Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What I do on my days off

The other day Chef asked me what I did on my days off.
When I told him that I made croissants and macarons, he looked a little bemused.
"Dont you bake enough at work?"
"I guess I am just really lucky to have my hobby as my job!"

As any professional bakers would agree, baking at home is very different from professional baking. The portion is smaller and the pace is slower. The downside of baking at home however, is the dirty dishes one has to clean. But on the other hand, you get to decide what and when you want to make!

croissants batch 2.1

It has almost become my second nature to make croissants on my days off. I make a small batch, enough to last us a week. I like to shape and proof my dough then freeze them in the freezer. They are ready to bake on the days we want to eat them. That way, we can always have fresh croissants.

Making croissants at home may seem a little time consuming and daunting at first, but after a few practices, it gets easier. The key to a good croissant in my opinion is good butter. By that, I mean Plugra butter. It's the European butter with a higher fat content. While the usual butter in market has fat content of 70-73% ( and we are talking about the better brands), Plugra has 83% fat. I used Plugra butter liberally in my bakes when I could find it cheap at my local farmers market. But lately, the market has decided to discontinue the product, so I restraint the use of Plugra butter in croissants and danishes only.
choc croissants

Usually, making croissants is a 2 days event. After the dough is made, it benefits from the overnight rest in the fridge before rolling out and shaping for the final proof. One time I tried to rush it and made everything in a day. The croissants were lacking in flavor. Apparently, there wasn't enough time for the yeast fermentation, which contribute to the flavor development. After the first failure, I treated my dough with more patience and let it rest overnight before the final proof.
croissants batch 2.1

I find it really therapeutic to play with croissant dough. I told the chef. To which he said: "Mandy, you are something else."

note: I will include the recipe with a step by step pictures instruction when I make croissants again next week. Stay tune!


Friday, June 18, 2010

Summer fruit tarts

005 copy

I love H Mart. The clean and spacious grocery store always have something exotic and intriguing for the adventurous to try. It is where I stock up on korean bulgogi sauce, kimchi, rice, Pocky and asian greens. It is also the place where I can get fresh berries for as little as a dollar a punnet.

fruit tarts

As we were planning to go for another fruit picking in the next few days,I really shouldn't be buying any fruits from the store. But my logic flew out of the window when seeing other customers surrounded a pile of neatly arranged berries with the board so big you can see it from miles away- "Raspberry 8oz- $0.99". Not  too far away from it, the blueberries and blackberries were selling for the same price. I put one punnet of each kind in my basket and  thought I was pretty good with self restraint. :)

fruit tarts

Once home, I rolled out some sweet tart dough and showed OCT how to make pastry cream. He was constantly bugging me to teach him something so he could brag in front of his colleagues.

fruit tarts

Less is more when dealing with fruits that are in season. So I made fruit tarts. Buttery sweet tart dough with a layer of luscious vanilla pastry cream. Topped that with lots of fruits. I made a big tart for a friend and some individual tarts for us. The mini tarts were so small that we each ate two.

Some kiwi and mangoes found their ways into my grocery basket without me realised, so I made a few tarts with them too. ;)

Summer Fruit Tarts

sweet tart dough:
adapted from Desserts by Pierre Herme

2.5 sticks (10 ounces, 285g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1.5 cups (150g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 cup (lightly packed)(3 1/4 ounces, 100g) finely ground almond powder or finely ground blanched almond
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanlla bean pulp or pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
3.5 cups (490g) all purpose flour

Place the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on low speed until creamy. Add the sugar, almond powder, salt, vanilla, and eggs and still working on low speed, beat to blend the ingredients, scraping down the paddle and the sides of the bowl as needed. The dough may loo cuddled- that's all right. With the machine on low, add the flour in three or four additions and mix only until the mixture comes together to form a soft, moist dough- a matter of seconds. Don't overdo it.

Gather the dough into a ball and divide it into 3 or 4 pieces: 3 pieces for 10 inch (26cm) tarts, 4 for 9 inch (24cm) tarts. Or, press the dough into one big disk and cut off as much as you need at the time that you need it. gently press the dough into disks and wrap them in plastic. Allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days , before rolling and baking. Alternatively, the dough can be freeze for up to 1 month.

For each tart, place a buttered tart ring on a parchment lined baking sheet and keep close at hand. Work with one piece of dough at a time, keep the remaining dough in the refrigerator.

To roll and bake the tart shells:
Working on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a thickness of between 1/16 and 1/8 inch (2 and 4 cm), lifting the dough often and making certain that the work surface and the dough are amply floured at all times. (a well floured area makes rolling this rich dough easier) Roll the dough up around your rolling pin and unroll it onto the tart ring. Fit the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the ring, then run your rolling pin across the top of the ring to cut off the excess. If the dough cracks or splits as you work, don't worry- patch the cracks with scraps and just certain not to stretch the dough that's in the pan. Prick the dough all over with fork and chill it for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and fit a circle of parchment paper or foil into the crust and fill with dried beans or rice. ( i usually skip this step after resting my rolled out dough in the fridge for about 1 hour).

Bake the crust for 18-20 minutes, just until it is very lightly coloured. If the crust needs to be fully baked, remove the parchment and beans and bake the crust for another 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden. Transfer the crust to a rack to cool.

Vanilla pastry cream:

1 cup milk
1 plump, moist vanilla vean, split lengthwise and scraped
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/6 cup cornstarch, sifted. (1/2 of a 1/3 cup.Eyeball it using the 1/3 cup)
1.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

To make the pastry cream:
Bring milk and vanilla bean( pulp and pod) to a boil in a small saucepan. Cover the pan, remove from heat and let the liquid be infused with scent of vanilla, for 10 minutes.

Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and set aside a small bowl that can hold the finished cream and be placed in this ice bath. Allow set aside a fine-meshed strainer.

Whisk egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. While whisking, slowly drizzle a quarter of the hot milk into the yolks. Continue to add in the rest of the milk into the tempered yolks, whisking all the while. Remove the vanilla pod.

Place the saucepan over high heat and whisking vigorously, without stop, bring the mixture to the boil. Continue to whisk another 1-2 minutes, until you notice that the texture of th cream has thicken, and less liquidy, remove from heat. Press the cream through the sieve into the reserved small bowl. Set the bowl in the ice bath prepared earlier, and stirring frequently so that the mixture remains smooth, cool the cream to 140F, as measured on an instant read thermometer. Stir in the butter in two or three additions. Make sure that you don't add the butter in when the mixture is still hot. Or the cream would separate. Stir the cream occasionally until it is completely cool. It is ready to be used at this point or keep refrigerated, until you are ready to assemble the tart.

To assemble the tart:
After the tart shell is completely cool, put some pastry cream in the center and spread it out evenly. You can put as much or as little to your liking. Top it with lots of fruit and devour!

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