Friday, October 31, 2008

Dessert Guinea Pigs


I just took my daughter, Sarah, to her first Halloween Party yesterday. She dressed up as a pumpkin. I don't know what animal eats pumpkin but we came home safe from being with a lion, turtle, monkey and chicken for a good few hours. When we were home, I made these cupcakes: Moist chocolate cupcakes with dark chocolate ganache and spooky meringue ghost. Aren't they cute?

I'm not a big fan of meringue. It's just too sugary... Sometimes I wondered that I'm qualified to call myself having a sweet-tooth. However, it's fun to make them. It's quite easy to make and the end result is always impressive. A few years back, I made some meringue mushrooms to decorate my Christmas dessert. I found that you really need patience to make meringue. If you keep turning your electric beater or stand-up mixer on & off during the process, you'll never get there. The piping part is the fun part. Since you're not piping on a cake, there's less pressure. You can even experiment on what type of "ghost" you like. I like the smooth looking one better than the "Michelin" ghosts.


I made these cupcakes just for fun. I gave the cupcakes to friends who have kids at home. Also, I want to enjoy all the baking fun without weighting 300lbs. That’s why I have a list of friends who signed up as my “Dessert Guinea Pigs”.
After the weekend, one of my guinea pigs called me and told me how much she LOVES the cupcakes. Especially the "icing". She said she had never have that "icing" before. Well, it's because that wasn’t icing… That was chocolate ganache. I'm very happy to hear that she can taste the difference. I tried to select my "dessert guinea pigs" very carefully. I just hate to send my homemade treats to someone who doesn't appreciate the work behind. (or simply can't taste the difference between homemade and store bought tarts.)

One other reason of having a list of guinea pigs is that Frank and I could not finish everything. Sarah is still too young to eat cake. I'm waiting patiently to make her all the different cakes and cookies for different holidays and occasions when she's older. Of course, the first one will be her 1st birthday cake. Stay tune, it's coming in a month.

Meringue Ghosts

Makes 12 meringue ghosts

2 egg whites
pinch cream of tartar
¼ cup sugar

In a stand mixer, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until they form soft peaks. Stir Slowly begin adding the sugar continuing until stiff peaks form. Spoon the meringue in a pastry bag with an 1/2 inch tip. Pipe out your ghost on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Carefully place the sesame seeds on the meringue for the eyes of the ghosts. Bake in an 200C oven for 1 hour.

Chocolate Ganache

Yield about 1 cup

4oz semi sweet chocolate, finely chopped
½ cup heavy cream

In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to just boiled. Removed from heat and add chocolate. Make sure the heavy cream covers all the chocolate. Stir occasionally until all the chocolate melted. Let cool, the ganache will thicken as it sits but it should be pourable.

One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes

Makes 12 cupcakes

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ¼ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 large egg
¾ cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
¾ tsp pure vanilla extract
¾ cups warm water

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners. Into the bowl of electric mixer, sift together all the dry ingredients. Attach bowl to mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; add the rest of the ingredients all at once. Beat on low speed until smooth and combined, about 3 minutes; scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each about two-third full. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Transfer pans to wire rack to cool.

When the cupcakes are completed cool, dip each cupcake’s into chocolate ganache. Be careful not to drip on the side. Place each meringue ghost on the cupcake & Enjoy.

Monday, October 20, 2008

SHF #48

This is my first time submitting post to SHF. Anita from Dessert First chose spice for this month’s theme. I like spice cake. It's perfect for October when the weather is cold, the sky is grey and the leaves are turning yellow. Nothing is better than sitting by the window, having a slice of warm, rich, aromatic spiced cake in a lazy afternoon and listening to your neighbours raking the leaves.

I made a Spiced-Quince Butter Cake from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course. Unlike most of the spice cake which normally are sticky, dark and dense, this cake has a very light, fine crumbs. The poached quince in the cake tasted like honey. It’s sweet, fragrant and somewhat chewy. The different texture between the cake and the poached quince is very fulfilling. I served it with candied walnuts as suggested by Claudia Fleming and Vanilla Bean Ice-cream and the combination of the three is magical. :)

The other dessert I made for this month's SHF is Regan Daley's Sticky Spiked Double-Apple Cake with a Brown Sugar-Brandy Sauce. This one is a combination of tart & sweet, sticky & crunchy. A few different spices were used in this recipe but the taste is very subtle. It sure did save room for the flavour of the apple & brandy to shine. On top of the cake is the brandy sauce which gives this cake a different layer of coziness.

I can't choose one cake over the other. These two cakes are very different from each other. The quince cake is very elegant and unusual as for a spice cake. Daley's apple cake is everything you are expecting for a fall dessert. Try them both. They are both very easy to make and are perfect to make ahead in the morning for your dinner party at night.

