Sunday, February 28, 2010

Puffed Up: Cream Puffs



I was browsing through the Joyofbaking.com recipes and came across the recipe for cream puffs. I've always thought the puff shells were difficult to make, but after looking through the recipe and youtube videos, I realised it's not that difficult after all. Thankfully, my sister was interested in the making and eating of these puffs, so I got her to help out.

The choux pastry was made by first boiling the butter and water mixture, then the flour was added and stirred till it forms a ball. The dough was allowed to cooled for a few minutes before the eggs were add gradually while stirring. It was that easy. But the most tedious part was what follows.


The dough was very sticky, thus piping it was very messy, and it didn't help that I did not have a piping bag and had to use a ziploc bag which has a high tendency to split. In the end, we used a spoon instead, and it worked very well indeed.
We wanted to make eclairs initially, but gave up after the ziploc bag gave way. The baking time for each batch of puff is quite long. High temperature for the first 15 minutes, followed by lowering the temperature and baking for another 20-30 mins. My oven is so small, we had to bake it in 3 batches.


Mini eclair filled with fresh whipped cream and topped with melted chocolate and butter mixture.
The spooned batter baked to become a puff. We were not very generous with the filling due to concerns over fat content.


I love the cracks on the shells, and it's really interesting to see it puffed up when in the oven. But I'm not a fan of whipped cream. Perhaps I can make my own pastry cream next time, or better still, make durian puffs!

Anyway, lesson learnt in this session: Get a proper piping bag.

Ingredients (makes 12):
Choux Pastry:
70 g flour
1/2 tsp caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
55 g unsalted butter
120 ml water
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Filling:
200 ml whipping cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Topping:
50 g semi-sweet chocolate
20 g unsalted butter

Method:
Choux Pastry:
  1. Preheat oven to 210 deg C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Set aside
  3. Place the butter and water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.
  4. Remove from heat and, with a wooden spoon or spatula, quickly add the flour mixture. Return to heat and stir constantly until the dough comes away from the sides of the pan and forms a thick smooth ball (about a minute or two).
  5. Transfer the dough to a mixing bowl and beat on low speed a minute or two to release the steam from the dough.
  6. Once the dough is lukewarm start adding the lightly beaten eggs gradually and continue to mix until you have a smooth thick paste.
  7. Spoon or pipe 12 mounds of dough onto the baking sheet, spacing them a couple of inches apart. Spray the tops with water to help the dough to rise better.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 180 deg C.
  9. Bake for a further 30 to 40 minutes or until the shells are a nice amber color and when split, are dry inside.
  10. Turn the oven off and, with the oven door slightly ajar, let the shells dry out for a further 10 - 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.
Filling and Topping:
  1. In a large mixing bowl, whip the cream till soft peaks form. Add icing sugar and vanilla extract and whip till stiff.
  2. Melt chocolate with butter and let cool slightly.
To Assemble:
  1. Split the pastry shells in half and pipe with whipped cream.
  2. Spread melted chocolate on top of the puffs or alternatively, dust with icing sugar instead.
Adapted from Joyofbaking Cream Puffs.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Wanted: Support and Encouragement: Scones

When I told my sister I wanted to make biscuits or scones, her first reaction was: "Eeks! I'm not going to eat it!"
But I still went ahead with it. I quite like the biscuits that Popeye's Fried Chicken serve, but recently, I find their biscuits taste a little different. So I resort to making my own, but actually it's just for the fun of it.

I followed the recipe on Joyofbaking.com, but halved it. Making this requires a technique where the butter is cut into the flour such that the mixture resembles bread crumbs. A very important point to note is that the mixture must be cold, so that the butter will not melt. This explains the countless opening and closing of the fridge door when I was preparing the dough.


The dough did not rise as high as I expected, but still, it didn't look that bad.


The surface was not very brown. Is it because I've brushed too little egg wash?
The freshly baked biscuit is pretty good, but it starts to get crumbly when cooled. Eating it warm is a must. I bought a bottle of jam specially to go with it. But unfortunately, none of my family members liked this. I'm pretty sure they think I'm torturing them with my baked products. *Sobz*

Ingredients (makes 8 pieces):
160 g plain flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp caster sugar
60 g cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
90 ml cold milk
1/2 cold egg, lightly beaten (use leftover egg for glaze)
1 1/2 tsp milk for glaze (mixed with leftover egg)

Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 210 deg C. Line baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients (with fork or fingertips) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. If the butter is melting, pop it into the fridge for 15 mins to harden the butter.
  3. Add the milk and slightly beaten egg and stir until just combined. The texture should be sticky, moist and lumpy.
  4. Place mixture on a lightly floured surface and knead the dough gently for 10 seconds until it comes together into a smooth dough.
  5. Roll out dough to 2cm thickness. Cut the dough into 8 pieces with a floured pastry cutter.
  6. Place on prepared baking sheet and brush the tops with the beaten egg and milk mixture and bake for about 10 - 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the biscuit comes out clean.
  7. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Serve warm with butter.
Adapted from Joyofbaking's Biscuits.

Making the biscuits were pretty quick. To satisfy my baking crave, I decided to try out another cookie recipe. It is *supposedly* a Shiroi Koibito recipe, and it requires the use of 2 egg whites, with the normal butter, sugar, flour etc. I guess my mind was probably on muffins, because I poured the sugar together with the flour when I am supposed to cream the sugar with butter first! I had to store the sugar + flour mixture for muffins then.



