Archive for the ‘Food Photography’ Category

This was an area that I thought I would never get involved again. I used to work as a chef at a local healthfood store, and I remembered about the breads I handmade using organic flour were almost as hard as rock. At that time I didn’t understand about how gluten worked and how the gluten needed to be relaxed and stretched to create a soft texture. Arm muscle soreness from hours of hand kneading, without knowing the proper methods, really scared me away for more than a decade, until recently when I got my KitchenAid mixer.

As mentioned in my earlier post, I have problems digesting gluten and am allergic to yeast. So basically, I can’t eat any of the normal breads made using wheat flour and yeast. However, the temptation was very strong to try again after reading all the blogs online and facebook photos of my friends producing soft and fluffy buns and breads. So I knew I just had to give it a go again!

While I am writing this, I’ve made numerous batches of breads and buns already. The toughest one was I had to make about 50 – 60 pieces of different types of Middle Eastern bread for a food styling project. I broke my KitchenAid mixer because of that too! And that was the time I found out that my KitchenAid stand mixer is not powerful or durable enough for bread making.

After these numerous attempts, I am proud to say that I’ve mastered the basic skills of bread making, but I would like to bring it to the higher artisan level, which I would like to spend more time exploring.

I’ve kneaded using the dough hook on KitchenAid, using purely my hands, a bread maker (at my friend’s house) and also using both KitchenAid mixer and hand to reduce the stress on the mixer. I have to agree that machine made bread dough is still the best and the easiest, and I’m really eying on getting a proper commercial bread dough and cake peripheral mixer so that I can make bigger batches without the worries of damaging the machine!

Some of the breads and buns I made are for ordering, if you are staying in KL, PJ and surrounding areas. The most popular ones and my favourite buns to make, are the chocolate swirl buns that come in various shapes and sizes (photos below), made using premium quality Swiss, French or Belgium chocolates, and free from added preservatives or colourings. I do not use any artificial bread improver as well.

The pricing is RM40 for 10 buns, minimum order is 10 buns. Local pick up only. Ingredients used include high protein wheat flour, egg, milk, salt, sugar, yeast, premium dark chocolate bar (60% cocoa solids and above), French dark chocolate powder, corn flour, extra virgin olive oil, and white sesame seeds. The buns have a soft but firm texture. They are however, best eaten when still warm! Do drop me an email (cyphang@gmail.com) if you are interested to make any orders! Kindly order 2 – 3 days in advance as I can be very busy at times with my other businesses.

Chocolate swirl buns of various shapes and sizes

Chocolate swirl buns of various shapes and sizes...

Some other breads and buns I’ve made:

Twisted chicken sausage buns

Braided poppy seed milk loaf

Cinnamon Raisin Loaf

Chicken sausage with cheese buns

Cinnamon macadamia brioche rolls


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Organic quinoa & veggie salad

I got to try quinoa (pronounced “kee-NO-wah” or “KEEN-wah”) through my friend SM and have been quite obsessed about it ever since. I have long known about it but just did not get a chance to taste it until a year + ago at an organic cafe in Taman Tun.

Essentially a seed, quinoa is more popularly known as a gluten free grain that is bursting rich in essential nutrients such as lysine, an amino acid important for tissue growth and repair; manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and a high iron content. Dated back to ancient Peruvian times, quinoa has a mild nutty flavour and slightly chewy texture when cooked. Read more about the goodness and history of quinoa here and here.

You can eat quinoa on its own like rice, or cook it with other gluten free grains like millet, buckwheat, brown rice and amaranth (same botanical family as quinoa) to eat with cooked dishes, or simply make a salad combined with vegetables or other ingredients.

Quinoa is a staple food for me, it is an ingredient that can be found permanently in my kitchen cupboard, and comes in really handy if I need something filling and nutritious. As I have problems digesting gluten-filled grains, this is my best option besides brown rice.

The simplest, fastest and my favorite way to eat quinoa, is to make a quick and simple veggie salad, tweaking the popular Middle Eastern salad, Tabbouleh, made using a variety of vegetables and fresh herbs (tomato, cucumber, spring onion, mint leaves and parsley), bulgur wheat, and seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Quinoa is used in place of bulgur as a gluten free option.

You’ll get a refreshing and nutritious salad bursting with a combination of flavours, yet light and filling at the same time. You can basically add anything to this salad. I love to toss in some torn lettuce leaves, avocado cubes, roasted saltless nuts (my favourites are almond and cashew) and torn nori sheets. That would make a hearty breakfast, or a great accompaniment to pasta or mains.

