Wednesday, 29 August 2012

sweet potato kuih

This is the first of the kuihs that I made at home. It comes from a tried and tested recipe found years ago in an Agnes Chang cookbook: 'Delightful Snacks and Dim Sum' - a source of far more reliable recipes than those offered by Amy Beh whose recipes often call for pinches of the oddest ingredients not normally used in traditional kuihs. This recipe only called for a minimal 4 ingredients (I don't think salt and the coating of coconut flesh counts) and a basic method of mixing everything together and steaming, which all looked a very promising and gentle introduction to kuihs. Ondeh-ondeh is another such kuih that one must try very hard in order to get wrong and shall probably feature in the days to come.

These kuihs steam themselves into a wonderful vibrant orange colour. I've included a picture of the kuih in its pre-coconut state. No colouring was used, it all comes naturally from the sweet potato- imagine how awesome it would look if I used a purple Japanese variety. They are soft and springy, aren't as oily as kuihs are wont to be from their prodigious use of coconut milk, and taste wonderful. My only niggle is that I wish I had made them smaller so I have a greater surface area (per unit volume) onto which to stick on more coconut meat.

A note on tapioca flour: it gives a nice bounciness to things even if the resulting kuih isn't quite as resilient to determined mastication as when glutinous rice flour is used.

(Yays, I have unearthed my stock of Japanese tableware!!!)

Friday, 24 August 2012

kingston food festival 2012

It has been a goodly time since my last post so I thought I would put up some photos of the Kingston Food Festival that I attended during my last week in UK (woefully I missed the bigger and more awesome Battersea Park Food Festival despite already procuring the tickets for it). This does not mean I haven't been baking at home, although in this case it would be cooking as Nyonya kuihs tend to be steamed to chewy perfection. However, I am saving those up for when I return to UK and am buckling under the toils of an academic life.

Anyway, the Kingston Food Festival is an annual event lasting an entire week of Summer. This year saw restaurants flaunting promotions, a food trail (basically you plod along the 'trail' munching samples from various establishments), a cocktail competition, cooking demonstrations, tasting sessions, a massive market as well as an English beer, cider and wine festival. The weather was wonderful and I had a good time sampling the food and peering at stalls with my bf. There was an awesome fellow selling a multitude of different herbs, and a similar compatriot dealing with chilli's with the oddest names such as 'sweet wrinkled old man.' Needless to say I couldn't help myself purchasing a purple variation (called 'purple rain').

I also happened to taste the best falafels ever- the humble product of the 'Authentic Falafels' stall. Its exterior was a lovely golden brown with a crispiness unparalleled and inside it was delicate, achieving the optimal balance between overly dry crumbliness and soggy dense compression. I could also really taste the chickpeas (there have been a few disappointing occasions of flavourless falafels)! The falafels of my wrap happened also to be freshly fried, which truly incurred dreamy contentment.

The falafels were to me the crowning glory of the market, but I've also included photos of other foods. The chocolate twizzle that enticed us with its giant proportions (what you see in the background is a wooden bench it was placed upon) sadly turned out to be one of many awful factory churned specimens. Of more interest was the spiced rice and stew, handed to us by supporters of the 'African Positive Outlook' who also explained to us the vital role spice, or more specifically cloves, played in the African liberation. The Tuscan sausage with beautifully caramelised onions in ciabatta (the big photo) was a contribution from my bf who appallingly ignored other local offerings for Carluccio's.

Speaking of my bf, excitement is abrew for tonight he touches down in Malaysia, and shall be greeted by an exuberant figure waving a 21-day itinerary, meticulously planned out so the best of Malaysia may be experienced! For a while, this will soon become very much of a traveller's blog and extremely handy if you are contemplating a trip to Malaysia.

Anyway, here is a random idyllic picture of pretty Kingston, taken as we fed the swans doughy lumps of the chocolate twist.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

banana creme patissiere and fruit tart

Dearie me, it has already been more than a week since my last baking post. Is declining! I am currently basking in the tropical heat of Malaysia (despite my whinging, this is all very enjoyable) bereft of a large number of my baking utensils. I really really need to find a balloon whisk- does anybody know where to source baking equipment in Malaysia? So at the moment, kitchen activity is halted. There are hopes that I may be able to sit in to watch (and learn) other people bake Malaysian goodies but that is yet to be confirmed. However, before leaving UK, I managed to stock up on future posts and this is one of them.

I rolled out these mini tarts from the left over zesty pate sucree I used in the making of my almond and greengage tart and baked them blind in a muffin pan. It has a banana creme patissiere filling made by whisking some of my frozen banana puree stock into the knocked back creme pat. This way I get a lovely banana component without having to worry about the nasty appearance of oxidised bananas. The fruits arrange over the top were what I happened to have at hand: strawberries, blueberries and white currants. Sadly, pretty as they were, I found the white currants a little too sour and ended up flicking them off the tart between mouthfuls.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

a dearth

Is has been a brief and happy era, but the demise of my baking frenzy is imminent. These past days have been shaky ones and the kitchen left forlorn and empty as I deserted it, under duress. I suppose things started going a little awry with the arrival of my parents from when my time (and the kitchen) no longer became my own. Baking became a little strained and less enjoyable with the multitude of conflicting opinions as to how exactly a particular edible ought to be.

