Saturday, February 26, 2011

Old Friends, New Friends, and a Departed Friend


Everyone treats friends differently. People who are more outgoing and sociable make new friends easily and have plenty of friends around them. I never am such a person. I'm anything but outgoing, to the point of even being labelled as anti-social. When I was younger, I couldn't understand why I am alone most of the time while others around me are always out having fun with different groups of friends. As I grow older, I accepted the fact that I'm just not that kind of person who will take the initiative to make new friends or make an effort to keep old friends. I no longer envy people with many friends because I know I can still live my life happily by engaging in activies I enjoy by myself. But I am thankful that I still have a group of close friends whom I know I can turn to if I'm feeling down.

I look forward to every baking session with my friends. I'm so glad that once again, MY has initiated this session, and invited 2 of her friends whom I've never met before. So yeah...I did make 2 new friends today...LOL. Today's agenda: macarons (requested by MY herself), matcha muffins and chiffon cake (requested by MY and WK) and Nutella cupcakes (requested by D).


Today's macarons didn't turn out well. The feet on the first batch was too short and we burnt the second batch, which had taller feet. Now I can confirm that it is indeed important to air-dry the shells before baking. But still, we had fun and will probably try again.


MY used her expensive matcha to bake these matcha muffins. I like the blend of matcha and chocolate chips here. The matcha is not too strong and the cake is soft. The recipe for these muffins came from WK who got the recipe for free from a matcha shop in Tokyo, near the Tsukiji market. I've posted the recipe below (with some modifications in phrasing) for anyone who is interested.


Next up is the Nutella version of  last week's peanut butter cupcakes. Our dear greedy SM added too much Nutella which resulted in the unsightly surface. Nevertheless, it tasted great although it's too sweet.


Since we had extra time, we made a matcha chiffon cake. Although the rest of us gave this a thumbs-up, I'm not very satisfied because there is a slight dense layer at the bottom, as usual.

Matcha-chocolate muffins:

Ingredients (makes 6):
90 g flour
10 g matcha powder
100 g butter at room temperature
100 g sugar
2 eggs
50 g chopped dark chocolate (we used chocolate chips)
1 tbsp milk
Vanilla extract

Method:
  1. Sift flour and matcha powder together
  2. Cream butter and sugar until pale.
  3. Add beatened eggs a little at a time and mix well.
  4. Add chocolate, milk and vanilla.
  5. Add flour mixture and mix with a spatula
  6. Spoon batter into cups and bake at 170 deg C for 15 mins.

    The next final part of this post has no relation to baking whatsoever. It is a tribute to a friend of mine. Read it only if you are extremely patient :).

      Sunday, February 20, 2011

      Tangy Macarons



      It's official: I've caught on the macaron-craze. Last week was really a macaron week. Other than myself, many other bloggers have also made macarons. And that gave me that inpiration to make other non-chocolate macarons. Cathy's chocolate macarons with lemon curd looks so tempting, and an added advantage of cooking the lemon curd is that I will not have leftover egg yolks!



      I followed the recipe on Syrup and Tang, where the weight ratio of egg whites to caster sugar to almond meal to icing sugar is 1:0.8:1.3:1.6. The egg whites are quite stable due to the fairly large amount of caster sugar. It did not deflate while folding in the dry ingredients. I thought it would be nice to sprinkle a little lemon zest on the surface of the shells, but well, it did start to burn and turn brown in the oven. Lol.



      I was happy to see the feet forming while in the oven. But I realise the shells were beginning to brown even before 10 minutes is up. I was unsure if they fully dried, so I let it to bake on for a total of 12 mins. They were softer and more fragile than last week's chocolate macarons. Though I had no problems plucking them off the parchment, the shells were pretty hollow. Seems like the baking temperature may have been too low.

      Cooking the lemon curd wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. But my concern is whether it will be too wet for the macarons and turn them soggy in a few hours. I reduced the sugar and the tanginess matches well with the sweet shells, although I still find them too sweet.