End note: As much as I like spice cake, making one at home is a real challenge. The reason is that Frank is not a big fan of spice cake. (He loves spices in cooking but not too familiar with spices in baking) It took over an hour to poach the quince. And Frank asked me, "When is this spice project going to be ended?". Thankfully, he likes both of the cake, especially the quince cake. Otherwise, it will be hard for me to make them again at home.

Spiced-Quince Butter Cake

Serves 6 to 8

1 large quince, peeled, cored, and cut into 16 slices
1½ cups sugar
1 cup dry white wine
1 whole clove stuck into a 2-inch strip of orange peel
½ cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3 cups water

½ cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1-1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
½ cup almond flour
1/3 cup cake flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
4 large egg whites (1/2 cup)
½ tsp grated orange zest
Additional unsalted butter, at room temperature, for greasing the pan

1. To prepare the quince, in a large saucepan, combine the quince and all the ingredients. Cut a round of parchment paper slightly smaller than the pot and lay it on top of the quince (this will keep the fruit submerged; you can also use a sturdy, heatproof plate). Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the quince is tender and spongy, about 1¼ hours. Let the quince cool in the poaching liquid. Drain the quince pieces on layers of paper towel. Discard the liquid.

2. To make the cake, preheat the oven to 400oF. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Continue to let the butter cook until the white milk solids fall to the bottom of the skillet and turn a rich hazelnut brown. Strain the browned butter through a fine sieve into a clean bowl, discarding the solids.

3. Sift together the confectioners’ sugar, almond flour, cake flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom. Place the sifted ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. On the lowest speed, add the egg whites and orange zest; mix until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium and beat until very smooth. Decrease the speed to low and stir in the browned butter, then increase the speed to medium and beat until smooth.

4. Butter a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom or a springform pan. Pour in the batter and smooth the top. Arrange the quince slices on the batter. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. Remove the sides of the pan before serving.

Candied Walnuts

Yield: 2 cups

2 cups walnuts
3 tbsp simple syrup
¼ cup turbinado (raw) sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350oF. In a large bowl, toss the walnuts with enough of the simple syrup to coat them well. The nuts should be sticky and well coated with enough syrup so the sugar will stick.

2. Add the turbinado sugar to the walnuts, tossing well. Work quickly so that the sugar doesn’t melt. Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, stirring the nuts after 5 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sticky Spiked Double-Apple Cake

Serves 10 to 12

1 cup Lexia, Muscat or sultana raisins
1/3 cup brandy
1 cup unsulphured dried apple slices
½ cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1½ tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves (preferably freshly ground)
1½ cups tightly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
¾ cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
2 medium-sized tart cooking apples, one peeled, one unpeeled, both cored and cut into ½ inch pieces
Additional unsalted butter, at room temperature, for greasing the pan

1. In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the brandy for 45 minutes. Add the dried apple slices and macerate for a further 15 minutes. Do not drain!

2. Preheat the oven to 325oF. Butter a 9 x 13-inch pan and line the bottom and up the two long sides with a sheet of parchment paper, letting the paper hang over the edges by an inch or so. Lightly butter the paper. In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, blend both sugars. Add the eggs and beat on medium speed until thickened and pale, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the cooled melted butter and mix to blend. Fold in the dry ingredients in two additions, mixing just enough to moisten most but not all of the flour. Add the dried fruit and brandy mixture, chopped pecans and diced fresh apple, then fold them into the batter with long, deep strokes. Don’t fret about the ratio of fruit to batter – there is a remarkable amount of fruit but it bakes into a wonderfully chewy cake.

4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and set in the centre of the oven. Bake until the centre springs back when lightly touched, a tester inserted into the centre comes out clean and the cake is beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan (about 1 hour and 10 minutes). Transfer to a wire rack and cool. Serve warm or at room temperature with the warm Brown Sugar-Brandy Sauce.

Sugar-Brandy Sauce

Yield: 2¼ cups

1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup whipping cream
2½ tbsp brandy

1. Combine the butter, sugars and cream in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir this mixture over low heat until the sugar dissolves, then increase the heat to medium and bring the sauce to a very gentle boil, stirring all the while. Cook 5 more minutes, then remove from the heat and stir in the brandy.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancake

This is one of Frank's favorite weekend breakfast options. I like it too because it takes no time to make. Sometimes I'll make it as a midnight snack...

I used to make chocolate chips pancake because I always have chocolate chips at my house. Love the convenience of it especially when you have a pancake craving at 10pm. However, there's no place for maple syrup when you put chocolate chips in the pancake.

Chocolate chips pancake is now a history in my house. I think blueberry pancake is a thousand times better. The tartness from blueberries goes so well with maple syrup. You can taste both the berries and the syrup at the same time. Both Frank and I like our food with layers of flavours. It's something that chocolate chips pancake cannot offer. Also, using blueberries seems like a healthier choice, despite we pour a healthy amount of maple syrup on top...

Dark Espresso Chocolate Cake

I mentioned before that I'm not crazy about white chocolate. On the contrary, dark chocolate is always my favorite. I like its complexity. I found that white chocolate has no character. However, there was once I tried a bar of white chocolate that had Kalamata olives in it. The combination might sound weird but the taste was unbelievably good. It made the world's difference for that plain old white chocolate.

