Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bake. Blog. Troubleshoot.



Today is another of our monthly baking-with-friends session. Although the turn-out was not well (MY has last-minute work and appointment; JX has a wedding to attend; SC is unwell; TT has an appoinment; AD is celebrating her fiance's birthday), we still went on with it with SM, XP and myself experimenting at XP's place.

This is the second time I visited XP's place and the first time we baked at her place. I love her apartment. It's clean, bright, simple and her main window faces the trees and grass. Upon opening the door, the sight of the living room just feels so welcoming. SM was definitely impressed and couldn't stop gushing.



But...today's bakes didn't turn out well. I've baked choux pastry 6 times before, with the last 2 times within this month, and all of them turned out satisfactory well. I used a different recipe this time round and well...it turned out badly. Firstly, this recipe uses half milk half water while I usually use all water. Secondly, I'm baking with XP's new oven, which I am not used to. I suspect this may have been the reason why the puffs didn't turn out well.

The batter looked normal when stirring it. While baking, we realized her oven was way too cool. Even though we turned it up to the maximum 260 deg C, the thermometer register ed180 deg C. But yet, the surface browned very quickly though the puffs were still flat. We took them out before the baking time indicated on the recipe was up because they looked like they would get burnt, and well, the puffs collapsed and the insides were wet. For the second batch, we left them in till baking time was up and the shells were very dark and tasted burnt although they did not collapse. I really find it very weird...was it because a) milk was used or b) it's a problem with the oven or c) it's a problem with the thermometer since XP told me she dropped it once or d) a problem with me.



We made some green tea pastry cream with the fabulous green tea MY bought for me. But...for once, I felt that the pastry cream was not sweet enough. And since the puffs collapsed, we had difficulty piping in the cream and had a lot of leftover.



So we decided, we shall use the remaining egg whites and pastry cream to make some macarons. And out of 3 trays of macs, 2 trays got burnt. Only one turned out good. I seriously am not used to her oven.



The saving grace of the day: the not-sweet green tea pastry cream does go well with the utterly-sweet shells. Since we did not have many successful shells, it was manageable to finish up within us and the rest of the girls whom we met up for dinner. All in all...it was a disastrous but yet quite fun baking session this month.

One thing to cheer me up is that I've received my very first award for this blog! Many thanks to Jasmine of The Sweetylicious for forwarding this award to me. I'm really honoured to receive this as my very first award.



Here are the rules to abide in order to accept this award and they are:
  1. Post linking back to the person that gave you the award.
  2. Share 7 random things about yourself.
  3. Award 15 recently discovered blogs.
  4. Drop them a note and tell them about it.

Here goes the random things about me:
  1. Hate cheesecakes and anything cheesy.
  2. Allergic to shark's fin.
  3. Developed hives after eating Meiji Black and Ritter Sport Edelbitter chocolates.
  4. Grew up in a rather traditional Chinese family and seldom eat western-styled meals or desserts. Ever seen someone eat spaghetti with chopsticks? That would be me.
  5. Dislocated my right shoulder thrice from playing squash, badminton and volleyball on 3 separate occasions.
  6. Can do without my mobile phone, but not my laptop and internet.
  7. Blog hop quite a bit for inspiration, but seldom leave comments on blogs.

Can I break some rules here? I have actually selected some blogs to forward this award to, but realized many of these blogs have already been awarded! Lol. So instead, I will mention some of my favourite blogs which have greatly inspired me when I first started baking last year. I am particularly attracted to these blogs because they have great looking pictures, very informative and/or humourous writing and a good variety of bakes that makes me look forward to their next post. And I'm sure everyone is very familiar with the blogs mentioned below.
  • Happy Home Baking - HHB's blog is the first blog I chanced upon while looking for baking ideas. Her recipes are not too complicated and very informative. For a newbie like me, her tips are really useful and decrease chances of failure. I have tried a number of her recipes and most turned out well, although not as good-looking as hers. Also, she has been very helpful with queries. I'm glad to see her back with her new oven and definitely looking forward to her new posts.
  • Køkken69 - Shirley's blog attracted me at first sight because her pictures are so well-taken. Her posts are very informative, often giving background information relating to the food she made. And I love her explanations to the science behind baking. Well, she is a chemist by training and I can definitely relate to that very well.
  • The Little Teochew - Ju's blog has a great variety of both baking and non-baking recipes. She updates her blog very frequently with great looking pictures which capture her nicely "dressed up" food. I enjoy reading her honest and humourous writing.
  • Dailydelicious - Pook's blog features very delicious and sophisticated-looking desserts. But this is one blog which I can only look and wow over it without taking down any recipes because they all look very intimidating to me. I love her step-by-step pictures, but that still doesn't give me any confidence to try the recipes. Perhaps one day when I think I've gained enough experience will I try to bake some of those beautiful desserts.