      Ingredients (makes 10 macarons):

      Shells:
      32 g egg white
      26 g caster sugar
      42 g ground almond
      51 g icing sugar
      2 drops lemon juice

      Lemon curd:
      1 egg yolk
      1 tbsp sugar
      1 tbsp lemon juice
      lemon zest from 1/2 a lemon
      20 g butter

      Method:

      Shells:
      1. Prepare baking tray lined with parchment and a piping bag with a plain tip.
      2. Weigh egg white and calculate amount of ingredients to be used.
      3. Grind ground almond and icing sugar in a food processor or blender until fine. Sift and set aside.
      4. Add lemon juice to egg white and beat till soft peak stage. Gradually add in caster sugar and beat till stiff.
      5. Add in dry ingredients from step 2 in two batches and fold till incorporated.
      6. Scrape into piping bag and pipe circles of about 3 cm.
      7. Rap tray on table a few times to get rid of air bubbles. Let the piped batter sit for 30 mins before baking.
      8. Bake at 160 deg C for 12 mins.
      9. Let cool completely before peeling off from parchment.
      Lemon curd:
      1. Beat egg yolk with sugar in a bowl.
      2. Place bowl over a pot of simmering water.
      3. Add lemon juice and zest and stir.
      4. Keep stirring while cooking until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
      5. Remove bowl from heat and stir in butter in thirds.
      6. Transfer to a clean bowl and place plastic wrap on the surface.
      7. Let cool before piping onto macaron shells.
      Recipe from Syrup & Tang and Quay Po Cooks' Lemon Curd.




      MY has invited us over to her place to bake this coming weekend. One of her friends, D, requested us to teach her to bake nutella cupcakes. After doing an online search, I found this Donna Hay-inspired nutella cupcakes from Baking Bites, which is very popular within the blogosphere. Well, I myself is a novice baker, certainly in no position to teach anyone to bake. The least I can do is to make sure that I don't make any big boo-boos. So I decided to try this recipe out so that I will know what to expect.



      It's a simple recipe, just the usual creaming method. But I realised that my nutella has expired. So I used peanut butter instead, which was actually what Donna Hay used in the original recipe. The outcome is pretty good, but it's very rich.

      Ingredients (makes 4):

      46 g butter, softened at room temperature
      40 g sugar
      1 egg
      1/4 tsp vanilla extract
      67 g flour
      3/4 tsp baking powder
      Pinch of salt
      4 heaping tsp peanut butter (or nutella)

      Method:
      1. Preheat oven to 160 deg C. Line 4 muffin tins with paper liners.
      2. Cream together butter and sugar until light.
      3. Add in eggs in thirds, beat until fully incorporated each time egg is added. Add vanilla and beat.
      4. Stir in flour, salt and baking powder until batter is uniform and no flour remains.
      5. Fill each muffin liner with batter until 3/4 full.
      6. Top each cake with 1 heaping teaspoon peanut butter. Swirl peanut butter in with a toothpick (I use a chopstick), folding a bit of batter up over the peanut butter.
      7. Bake for 20 minutes.
      8. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
      Recipe adapted from Baking Bites' Self Frosting Nutella Cupcakes.

      Saturday, February 12, 2011

      Fussy Prissy Macarons



      One thing (and probably the only thing) I miss about Paris is the bakery, any bakery, to be exact. I remember the morning when MY and I went to a little bakery near our hotel to get breakfast for the girls. The bakery was more of a homely style kind and it was tended by an elderly lady. We got a couple of fresh baguette, which were the most delicious baguette we have ever eaten. I usually dislike bread, but that baguette was so fragrant and fresh, I can just eat it on its own without any topping. And of course, being Paris, there are plently of other bakeries with beautiful desserts on display. Since we girls were on a budget backpacking trip, we could not afford to try too much of them.



      On our final day in Paris before we headed back to Mannheim, we walked pass Gérard Mulot on our way to Jardin du Luxembourg.



      The cakes and desserts were simply beautiful. Since it was the week of Christmas, they had this Santa Claus made from macarons on display. We knew we just had to get in and try some of those cakes.