I get my supply of organic quinoa from the healthfood stores. For those staying in KL and surrounding areas, you can easily get them from Country Farm Organics or Village Grocer in Bangsar Village. Country Farm Organics is my preferred store and brand as the grains are really clean and require less rinsing before cooking. Organic quinoa isn’t cheap, but I have not seen any non-organic ones so far, not in KL at least. Pricing ranges from RM14 – 19 per pack (500g), normally comes in either plain white quinoa, or mixed 3 colours.

Serving size: 2
Preparation/cooking time: 30 minutes

Ingredients (organic ingredients used whenever available):
3 tbsp organic quinoa (plain or mixed colours), rinsed with running water in a strainer
1 cup water
pinch of salt

1/2 small cucumber, seeded and diced
5 – 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 – 5 pcs Romaine, iceberg, butterhead or other types of lettuce, torn into smaller pieces
1 small ripe avocado, cubed
1/4 red or green capsicum, diced (optional)
1 stalk spring onion, thinly sliced
2 – 3 sprigs flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 – 3 stalks fresh mint (leaves only), chopped
1 large piece of unflavoured nori sheet (the ones you use to make sushi)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste


1. Toss quinoa lightly in a small pot (you need one with a lid) on low heat until you get a nutty aroma. (This step is optional, you can skip this and go straight to step 2)
2. Add water and salt and cook on medium heat for about 5 – 10 minutes, then reduce to low heat and continue to cook about 10 – 15 minutes until you see the grains start to get translucent and fluffy and the quinoa germ separates from the kernel (they look like little white rings). [While doing this, prepare the vegetables and fresh herbs]
3. Remove pot from the heat, fluff the quinoa grains lightly with a fork, cover with the lid of the pot and leave aside for another 10 – 15 minutes. This is to ensure the quinoa grains are properly cooked.
4. Combine all vegetables and herbs with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add in quinoa, roasted nuts and toss well. Top with torn nori sheets.

Below are some of the photos that I took a couple of weeks back, after the arrival of my (new) antique cutting board from France. The cutting board is so well used, rustic, and full of characters that I just had to find reasons to photograph it! The board is seen here with some of the ingredients used to make this simple and nutritious salad.

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As promised earlier, I’m posting back-logged photos of what I have been cooking, baking or making in my long absence from blogging.

At one point this year, I was bitten by the bug of macaron making. Like I said in yesterday’s post, I haven’t tried a single macaron when I visited Paris in 2009. However, I did have a bite last year at Shangrila Hotel Kuala Lumpur and thought that it was just too sweet for my tastebud. I didn’t quite fancy the taste, but all the stories and experiences of other bloggers that I’ve read online really prompted me to take up the challenge to make my own. For me, I like challenges, the harder something is, the more I’m tempted to try!

They were for sure, not easy to tackle at all! French macarons are some tough cookies alright! Macs, as they are affectionately called, are typically characterized by the formation of “feet” (or pieds), which are seen as ruffled ridges on two cookie halves sandwiched together with fillings. The cookie shells are made from egg white, ground almond flour, and sugar as a base. I’m not going into the details of making them or provide a recipe as I believe there are thousands of recipes out there on the web or in cookbooks. I’m just going to show the photos of my successful ones.

My success rate is about 50% so far, out of maybe 8 times I’ve tried. By success, I mean the formation of feet, even though most of the macs that I’ve made were probably not that perfect in terms of texture and looks. I made all of them using the French meringue method, but now that I’ve got a KitchenAid stand mixer, I’m contemplating to try using the Italian meringue method, as I heard and read more success stories with this one.

Anyhow, I now leave you with the photos of my successful macs, and hopefully in the next couple of weeks, I would get to experiment with the Italian meringue method! Till then, feast with your eyes!

Chocolate macarons (with dark chocolate ganache filling), recipe from David Lebovitz

Dark chocolate macarons with passionfruit curd filling. This is a quirky combo, some loved it, some found it a little weird...

Bourbon vanilla macarons with lemon curd filling

Bourbon vanilla macarons with lemon curd filling

Minty dark chocolate ganache macarons

Minty dark chocolate ganache macarons

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Since my last trip back from France in 2009, I have been crazy about all bakeries and patisseries French. The irony is that, I didn’t try a single piece of patisserie in Paris. No macarons, no madeleines, nothing, not even chocolates. Even when I was in Provence, I only had lots of bread, ice cream and cheeses. But now when I am really obsessed in making French patisseries, I never stop cursing at myself for not savouring a single piece of famed patisseries in France. I did try some in Italy, but they were too sweet for my liking, so I stopped after a while.