In a few days, I shall also be winging to the muggy lands of Malaysia. While all attempts to bake shall be made, it is unlikely that I will be able to maintain my little torrent of posts averaging once every other day, especially as in the week to come my bf shall be joining me in Malaysia and I fully intend to drag him about the country rather than holeing up in the kitchen. To be fair, this posting frequency was optimistic to begin with and only possible as I was doing little else. Upon my return to the UK I shall be laying aside my whisk for journals as I begin my PhD.

So then, what are the implications for this poor blog? There is nothing for it, and I am loathe to accept this, but some neglect. Ideally, I would like to make one baking related post a week and between them a buffer of posts concerning life in general. For the month of August and September there may even be an increase in posts as I wander about Malaysia. But of foody endeavours, there will be a dearth.

I have had an absolutely wonderful time during my culinary dabble and owe this all to my mum. She has been the sole patron of all the baking provisions this past four and a half months, as well as financing my Basic Patisserie course at LCB. Despite her many reservations as to my time-consuming and mess-creating hobby, she has also been morally supportive and understanding even as less successful attempts were surreptitiously pushed to the depths of the bin. Thank you Mummy and thank you Father Lord for blessing me so much!

Monday, 13 August 2012

boots for my trampings

I just had to post these- look at the beauties!!!

I can't wait for when I get back to the UK to go hiking. Originally, I planned to get some good trusty Bristish stock that is the Brasher boots for my trampings. However, the mixed reviews of the latest Brasher edition were concerning. It seems these modifications have thrown a whole host of old school Brasher users into disarray and their reviews reek of disappointment. For me, my issues lie in the rather thin 'tongue' of the Brasher Hillwalker that cut into my chubby shin whenever I leaned into it. Besides that, it was a good snug fit with no immediate problems with chaffing otherwise, and the durability compromise for comfort and weight seems a good one.

But then I saw the Scarpa Ranger II Activ and was immediately swept away by its cushy surround and even found the clumpiness endearing. Clearly durability and support is the the ultimate thing to have in boots, and no doubt these will see me through the next decade of rugged slog. In them, my feet are lovely and secure (with boots, you really want it a fairly tight fit, without the finger-width leeway normally recommended for shoes) and I'm sure will remain dry. It has wonderful Vibram soles too that are more likely to wear out the rocks I tread upon than itself. I'm all up for climbing a Munro!

Friday, 10 August 2012

greengage and almond tart

I mentioned a pithivier version of this in a previous post but I really wanted to showcase the fragrant roasted greengages, and thus have made a greengage and almond tart instead. I love pastries! It is so nice and simple. Roll out a pate sucree base, slather on a layer of almond cream and finally arrange wedges of greengages over it. No need for docking or blind baking the crust, just pop the whole thing into the oven and good things happen.

I added a lot of zest in the pate sucree (that of 2 lemons) but omitted it from the almond cream. This way you get a lovely tangy base, a heavy sweetness from the almond layer, and then the slight sourness (comparatively) from the greengages. It was a happy combination and approved by the family.

Greengages have also climbed their way up my favourite gage list, only topped by Victoria plums, which maintain a firm position at the top thanks to some delicious specimens I had at Borough Market last summer. Those were so sweet and juicy that beads of sugar actually crystallised where its skin split. But greengages have the excellent advantage that is the lack of astringency in their skin. It isn't so pleasant to suck up the soft sweet flesh and then to chew on the tannic tough remaining skin that dries the mouth into a pucker as when eating a typical plum.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

purple gooseberries

Look at this: purple gooseberries! I never knew such a species existed. These were picked up in a market stall manned by the representatives of Brambletyre Fruit Farm. They are pretty tasty too, and I thought to take some photos of them before tossing them into the mound of fruits decorating the birthday chiffon cake. Look at their cross-section!

What I really want to do with these is to make an elderflower and (purple) gooseberry cobbler. There was a brief moment of hope when I thought I could perhaps still find a stray elderberry tree in bloom. However, it is August already after all, so this is rather doubtful and I will likely have to find another means of producing this flavouring, an elderflower cordial to drown the gooseberries in being the most probable contender. Alternatively, a small measure of St. Germain (French liqueur made with elderflower) in the pastry may work. My bf should, if the strains of writing out a thesis didn't goad him to alcohol, still have a tiny bottle of St. Germain that I gave him as a souvenir some time back.

Anyway, all gooseberry projects are on hold until I manage to secure a punnet or so more at the market.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

lime coconut birthday chiffon cake

This is a birthday cake commission for a wonderful (lactose intolerant) baby who is very attached to the creature that is 'Igglewiggle'- the blue doll clutching a red blanket atop the cake. Whatever happened to Sesame Street? Trust the creators of Teletubbies to spawn something even more disturbing. Oddly, it is very well received by the toddlers. I guess they are all such happy unassuming fellows that strange creatures like this just don't register as deviant. I have to say though that this little baby, for whom the cake is for, is incredibly sweet and loving, whatever the effects of Igglewiggle and his crew.