Like many other bloggers, I started out this blog to record down my baking projects, each post being a milestone on this journey. Although I started this blog last year, it has been pretty low profile because I don't publish my blog address anywhere and seldom leave comments on other blogs. Even among my friends, only a couple know the existence of this blog. It was until I took part in the Aspiring Bakers event that I got to know more fellow bloggers and their lovely blogs. I want to thank Small Small Baker for initiating this event, as well as all the hosts of Aspiring Bakers event. I also want to thank Jess of J3ss Kitch3n for being the first fellow blogger to leave encouraging comments and tips on my blog. Same goes for Jasmine of The Sweetylicious, Cathy of Cathy's Joy and Janine of Not the Kitchen Sink! for all the tips and encouragement, and of course to everyone who has dropped by. I hope this little hobby of mine will last for quite some time. =D


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Strawberry Chocolate Muffins



It's the strawberry season again, where punnets of Korean strawberries are sold at an attractive price of $3.65 at NTUC. With 2 punnets in the fridge, I decided to bake a batch of strawberry muffins this morning to my mom's dismay. As easy as baking muffins can be, my muffins don't always turn out well. I had my fair share of dry and hard muffins, so baking muffins to me is a challenge and I'm always nervous to know the outcome of each session.



The original recipe calls for only strawberries, but I decided to add some chopped chocolate because I love the combination of fresh strawberries with chocolate. Honestly, I don't really like the use of fresh fruits in baking . So far, I have tried fresh apples, strawberries and blueberries, and I do not really favour the final product. I feel that the high heat of the oven had spoilt the taste and juices of the fresh fruit. Today's muffins turned out to be very soft but I don't fancy the mushy strawberries. Perhaps I just need some getting used to.

Ingredients (makes 6):

100 g cake flour
60 g brown sugar
20 g egg
80 g milk
80 g fresh strawberries, diced
30 g corn oil (I used canola oil)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder (I substitute with vanilla)
1/4 tsp salt
50 g chocolate, chopped (optional)

Method:
  1. Mix egg, oil, milk and vanilla extract (if using) into a bowl. Stir in sugar and salt. Add in diced strawberries and mix.
  2. In another bowl, sift flour, baking powder and cinnamon powder (if using).
  3. Add flour mixture and chopped chocolate (if using) into liquid mixture from (1) and fold until just incorporated.
  4. Fill muffin cups till 2/3 full.
  5. Bake at 180 degC for 20-30 mins.
Recipe adapted from Junzhi's 草莓麦芬.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Smelly Stinky Durian Puffs...Not!



I can't remember when my love affair with durian started. I used to hate it when I was a child. When my dad brought durian home, I would hide in the room and pinch my nose because the stink from the fruit would be so overwhelming. But I've grown to love this fruit, as much as other people in this south-east asian region. Then again, I do have friends who hate durian. I would say my dear friend XL has a weird taste in food. She not only dislikes durian, she dislikes coffee and chocolates. Ok...coffee, perhaps I can understand. But chocolates? (I wonder if she is an Earthling. LOL.)



Anyway, the durian season is here again. This is just the start of the season and durians are really pricy now. I didn't expect to pay $43 for 9 small durians that barely filled my tupperware. I should have waited till a little longer for the price to drop...but can't help it...I just have the urge for durian puffs. So so the usual goes: choux pastry, whipping cream, durian flesh.



I made small bite-sized ones so that I don't over-indulge, but this is not of any help because I downed 4 puffs right after filling the shells. Somehow I find smaller puffs able to rise better in the oven and they look prettier than the large ones.



The best thing about home-made durian puffs? Go crazy on the filling! Ever since I started baking, I stopped buying durian puffs, because nothing beats home-made ones.

Ingredients (makes about 35 mini puffs):

Choux Pastry:
105 g flour
3/4 tsp caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
83 g unsalted butter
180 ml water
3 eggs, lightly beaten

Filling:
200 ml whipping cream
500 g durian flesh

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 stir for 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. Pipe dough into 1 inch circles onto the baking sheet, spacing them 2 cm apart. Press the peaks down with a wet finger.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 180 deg C.
  9. Bake for a further 20 minutes or until the shells are a nice amber color and when split, are dry inside.
Filling:
  1. In a large mixing bowl, whip the cream till soft peaks form.
  2. Fold in durian flesh.
To Assemble:
  1. Split the pastry shells in half and spoon in durian filling.
  2. Dust with icing sugar to decorate (optional).
Adapted from Joyofbaking Cream Puffs.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fourth Consecutive Week...of Macarons.