I was crazy about the art (and science) of making macarons a few months back (back logged photos to be uploaded later), and I still don’t know how a real Parisian macaron should taste like. And now I’m into the phase of making madeleines, again, without knowing what to expect. My first experience with madeleines turned out a little disappointing, without humps and didn’t quite have the moist and firm texture I was reading about. So the subsequent and this time, I decided to stick to David Lebovitz’s recipe, and everyone knows his recipes are fool proof, and true enough, they turned out perfect this time!

I modified his famed lemon-glazed madeleines to include fresh passionfruit juice in the recipe, just 1 tablespoon to add a little flavour, so that it’s not too overpowering. David’s recipe can be found here.

I have a few other flavours in mind that I would love to experiment, maybe passionfruit poppy seed (inspired by Steve on Flickr), dark molten chocolate with white Belgium chocolate glaze, and tangy lime.

Till then, enjoy the photos and don’t try to lick the computer (or iPad) screen! 😀

Note: For Malaysians who are not familiar with madeleine, it reminds us of our kuih bahulu, only that madeleine is firmer, more moist and really buttery (and sweeter because of the glaze). The distinctive features of madeleine are the hump (as in whale hump) on one side, and a scalloped surface on the other (without these two features, you can’t call it a madeleine!). It is perfect with tea or coffee…and if you have the urge to dunk it into your tea or coffee, you’re perfectly normal!

These madeleines are available for order (local pick up only). Pricing is RM40 for 12 pcs, also available in orange and lemon zest flavour, and plain lemon zest flavour. Do drop me an email (cyphang@gmail.com) if you are interested! Kindly order 2 – 3 days in advance as I can be very busy at times with my other businesses.

Madeleines in the oven…humps humps humps…yay!

Madeleines piping hot from the oven…

Madeleines cooling

Passionfruit lemon glaze madeleines for morning coffee, they were baked this morning…

Passionfruit lemon glaze madeleine for morning coffee...

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Made these today. If you like dark chocolate and kahlua, I think you will like this one… The kahlua blended pretty well with the chocolate and almond, and the bitter taste from cocoa and kahlua lingers for quite some time in the throat….

Trying to improve the problem of condensation for photography, I think I am getting a little results…It’s got to do with temperature…Hope the next round will be better…At least I got the lighting right this time!

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I grew to like goat cheese when I was in Provence last year. Since I have allergic reactions to some cow cheeses, goat cheese seem to be a better choice for me. Just like goat’s milk, the cheese has a strong and pungent flavour, it is definitely an acquired taste for you to get to like it.

In Provence, I got to learn that goat cheese (known as chèvre in French) is found to be a lot more common than cow cheeses due to the climate factor, as the climate in Provence is too dry for cows to produce good quantity and quality milk. I was staying in a little town in Provence called L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, surrounded by many canals, and is sometimes known as Venice of Provence. You see goat cheese everywhere in Provence, in the supermarket, at the farmer’s market, on the restaurant’s menu, or in Provencal homes.

Various types of chèvre at the farmer’s market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

In Provence, I tasted various different types of chèvre, from fresh young, to aged cheeses. You can eat it just like that, in salad or with bread. My favourite way of eating chèvre is toasting it on baguette slices and drizzle with some miel (honey), then sprinkle with some chopped chives. You can get it at Provencal restaurants but it’s so easy to make at home. I made quite a bit of it while I was staying at my B&B in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

Fresh chèvre and cow cheese (forgot the variety) with bread and Provencal grapes & olives. (Photographed in Provence)

Baguette slices toasted with chèvre, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with chopped chives. Served with fennel & orange salad. (Photographed in Provence)

You can get chèvre at a very reasonable price in France, I remembered paying about 1 – 1.5 € for 100g at the supermarket. But when I got back home, my eye balls popped out when I was hoping to cure my cravings for goat cheese at the local supermarket here. The price is almost three fold! So many times I took the goat cheese off the rack but put them back from my shopping basket simply because the price was outrageous!

Finally yesterday when I had dinner at my favourite Spanish restaurant El Meson in Bangsar (opposite Bangsar Village, next to Madam Kwan’s), Kuala Lumpur, I saw they had some goat cheese from Spain for sale. They looked a little different than those I had in Provence. In Provence, chèvre generally comes in various sizes of thinner round pieces, but the Spanish version I bought from El Meson comes in a log. When I first put the cheese into my mouth at El Meson, the strong pungent taste immediately woke my tastebud and left a garlicky aftertaste in my mouth. A sip of wine or sherry would help to neutralize that. I decided the cheese would look really good when I photograph them, so I bought a couple of slices home and this morning, I photographed the cheese with the bread I bought together from El Meson with some toasted Brazil nuts, pecan, and Spanish olives.