Back to the cake. This dark espresso chocolate cake wasn't hard to make. I have another recipe very similar to this one. They both called for a large quantity of coffee/espresso which made the batter very runny. I don't agree with the name of this cake because you won't taste the coffee/espresso from the cake. (The recipe called for Kahlua and I would definitely skip it next time. It tasted very artificial.) The espresso was there to enhance the chocolate flavour. I have a couple of friends who are not coffee fans. I didn't even bother telling them that it had coffee in the cake. (I do that from time to time. As long as they are not allergic to the ingredient, that's the bottom line.) Of course, they both love the rich chocolate flavour of the cake... Now, only you, me and God knows where that richness came from...

The bitter chocolate glaze on the cake made this cake looked very pretty. You can even see the reflection of the garnish on the top of the cake.

I will suggest having this cake with a glass of dessert wine instead of a cup of espresso. So that my non-coffee-fan friends can enjoy it freely. (evil grin)

Fig-Cornmeal Tart

This Fig-Cornmeal Tart is beautiful enough to impress the crowd and is easy enough to make all the components a day ahead.

Under the quartered fresh figs on the tart was a layer of Fig-Armagnac filling. Having said that this tart was easy to make, it was very hard to resist eating the tempting fresh figs and the filling before assembling the tart. My whole kitchen was infused by the sweet scent of figs and Armagnac while the filling was simmering in the pot. I couldn't help but tried a little spoonful of the filling before it was ready. Immediately, I knew this tart will be a hit. That jam-like filling was so silky yet toothsome. How? Thanks to the seeds of the figs. Before I made the tart, I wasn't sure about the cornmeal tart crust. I didn't know how well cornmeal will pair with the elegant figs. Of course, I got the answer when that crunch of fig seeds happened.

When we tried the tart at night. Frank said he wasn't expecting the spices from the tart and probably that's why he didn't find the tart super attractive. (That was very polite of him...) He said it was rather bland. Therefore, I whipped up some crème fraîche to go with the tart as Claudia Fleming suggested in her book. (This is a recipe from Fleming's book, The Last Course) Ah-ha, that's what was missing. A dollop of crème fraîche and a drizzle of honey rounded out the sweetness of the tart. The tart became not as sweet (it wasn't that sweet, but, it was missing something) and the tang from the crème fraîche disappeared... How should I put it?... It was a perfect marriage!

White Chocolate Raspberry Tarts

I have made this dessert a few times before. It's always a hit. I even made it for the raffles draw at a fund raising event last year and sold almost 150 tickets.

This time, I made individual tartlettes instead of one 10-inch tart. It looks not as spectacular but more elegant. It's perfect for those who likes this tender crust.

I'm not a big fan of white chocolate. It's too sweet to my liking. However, it goes beautifully with the tartness of raspberry. The white chocolate filling was flavoured with Framboise. In the past, I used lychee liquor which gave a floral fragrant to the filling without colouring it like the way Framboise would.

It's a beautiful dessert for any occassion.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Le Cordon Bleu Experience

Three years ago, I received a hands-on dessert making class at Le Cordon Bleu as my birthday present from Frank. The theme of the class was Festive Dessert. I was so happy when I knew that I was going to be a Le Cordon Bleu student for one day.

The day finally came. It was about 30 people in the class and everyone was waiting anxiously. The class was in English (at least that's what it was intended to be). However, Chef Pagés is French, and sometimes it's hard for him to find all his words in English... It means that it's hard for me to understand every word he said.

Chef Pagés made Chalet Montagnard in the demonstration part of the class. This chocolate cake built chalet, with a chocolate sleigh on the side is a more sophisticated, adult version of gingerbread house. It will be the perfect dessert to show off at Christmas dinner if you can repeat the thousand steps to make this impressive looking dessert.

After tasting the Chalet Montagnard, the practical part of the class began. We moved to the kitchen from the demonstrating room. I pair up with a guy called Pablo, who also received the class as a present. Since I'm so obsessed with making everything from scratch, I was a little bit disappointed about the set up. I want a dessert made by ME!

Everyone is making the same dessert and it is Bûche au marrons confits. It's a chestnut mousse log coated with white chocolate. In order to save time and minimize mistake, all the ingredients were already measured for us. (another disappointment... I want to do everything MYSELF!) Also, the almond dacquoise (the base of the log) was pre-made. Chef Pagés also shared his crème brûlée receipe with us.

I brought home half of a Bûche au marrons confits. (Have to share with Pablo) Frank was very impressed with the final product.

I decided to make this dessert for Frank's friend's Christmas party. I just want to make it from scratch, all by myself. It turned out very nice. I made some meringue mushroom for decoration which really impressed the kids at the party.

It was an enjoyable experience making dessert at Le Cordon Bleu. I would love to take a pastry making course day...