      The 5 of us picked 5 items to be shared among us. My friends favoured the Crème brûlée over the others, but my favourite of these was the chocolate macaron which was about the size of my palm. It's crunchy on the outside, chewy inside and the dark chocolate balanced off nicely with the sweet shells. This also marked the first time I had ever eaten a macaron. Before we left the shop, XL and I decided to pack some back to Mannheim. We chose flavours other than chocolate because she is not a chocolate fan and I was having a bad sore throat then. But sad to say, I only liked the chocolate-flavoured one. The rest of the flavours were too sweet for our liking. It was only recently that I found out that the best macarons can be found at Pierre Hermé. If only I had known then, I would have went searching for it.

      Anyway, back to my macaron experiment at home. After a brief search for recipes online, it seems that the more common ratio of ingredients is roughly 1g egg white to 1.2g ground almond to 2.4g icing sugar. I gave one of such recipes a try and I knew it was going to be a disaster when I piped it on the parchment and the batter was so runny, it started spreading so much that the circles were joined together. I have no idea why. Either I have over-folded the batter or it was because I used a piping tip that was too small.

      I used a completely different recipe for my second try of the day. This recipe uses less ground almond and icing sugar, but a larger amount of granulated sugar needs to be added to the egg whites.



      The batter looks more promising. At least it did not spread that much. I'm kind of shocked to see large feet while the shells were in the oven.



      But the feet shrank to a more normal size while cooling. I had no problems peeling the shells off from the parchment.



      Not surprisingly, I chose to sandwich them with dark chocolate. These may not be the most perfect macarons, but they are a great encouragement to me. I would recommend this recipe by David Lebovitz to beginners in macaron baking because it seems more foolproof. My guess is probably the large amount of granulated sugar added while whipping the egg whites stabilized the whites more. Thus it does not deflate by too much when folding in the dry ingredients. I am no macaron expert, so I can't tell if the final product looks or tastes different from the macarons made from other recipes.

      Ingredients:

      1 large egg white (mine is about 37 g)
      1/8 tsp cream of tartar
      33 g caster sugar
      25 g ground almond
      50 g icing sugar
      1 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder (original recipe uses Dutch-processed)

      Method:
      1. Prepare baking tray lined with parchment and a piping bag with a plain tip.
      2. Grind ground almond and icing sugar in a food processor or blender until fine. Sift with cocoa powder and set aside.
      3. Add cream of tartar to egg white and beat till soft peak stage. Gradually add in caster sugar and beat till stiff.
      4. Add in dry ingredients from step 2 in two batches and fold till incorporated.
      5. Scrape into piping bag and pipe circles of about 3 cm.
      6. Rap tray on table a few times to get rid of air bubbles. (I let the piped batter sit for 30 mins before baking.)
      7. Bake at 180 deg C for 15-18 mins.
      8. Let cool completely before peeling off from parchment.
      9. Sandwich shells with filling of choice and let them stand for a day before serving.
      Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz's French Chocolate Macaron.


      Friday, February 4, 2011

      Meringue Hearts



      Friends who know me might be surprised by the above photo, because they will never associate me with hearts or pink or anything that screams girlish. Neither will they associate me with anything to do with Valentine's Day, simply because I don't have a valentine and as realistic as I can be, I deem Valentine's Day as an international conspiracy to cheat people of their money from expensive roses and chocolates.

      When I found out that the Aspiring Bakers #4 theme is a Valentine's Day theme and requires something heart shaped, I was really scratching my head over what to bake. The first idea that came to me was to bake cut-out cookies with a heart shaped cookie cutter, but I don't have one and I don't intend to buy it. I did a quick google search and saw a recipe for meringue hearts from Joy of Baking. I have always wanted to try baking meringue cookies, but the baking time is much longer than my usual bakes. Well, since I really have nothing to do on this 2nd day of CNY, it's just perfect for me to experiment with meringues.



      The ingredients are very simple: just egg whites, cream of tartar, sugar and flavouring of your choice. I don't even need a weighing scale. As usual, I scaled down to using just one egg white and decided to beat manually. Since the amount of sugar used is quite a lot, the final batter is very sticky and difficult to whisk. I sure had a good work-out with this. As a chocolate-lover, I decided to add in some cocoa powder and dust additional powder on the heart-shaped batter.



      For the meringues to dry out slowly, they need to be baked in a low oven for 1.5-2 hours and cooled slowly in the oven with the door ajar. Even so, I'm not entirely sure if my meringues have been completely dried out.



