Archive for the ‘Food styling & presentation’ Category

As a Chinese, the only ways I eat chestnuts are either in Chinese rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves (zong zi or 粽子),meat stew, or eat as a snack (sugar fried with shells). You can also boil or steam them with the shell.

But I’ve always wanted to photograph them roasted with the shell cut and curled out, the western way. Chestnuts are extremely photogenic, from the photos I’ve seen online. So when I saw them today at the open-air market in Sri Petaling, I just couldn’t resist from buying them to shoot them!

To roast them, all you need to do is to cut a X on the flat surface of the shell into the skin with a sharp paring knife. Then roast them in a shallow baking pan in the oven (160 – 180 C) for about 20 – 30 minutes, until the skin crack open and the flesh is tender.

I find that chestnuts roasted this way taste drier than those boiled or sugar fried, but definitely much much more photogenic and rustic on camera!

Now feast your eyes on these little beauties! (Click on the thumbnails at the bottom on this post to turn on the gallery slideshow)


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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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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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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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Since I had a little time yesterday evening and today, I decided to carve some more. Looks like practice and patience does pay off! In conjunction with the Oscar’s today, I decided to present the carvings to resemble the forest on Pandora in Avatar, only that I can’t find any blue vegetables!

Enjoy the view! (Note: Click on the photos to see notes on my flickr album for the types of vegetables used)

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Boy, another difficult encounter.

Food presentation for Chinese dishes typically involves intricate garnishing and complicated arrangement. The visuals of the dish is just as important as the taste, the food should always taste as good as they look, and vice versa.

I have a potential food styling project for Chinese dishes coming up next week, for Leo Burnett Malaysia, for a cooking oil brand. Realizing that it’s high time for me to come up with more ideas for food garnishing, I started searching and viewing for fruits and vegetable carving videos on youtube. My jaw dropped when I saw how the carving was done so effortlessly with such stunning craftsmanship and amazing results. I knew it was not going to be easy for me, as I’ve never really carved a fruit or vegetable, only done simple garnishing.

I suddenly remembered yesterday that on my trip to Koh Samui during Christmas holidays in 2008, I bought a set of fruits and vegetable carving set at a roadside stall, but never used it until now.

So I went out yesterday evening and bought a small packet of radishes hoping to use my set of tools from Koh Samui to carve them into flowers. Failed, terribly. Blame it on the radishes, as they were too small and were very hard to control. Next, I tried carving a rose out of a turnip, using just a paring knife. The results? Bearable, but hardly presentable. So this morning, I went out to get some biggest carrots I could find in the market, and bought a new Zwilling tourne knife (commonly known as peeling knife, a tourne knife has a pointed tip that curves downward sometimes upward and side to side, something like this). However, I ended up only using my existing paring knife and the results turned out much better, but there’s still a big room for improvement.

I think the biggest difficultly lies in how to hold and use the carving knife properly and skillfully. Also, I kept worrying that I would cut my fingers as the knife was pretty sharp. Carving fruits and vegetables is a very intricate and difficult skill to master, but once you master it, it’s a whole new world out there! I am thinking maybe I should always keep a container with some carrots and my paring knife so that I can practise whenever I have time to kill! Just hoping that nobody would think I’m a psycho!

Note on photography and lighting: As I finished carving the carrot roses pretty late in the evening, there was barely any sunlight and I was lazy to set up my proper studio lights, so I only used a Lowel Ego table light, the main purpose was just to document the results hehe…

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