The goat cheese does live up to the price (mind you, it’s not cheap, about 3 € per 100g), both in presentation and taste. Goes really well with the bread, Brazil nuts and olives! Enjoy the view and do try out the fabulous goat cheese at El Meson in Bangsar. They also carry two other types of sheep cheeses and a few types of cow cheeses from Spain. Plus, the food and ambience there is simply fantastic! (Sorry my Muslim friends, non-halal 😦 )

Goat cheese from El Meson served with bread, toasted Brazil nuts, pecan and Spanish olives.

Goat cheese from El Meson served with bread, toasted Brazil nuts, pecan and Spanish olives.

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Just thought I’d share with you some of the experiments I have been doing with chocolates lately. First Mint Dark Chocolate Truffle Slices, then followed by Espresso Rum Dark Chocolate Truffle Squares. Both made with Valrhona dark chocolate couverture. Enjoy the view!

Mint Dark Chocolate Truffle Slices served with hot chocolate

Espresso Rum Dark Chocolate Truffle Squares

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My recent trip to Singapore brought home a couple of kilograms of chocolate with various cocoa solids content. I’m not a fan of milk and white chocolates, as they are too sweet for my palate. But I still need them for various coatings and fillings, and also for moulding purposes.

Tempering and moulding chocolate is a delicate and difficult craft to master, and success normally comes with numerous attempts and trial and error. I recently caught the chocolate-crafting bug since end January this year, after I bought my first polycarbonate chocolate mould from Singapore.

I grew up in a cocoa farm in a small town in Perak, Malaysia. When I was a little girl, I would help my grandfather harvest and break the cocoa pods every weekend before the beans were fermented for weeks. The farm was my favourite playground with streams running all over the premise, the cocoa trees were grown in between various types of fruit trees. I spent my childhood catching shrimps and fishes in the streams, and plucking fruits to eat whenever they were in season.

I didn’t understand why grandpa needed to sun the cocoa beans for weeks, bringing the beans spread out on large round bamboo trays every morning, and return the trays into the wooden shed in the evening. When I was pursuing my Horticultural degree in the university, my final year dissertation had me spent 4 months in the cocoa plantation studying the symbiotic relationship between ants and mealybugs involved in biological control method against a major cocoa pest – the cocoa pod borer.

It has been more than a decade since I left the cocoa plantation in the university. And grandpa’s cocoa farm is now history, the cocoa trees were either chopped down or left to die. It’s a sad thing, I know. And even sadder now that grandpa is no longer alive. That’s why cocoa is nostalgic to me.

And now, I am finally reunited with cocoa, only in a different manner. I’m currently reading about the post-harvest technology (now I understand why grandpa had to dry and ferment the beans) on how to process and manufacture chocolate, and how to mould and make different confectioneries. And of course, involving in the art and craft of chocolate-making.

Tempering chocolate is an important process in chocolate making, in fact, one of the most important. Well-tempered chocolate has the following characteristics: shine, traction and snap, and less likely to wilt in the room temperature.

My first few attempts with tempering weren’t really successful. I only “melted” the chocolate, but did not temper. My last attempt with the tempering last Sunday was based on Bill Yosses’ guidelines which was mentioned in my previous post. The moulded chocolates turned out rather successful, possessing all the characteristics of well-tempered chocolate: shine, traction and snap.

HOWEVER, photographing the chocolate was a lot more difficult than I thought, and my theories didn’t work! Condensation was the biggest problem, as the chocolates were stored in the fridge as I didn’t have time to photograph them right after they were moulded. As the chocolates were photographed under hot tungsten lights (I didn’t have cool light bulbs), all the characteristics were put to ashes, and the chocolates started sweating like crazy! You can see the condensation in the photo above.

I will take some more photos when I mould the chocolates again, hopefully this time they will turn out well on camera!

I’ve also made some mini chocolate souffle with Valrhona dark chocolate today, with a simple recipe I adapted from Epicurious. I will look for a better recipe as the results were not as good as I wanted, the texture was a little too coarse and didn’t rise properly (not aesthetic enough for photography!). I think the problem is also due to my oven, it gets hot very fast and could cause the texture to be coarser…Just have to keep trying I guess!