I'm definitely having macarons and sugar overdose. I delibrately saved the egg whites, instead of using one whole egg, from yesterday's pastry cream to make a batch of macarons. With the flu season coming on now, I decided to cut down on chocolate and used coffee instead. I used the ever-reliable David Lebovitz recipe, which I had much success with, and replaced 2/3 of the cocoa powder with instant coffee powder.



My blender is not powerful enough to grind the coffee granules to powder, which explains the brown spots on the surface. I think I have under-mixed this batch, as the peaks stayed on instead of going down to a smooth surface.



The feet were not as tall as I hoped it would be. But at least, it's still there. I've decided not to try cooking caramel, for the fear of burning my kitchen down, so I used vanilla buttercream instead. Well, it's actually not a real buttercream because I did not use egg whites. It's just butter, icing sugar and a little milk. I guess it's just me, but the thought of using raw egg whites makes me uncomfortable.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Choux and Shoe: Strawberry Cream Puffs



So what's up with the title? Firstly, the word "choux" is pronounced as something similar to "shoe". Secondly, I do have something to say about shoe.

Let's first talk about choux. So far, I've had relatively positive results with baking puffs with my old oven. But I have yet to try it out with my new oven. After seeing Shirley's strawberry cream puffs and in conjuction with the "Fruity March" theme for Apsiring Bakers #5, I have decided to bake a batch with this new oven using back the same old recipes for choux pastry and pastry cream.



No major hiccups, but one side of my oven is hotter, so some of the shells came out looking lopsided. Perhaps I should place my tray away from that side. Pastry cream cooking is not as well as previous times as I ended up with several lumps. But well, since it's going to be inside the shells, I can't really be bothered.



The most challenging part of the whole process? The assembly. Clumsy me had to make sure the cream don't leak out, the chocolate don't get smeared all over, the shells don't crumble in my hands...blah blah blah. For more variety, I filled some with strawberries and some others topped with chocolate. Of course, mine looked nowhere as pretty as Shirley's but I had fun baking these.

I'm submitting this to Aspiring Bakers #5: Fruity March (March 2011) hosted by Jess from Bakericious.

Ingredients (makes 6):
Choux Pastry:
35 g flour
1/4 tsp caster sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
28 g unsalted butter
60 ml water
1 egg, lightly beaten

Filling:
200 ml milk
2 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean pod
30 g sugar
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp corn starch
Strawberries
Icing sugar for decoration

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).
  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 6 mounds of dough onto the baking sheet, spacing them a couple of inches apart.
  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 (Pastry cream):
  1. Add sugar to egg yolks and beat until sugar dissolves.
  2. Sift in plain flour and corn flour and mix until smooth.
  3. Scrape out vanilla seeds and mix in with the milk in a pot.
  4. Heat the milk, together with the vanilla pod and seeds, until bubbles appear at the edge of the pot.
  5. Remove the vanilla pod. Pour in hot milk to egg mixture slowly, whisking vigorously.
  6. Strain mixture back into pot.
  7. Cook the mixture over medium flame while whisking vigorously to prevent lumps from forming.
  8. Cook until the mixture becomes thick and the mixture is bubbling.
  9. Transfer into a bowl and use cling wrap to cover the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming.
  10. Let cool before chilling in the refrigerator.
To Assemble:
  1. Split the pastry shells in half and pipe with pastry cream.
  2. Placed halved strawberries on top of cream. Dust with icing sugar.
Choux pastry recipe adapted from Joyofbaking Cream Puffs.


Now, let's talk about shoe. I know it's not a good idea to place pictures of shoes right after pictures of food. It just doesn't go together, so I've minimized the size of the pictures.



After 4 years of abuse from me, I'm finally bidding goodbye to my Kayano 12. This pair of shoes has served me well and is way beyond its lifespan. Typically for a pair of running shoes, it can last about 1000km (according to the salesperson and online information). Well, this pair has probably gone through more than 2000km of pounding. My sister asked me if I bear to throw it away. To be honest, no. LOL. I had used it to train for 2 half marathons and even though I had decreased my mileage these couple of years, I still use it very frequently. Nevertheless, 舊的不去, 新的不來, it has to make way for my new Kayano 17. Perhaps it's time to start training with this new pair...no?