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Archive for the ‘Sweets & Dessert’ Category

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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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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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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I was supposed to make this for a lunch party during Chinese New Year but did not happen as my dad was admitted to the hospital. These few days I was a little free so I thought it would be a good time to clean up the fridge to get rid of the ingredients that have been sitting in the fridge for the past couple of weeks.

I’ve made Tiramisu a few times but did not bother to take photos as it is a messy dessert to style and photograph. The photo I have here is more to document the results of the recipe I experimented. The verdict? A little too much cream for my liking. Texture and sweetness is fine. The recipe that came with the packaging of Forno Bonomi sponge fingers uses whisked egg whites instead of whipped cream. But I am a little cautious about using raw egg (concern about Salmonella) so I used whipped cream instead.

As most of us know, Tiramisu is made with mascarpone cheese, an Italian triple-cream cheese made from crème fraîche, denatured with tartaric acid (source: Wikipedia). It is, however, sold at an outrageous price here in Kuala Lumpur as it is imported. So I decided to cheat (sorry Italians), and used cream cheese to substitute half of the mascarpone. The recipe I experimented was adapted from here.

Tiramisu is not difficult to make, but as I’m getting older, I tend to get lazier too! So I’m always on the lookout for recipes that are simple yet still produce the authentic flavours. Making it is relatively easy, but styling it is definitely difficult! As this attempt is more for eating than photography, I’ll just have to wait till next time to style it in a proper way to make it look more presentable on camera! (Note: In my hurry to shoot the photograph, I neglected the slanting angle of the tiramisu – should have straighten it! Oh well…)

Ingredients
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup caster sugar
250 g mascarpone cheese
250 g cream cheese
250 ml (1 cup) double/thickened cream
24 Savoiardi (Sponge Fingers) (I used the brand Forno Bonomi, which you can find in Village Grocer, Giant TMC or Cold Storage in Bangsar, it’s the cheapest brand available so far in KL)
Approx. 300 ml strong warm coffee (I used freshly brewed Lavazza espresso coffee), added with 2 tbsp rum (optional)
2 tbsp cocoa powder

Steps
1. Beat egg yolks and sugar in a large heat proof bowl until pale and well combined, put the bowl on a pot with boiling water on the stove (using double-boil method) and continue to beat until mixture appears thick and has the texture of custard. Remove the heat proof bowl and set aside to cool.
2. Whip double/thickened cream until stiff and fluffy. I used a hand whisk to whip manually. (Tip for whipping cream: Make sure all equipment used is cold, I put the stainless steel mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer for 15 – 20 minutes before whisking)
3. In another bowl, beat cream cheese and mascarpone cheese until properly combined. Fold in egg and sugar mixture from (1), and whipped cream to create a light and fluffy mixture.
4. Assemble the sponge and cheese mixture layers. Dip sponge fingers in coffee one at a time and arrange in a rectangular deep glass tray to form a layer. Use a spatula to spread the cheese mixture from (3) evenly on the first layer of sponge fingers. Repeat with the second layer of sponge fingers and cheese mixture.
5. Sieve cocoa powder over the surface of the assembled tiramisu and chill in the fridge for about 3 – 4 hours. Best served chilled with coffee.

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Sago pearls with palm sugar and coconut milk-IMG_6726-custom-contrast- copyThis is one of my favourite Malaysian desserts, which I made for dinner on the day I cooked the sweet and sour pork chop rice. I’ve not been able to get the sago pearls correctly made for a long long time. After a few failed attempts this year, I’ve decided to give it another try. The procedure is very easy, now that I know the trick, which is to boil the water first before putting in the sago…

Ingredients:
1 cup sago pearls (also known as tapioca pearls)
1.5 liter water for boiling

For palm sugar syrup:
100 g palm sugar (known as gula Melaka or gula kabung in Malaysia), chopped roughly
100 ml water
2 screwpine (pandan) leaves knotted, optional (for added fragrance)

For coconut milk mixture:
Freshly squeezed coconut milk from 1 coconut (or you can used packet coconut milk or buy fresh coconut milk from the market), added with a pinch of salt and chilled for at least 1 hour

Steps:
1. Wash sago with tap water and drain. Boil water in a medium pot and add in the drained sago when the water has reached boiling point. Keep stirring to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pot and turn off heat when sago pearls turn transparent. Drain off excess water from the sago pearls using a sieve. Spoon sago pearls into moulds and leave to cool before chilling in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
2. Boil water for the palm sugar syrup with the screwpine leaves. Keep stirring until sugar has fully dissolved. Pour out and leave to cool. Keep the syrup chilled in refrigerator.
3. When the sago pearls have set in the mould, unmould into a dessert bowl and spoon 2 tbsp of chilled palm sugar syrup over the sago pearls, and 2 – 3 tbsp of coconut milk on top. Adjust the amount of syrup and coconut milk according to your own liking.

Sago pearls with palm sugar and coconut milk-IMG_6730-auto-contrastcopy

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