I made the coconut chiffon cake from a recipe taken off a very helpful blogger, Wen, sans the pandan (also known as screwpine) addition. It is all a chiffon could be asked to be: soft and springy with a lovely crust and none of the nasty oiliness you sometimes get in these cakes. I'm all up for trawling through the rest of his blog looking for more excellent recipes!

The chiffon was then given a layer of coconut and lime zest flavored creme mousseline (I have to say it: the creme is really good!!!) and over the top is some lime icing, an assortment of fruit, a tempered chocolate message and the ignoble Igglewiggle. I went a little manic on the fruits- 11 different fruits were used here: mangos, plums, persimmons, kiwis, limes, red currants, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and purple gooseberries. That is a pretty awesome selection, the remainder of which I had for breakfast. I know the creme filling is not friendly towards the lactose intolerant, but baby's mother is aware and consenting. And, look what I found to go with the cake: an awesome firecracker candle!!!

Happy birthday Eric Mete! I hope you like your cake and may God bless you and your parents! XD

On a separate note, I had serious bother with the baking of the chiffon though. I ordered a chiffon tin a week and a half back and hoped it would be able to wing it to me in time for this commission. It didn't. By this time, I had already made the white sheet/handkerchief decoration thing, which meant I had to find a tube pan of the correct dimensions and NOT non-stick very quickly. This didn't happen either. For some reason the whole homestyle baking equipment industry is fixated on non-stick surfaces. So I tried a makeshift tube pan using a standard cake ring and cookie cutter as the inner tube. That didn't work as the expanding cake just exploded the cutter away. Then I thought, just perhaps, a shallow enough cake would see sufficient heat distribution through its core to rise, and may have enough strength to support itself. That wasn't so either and here you can see comparatively thin but sunken chiffon (its edges were nice and fluffy though). So, and take note all peoples considering making this, unless muffin sized, the cake absolutely must a heating element through it. In light of that, the cookie cutters were popped back into place, but this time with a jam jar holding them in place. This gave decent results, but the best of my makeshift attempts came when I preheated the jars in the oven first before filling the mould and placing the bottles over the cutters. This was to compensate for their low thermal conductivity. So there you have it, my coconut chiffon cake. Ugh, we have been through a lot of chiffon this last 24 hrs. Nevertheless, once my chiffon mold arrives, I shall be re-making and re-posting this.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

walnut and pear chocolate tart

Chocolate overkill. A sliver of this tart is sure to satisfy even the most demanding chocoholic.

The chocolate filling is a sort of crazy rich chocolate custard with plenty of eggs to set its silken self. Instead of LCB's recommendation of the use of a savory pate brisee to offset the sweetness of the chocolate, I used a walnutty pate sucree. Personally, I don't find the chocolate filling that sweet , only rich, so this tiny bit of sweetness from the pastry is a nice relief. It may all have become too bitter with the walnuts otherwise. The pastry is also incredibly tender, what with a quarter of the flour substituted out for ground walnuts and its high butter content, which I also find preferable to the pate brisee. I added a little extra salt for the nuts. As a result, it is also extremely delicate to roll out and quite a challenge these hot balmy days.

There is a layer of Williams pears over the pastry base (no, it isn't a super thick soggy base...). Much as I dote on chocolate, it would be a little much to receive an inch-thick worth of the stuff. The pears were poached in vanilla and orange zest infused simple syrup and the base was egg washed to minimise sogginess. It did just about managed to retain some crumble but it was in the edges of the tart where the true shortness of the pastry shone.

(Starting to see greengages and gooseberries in the market now. Whoot!!! Wait up for a greengage pithivier!!!)

Friday, 3 August 2012

rum cherry chocolate fondant

What truly gluttonous food blog would be complete without the decadence that is chocolate fondant? Here is mine, from an LCB recipe, cooked to gooey delight and with a sneaky rum soaked cherry nestled in its molten core (you may just be able to see its tell-tale lump in the photo).

I meant to use morello cherries for this. Morello cherries are a type of sour cherry- too tart to be consumed fresh, they are often dried or soaked in a syrup or liqueur. They also compliment chocolate wonderfully. But try as I may, I simply could not find any morello cherries around the vicinity. Even trusty Waitrose disappointed on this front, only offering sweet black cherries swimming in syrup, which juicy equivalent I settled for. Each cherry was quartered and left to soak in rum before dropping into half filled molds that were then topped up. As always, the key to a lovely runny centre is to refridgerate the fondant mix so the edges cook before the centre does.

A definite projection for the future includes a fondant with a 'jelly' core so that a quick spoon-chop to the centre will cause an outsplurge of liquid chocolate and a sharp fruity coulis equivalent. It is a good thing to serve fondant with a cleansing fruit contrast and this will save me the effort of having to drip coulis in a pretty pattern over the fondant while plating up. Or custard...