      Although I know they are tooth-achingly sweet, I can't wait to break a heart (a meringue heart, to be exact) and try it. It indeed is crispy, but I'm not sure if it will still be crispy tomorrow. As expected, it is extremely sweet. I can't finish the whole heart. No problems for people with sweet tooth, I suppose.

      I'm sending in this entry to Aspiring Bakers #4: Love In The Air (Feb 2011) hosted by Ellena of Cuisine Paradise.

      Ingredients (makes 15 small hearts):
      1 egg white
      1/8 tsp cream of tartar
      4 tbsp caster sugar
      1/4 tsp vanilla extract
      1 tbsp cocoa powder
      Cocoa powder for dusting (optional)

      Method:
      1. Trace out heart shapes (mine is about 5 cm across) on a piece of parchment paper. Turn over the parchment and place on a baking tray.
      2. Beat egg white until frothy. Add cream of tartar and beat until they hold soft peaks.
      3. Add in sugar gradually and continue to beat until they hold stiff peaks and the sugar has dissolved. Test by rubbing a little batter between thumb and index fingers.
      4. Fold in vanilla and cocoa powder.
      5. Transfer batter into a piping bag with a plain tip and pipe out heart shapes according to the drawn lines on the parchment paper.
      6. Smooth the surface of the batter and dust cocoa powder on the surface (optional).
      7. Bake in a preheated oven at 100 deg C for 90 mins.
      8. Switch off the oven and leave the door slightly ajar for 30 mins for the meringue to dry out.
      Recipe adapted from Joy of Baking's Meringue Hearts.

      Wednesday, February 2, 2011

      Gearing Up for the New Year



      I can't remember since when I started dreading the Chinese New Year. As a child I would look forward to CNY because I won't need to go to school and I get new clothes and new shoes to wear. But as I grow older, these does not entice me any more, even to the point of deeming shopping for new clothes as a chore. What I even dislike more is meeting those meet-once-a-year relatives and answering their same old questions every year. And to me, CNY means it's a ghost town everywhere. Most shops and eatery will be closed and basically we have to start stocking up food to last through that few days.

      This year, my mum asked me to bake some stuff so that we can eat them for breakfast during the next few days. Of course, I'm glad to do so. Little did I expect I will be spending 5 hours in the kitchen, and always in the way of my poor grandma who had to prepare food for tonight's reunion dinner.



      Not surprising, my sister insists on me baking the chiffon cupcake again. Well, at this rate, I'm sure we will all get pretty sick of this very soon. This took longer than I expected. I had intended to mix the pastry cream with some whipping cream according to the original recipe, so I cooked less pastry cream than what I would usually use. I had a carton of heavy cream which I bought a few months back, but apparently, the cream had kind of separated. There was some solid fat around the edges of the carton. I ignored it and just used the remaining liquid and started whipping. But it just refused to whip up and before I knew it, it has curdled. No choice, I threw it away. And of course, the pastry cream was not enough to fill all the cakes. So it's round 2 of pastry cream cooking.



      I made a total of 12 cakes, some with extra sweet pastry cream, which was intended for mixing with cream. Oh well, at least it is still edible. And at the same time, I decided to use up all my dark chocolate which has been lying around for ages. No better chance than this to bake a chocolate torte!



      The only time I baked this was when the girls came over to my place for a baking session. We all loved that cake, and I was always looking for a chance to bake this again. Unlike the last time, I used very dark chocolate this time round. The batter was much thicker than the previous time and unfortunately, it did not crack as nicely as I hoped it will. I had intended to decorate it with icing sugar and dress it up in ribbon to take nice pictures. But at this point of time, I was too tired from all the washing up to do this. So I just sliced it up and stored it away.



      And lastly, a request from my mum to make huat kueh. She likes to eat them, but I was having the jitters to make them during the CNY. Call me superstitious, but I was really afraid that my huat kueh won't huat.



      And the moment of truth came when I lifted the lid of the wok. I was rather disappointed. They did not huat as well as I hoped for. On the bright side, at least it's not a mushroom head. As the past year had not been very smooth going for me, I hope the rabbit year will be much better than the tiger year for everyone! Huat ah!