Baking the cookies was a disaster as I do not have the square template, I tried to pipe it with a ziploc bag but the bag split and the batter started to ooze out. In the end I just use a spoon to make it into round cookies. It did not help that my oven temperature is not very uniform, which explains the non-uniform shapes and colour of the cookies. I shall not try this again, unless I can get hold of the square template.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Chocolate High: Chocolate Cookies

After the first baking stint, I was keen to look for other simple recipes to try for my second baking experiment. For a beginner like me, videos are most useful as I need to know the correct consistency of the dough or batter. Naturally, Nigella Lawson came to mind. Like millions of viewers, I love to see her cooking shows. She makes everything seems so beautiful and delicious. After looking at her baking videos, I settled on this chocolate Christmas cookies because it seems simple enough for me to handle and is not too chocolaty.



The video says "throw everything into a food processor", but I do not own a food processor, so I used the traditional creaming method to make the batter. My mum had a 30-year-old electric mixer, which I though might be of good use. But unfortunately, due to its long rest time of 20 years, it decided to call it quits once and for all, halfway into creaming the butter and sugar. So in the end, my sister and I took turns to manually complete the creaming process.



When the baking time stated on the recipe was up, the cookie dough looked like it hasn't been cooked at all, but learning from last week's lesson, I took the tray out and leave it to cool. And true enough, after the cooling, the cookies looked normal.



The original recipe called for an icing sugar-cocoa powder glaze, but I decided to reduce the sugar content by just using plain chocolate. Not a good idea. I bought chocolate couverture which is difficult to solidify (I think I've heated it to too high a temperature), so in the end, the cookies had to be stored in a messy way, with all the chocolate goo sticking together.

The cookie was not fantastic, a little too sweet and the chocolate topping was too rich. But of course, I had fun baking it. If only I can find a guinea pig to help me finish all these high fat high calorie food.

Ingredients (makes 25 cookies):
125 g butter, soften at room temperature
75 g caster sugar
20 g cocoa powder
150 g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder

Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 170 deg C. Line baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda together in a bowl.
  3. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  4. Fold in flour mixture.
  5. Pinch and roll dough into balls with hands. Place dough on prepared tray and slightly flatten the dough.
  6. Bake for 15 mins. The cookies will appear undercooked, but it will continue to cook while cooling.
  7. Transfer cookies to cooling rack after 10 mins.
Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Christmas Chocolate Cookies.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Maiden Bake: Double Chocolate Chips Muffins

Since it's the Lunar New Year, I jumped at the chance to bake a few batches of muffins for guests coming to my home. After sieving through some youtube videos, I settled on making Nigella Lawson's Double Chocolate Chips Muffins. Muffins seems like the easiest to make as it's just mix and bake. Can't go terribly wrong....right?



Making the batter was actually very simple. Just make sure you weigh out the correct ingredients and do not over stir the batter. But my problem is...how do I know if the muffins have been fully cooked. Of course the temperature and baking time were given in the recipe, but I don't quite trust this old oven of mine. And since it's the first time I am using it to bake, it's better if I do a trial and error. I followed the recipe's temperature and baking time. After the baking time of 20 minutes was up, I pierced a toothpick into the muffin. The toothpick was stained with brown goo.
Hmmm...so what do I do now? Is it undercooked? Alright, I shall just increase for another 5 minutes. This happened for another 3 more times, before I realized that I could have pricked into a melted chocolate chip. Ok, so the lack of common sense caused my first batch of muffins to be burnt. But honestly, how can you tell brown batter from melted chocolate on a toothpick? And how can you tell if the top of the muffins were burnt when they were brown in the first place?


This was the first batch of muffins that came out burnt, although it didn't look half bad. Of course I learnt my lesson and baked the subsequent batches for 20 minutes.
Overall the muffins were edible, but I found them overly sweet, oily and chocolaty. And I daringly offered them to my guests and neighbours. I certainly hope they are not too picky on food.

Ingredients (makes 18 small muffins):
250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
2 tbsp cocoa powder
175 g caster sugar
150 g chocolate chips (plus more for sprinkling later)
250 ml milk
90 ml vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 deg C.
  2. Weigh out the dry ingredients into a large bowl.
  3. Mix all the liquid ingredients into another bowl.
  4. Mix both together until just moistened, then spoon into muffin cups.
  5. Sprinkle more chocolate chips on top then bake for 20 minutes or until the muffins are risen and springy.
Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Chip Muffins.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The start of a new hobby

Ever since I stopped doing wet chemistry lab experiments, I sort of missed the mixing, stirring, heating and scraping. But due to the hazardous nature of wet lab (and clumsy nature of yours truly), I switched to doing dry lab 4 years ago.

How nice if I can actually do all the mixing, stirring, heating and scraping in a non-hazardous way! And the thought of baking crossed my mind. Ever since my grandma brought the oven to my kitchen 5 years ago, I've been wanting to try to bake a few simple stuff, but I have never got around to doing it. Firstly, I do not have many baking utensils at home. Secondly, baking requires a lot of preparation and cleaning up. Thirdly, I never had the time and energy to do it, especially at the thought of weekly wet chemistry lab experiments during my undergraduate years puts me off at all the weighing, mixing and washing.

Actually it all started with going to Esther's place to bake pineapple tarts for the upcoming Lunar New Year. The last time I tried my hand at baking was probably at XL's place 3 years ago, baking shortbread as door gifts for her birthday chalet. Although the pineapple tart crust did not turn out fantastically well, I had a lot of fun in the baking process. It's like doing a lab experiment all over again. You read the recipe like you read a lab manual. You weigh the ingredients like you weight out the reagents. You mix the ingredients into a dough just like you mix the reagents in a flask. You bake the batter just like you reflux the reaction mixture. No wonder people(refers to other chemists) say chemists make great cooks!

So I started looking for simple recipes to start this new interest of mine. And of course, I had to get utensils and ingredients. Despite my mum's objections, I bought a few essential tools like mixing bowl, spatula, electric mixer, cake tins etc. With my interest growing, I'm sure the available space in my kitchen cabinet will start shrinking!