as palatable.

On the night when I brought the Paris Brest home, I was confronted with a severe thunderstorm. It was definitely the most arduous 10 minutes walk in my life. The act of balancing a Paris Brest on top of a St Honore in one hand, while holding a flimsy foldable umbrealla in another was trying. My shoes and socks were soaking wet by the time I got home. So was my backpack, jacket and the jeans. I felt like I had waded a stream to get home. I couldn't imagine the rough weather conditions the cyclists have to endure in their 90 hours of constant pedalling. I would have abandoned the pastries if the walk was more than 10 minutes.

the fallen brest

Perhaps the thought have offended the pastry god. Just when I was about to reach my block, the paris brest fell face down onto the ground! Thanks to the multiple layers of saran-wrap, the Paris Brest was only half - disfigured, as you can see in the picture above. It was still delicious, and remains as one of my favorite things to make and eat. :)


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Love at first sight: chocolate tart

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Do you believe in love at first sight? I don't. Except when it has chocolate written all over its face. Like this tart we made in class.

I couldn't believe I have kept it away from you for so long since it followed me home more than two weeks ago. It was 2 busy weeks with friends and OCT visiting Chicago on consecutive weekends. My time was split between cleaning the messy apartment, daydreaming the touristy things we could do together and generally excited about the said visits.

When A and D were here, we didn't cover a single tourist attraction in the windy city. It was especially inconceivable considering that it was D's first time visiting Chicago.Poor D had a bad bout of indigestion, which she insisted was due to the pizza she ate on the first night. However, I couldn't help suspecting that it could quite possibly be the ridiculous amount of desserts I fed her on the night she arrived. A and I stayed in my apartment the following day, while D slept; catching up on each others life over coffee and more desserts. None of us mind. The famous sights can wait. Hopefully, that will lure them back to Chicago soon.

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Having arrived on the end of my tart week in school, they got to try the St Honore tart and paris brest among other things I saved in the freezer, which included this chocolate tart. Unfortunately, the once lovely chocolate tart lost its appeal upon freezing. Unlike the lemon cream tart,which one could keep in the freezer for a couple of weeks, the chocolate tart needs to be eaten within 2-3 days. I was pushing my luck when I chuck it in the freezer in hope of preserving it.

OCT who visited this past weekend didn't get to taste as many tarts, but he wasn't complaining. Mostly because he got his fill of croissants and french breads! A significant amount of breads had been unloaded from my tiny freezer to its sister freezer in Atlanta. But at the speed we are baking bread in class, it will be filled to the brim in no time.

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Although I couldn't give you the recipe of this chocolat tart, may I suggest that you consider the Nutella Tart I made sometime ago? The texture of the chocolate filling is comparable. And if you are a Nutella lover like me, you will find yourself favor Pierre Herme's version over this.


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.

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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.

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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. :)

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