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I have an attitude problem – I’m a perfectionist. Simply means I will not settle for anything less than the best. Which indicates that I’ll not give up until I get what I want. In the positive manner, it means I will keep improving until I get the best. On the negative side, it just means I can stress myself too much. But it is this attitude that brings me this far in my food styling, food photography and culinary journey, so that that I keep perfecting my skills and creations, until I achieve the best or right results. It can be stressful at times, but as the saying goes, no pain, no gain.

I’ve been trying to make chocolate truffles since end January this year, but still on the quest to make the best. What to do, it’s in my genes, I just have to make it perfectly! It’s a very delicate process that needs lots of patience, attention to details, and skill. For me, after repeated attempts with some successes and a number of failures, I’ve realized that successful truffles greatly rely on a few factors, namely: 1. taste, 2. texture & mouth-feel, and 3. shaping. I’ve recently read an online article by Bill Yosses on finecooking.com and made the truffles yesterday based on his guidelines. Turned out pretty well and the article helped me understand why some of my previous truffles didn’t turn out the way they should be.

First, let’s talk about the taste. I’ve read over and over again the first most important thing to make perfect chocolate truffles is to use top quality chocolate, with a higher content of cocoa solids, preferably 60% and above. I’ve tried making with Lindt and Frey (both Swiss made, and 70% cocoa solids and above), the results were pretty good. And I’ve also made with huge blocks of so-called “good quality” cooking chocolate (which I forgot the brand) from the baking supplies shop, and my clients said they tasted like some “flour lumps with chocolate flavour”. Now those were disappointing, and I swear that I’ll never ever make with those again.

With the above in mind, I went to hunt for the top French chocolate brand, Valrhona in Singapore last weekend, and came back with the Valrhona Grand Cru Araguani 72% cocoa solids, milk chocolate and also the white chocolate couvertures. I also bought a few packets of Callebaut chocolates from Belgium, which I would like to compare with Lindt, Frey and Valrhona. For me, I prefer my truffles to be less sweet, with more intense chocolaty flavour. I like my truffles infused with liquor, either rum, liqueur, brandy or cognac. It gives you the “kick” when you bite into the creamy velvety center, only something you can perceive when you eat it yourself.

Next, the texture and mouth-feel. Another very important feature of a good chocolate truffle. The texture of the truffle mainly comes with the cream emulsified with the chocolate, which is called ganache. A sensational chocolate truffle should melt in your mouth with a velvety smooth texture, bursting with intense chocolate flavours. In my experience, temperature plays a very important role in making the ganache. Many times I had my ganache seized and the emulsion of chocolate and cream/butter separated because I added in cold liqueur to warm ganache. Well the truffles were still edible but just didn’t have very good texture and appearance, because you could see a layer of separated fats after the ganache sets.

Finally, comes my biggest horror when making truffles – shaping. This is the hardest part for me. I always have problems shaping the truffles in perfect round balls. I’ve been using a melon scooper to scoop the cooled ganache then shape with my hands, what a mess! I have to constantly move between the preparation table to the sink to get my hands cleaned as the ganache balls melt very easily the moment I start rolling between my two palms. Too bad I don’t have an air conditioner in my kitchen now, but I’ll make sure the new food styling kitchen that I’m moving in later this year is cold enough! Next time, I’ll try piping the ganache (as Bill Yosses does) and see if it’s easier to work with and turn out better!

The recipe I used yesterday was adapted from Bill Yosses’ guidelines. I used 150 g of finely chopped Valrhona dark chocolate, 100 ml good quality thickened cream, boiled (I used Paul’s from Australia, the best I can find in Malaysia), 1 tbsp of Bulla butter, whisked, 1 tbsp of cherry brandy (make sure you add it in bit by bit when the ganache liquid has cooled down to room temperature or the mixture will seize immediately when you stir in the brandy; you can substitute with normal brandy, rum or vodka or any other liquor that you like), and Valrhona cocoa powder to coat the truffles.

The verdict? The truffles tasted really really good, it felt like heaven in your mouth! The velvety texture combined with the dense chocolate flavour lightly infused with cherry brandy, and the perfectly roasted fine cocoa powder is really something to die for. Sinful, but wonderful!

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Had the itch to shoot something yesterday evening, so went to the supermarket to get the ingredients while waiting to watch the movie “Up in the air”. So I made this for lunch today, but wasn’t really happy with the lighting, as it was done in a rush and I was too hungry!

Lighting: 2 tungsten lights with softboxes and multiple reflectors.

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