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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...

Brief updates etc…

It has been ages since I last posted. A lot has happened since my last post on my hometown Teluk Intan, including but not limited to new food styling and photography projects, setting up of my new food styling/photography studio, busy with my simultaneous interpreting and translation work, and of course, traveling.

Just this morning, I appeared on a morning talk show on Bernama TV (The Breakfast Club) hosted by my friend, Shah. Bernama is the Malaysian National News Agency and they run a TV channel specializing in broadcasting news, aired on Astro on Channel 502. It was sort of a urgent notice, but I happily accepted the invitation as it is definitely a good exposure for me and a brilliant way to promote my food styling work.

As it was really a whirlwind event, I didn’t even get to take any photos as I was caught in a horrible jam, took the wrong road and arrived 10 minutes later than the call time. However, I guess I did alright, as Shah is a fun presenter and we know each other quite well. The interview mainly centered around my career as a food stylist, how it got started, my role as a food stylist, and also advice to newcomers who would like to consider food styling as their career.

Shah promised to give me a CD with the footage of my appearance, so I’ll upload that when I do get it from him.

I was given the opportunity to promote my blog (which unfortunately, hasn’t been updated for a long time!) so I hope those viewers that come to my blog after the show would not be disappointed haha…

As I am writing this, I started to recapitulate the objectives of setting up this blog. As the name cookingheals goes, it has significant meanings to me. Cooking has always been healing for me, when I am facing ups and downs of life and work, bogged with personal problems or work challenges, cooking is the first thing I would seek refuge in. From day 1 since the inception of this blog, it has never changed. Old relationships have been reignited and Iong lost friends found me again through this blog. At times, missing someone can be really difficult, but cooking has given me the strength to stay on my feet and be inspired to face the world.

Let me end this post with a photo of the new studio, which was taken much earlier this year, right after I moved in. The studio is fully utilized with me creating more dishes and bakeries than before, now that I have my own little haven. I will slowly revive this blog by uploading back logged photos, some that have been shot by me and published, some which I’ve styled and shot by other photographers, and some I shot for Getty Images, and also those I shot for fun.

I hope you stay tuned and patiently wait for new updates from me! Till then, have fun and live life to the fullest!


Zesty Concepts Studio

It has been ages since I last blogged. Many things had happened over the past 9 months or so, that kept me really busy and occupied – the renovation and moving in to my new culinary studio, busy with assignments and everything else.

In one of my previous posts I talked about the background of my chocolate crafting, that I grew up in a cocoa farm of my late grandpa. This recent Chinese New Year, I went back to Teluk Intan, my hometown, to visit my relatives, and I grabbed the golden opportunity to visit my childhood playground with my camera. I haven’t been back for about two years, since grandma passed away…

To my pleasant surprise, what greeted me at the entrance were blossoms of pink lotus flowers, the most beautiful I’ve seen in a long long time. I’ve always hunted high and low in every country that I go to, to shoot lotus flowers, and now they are just in my backyard!

In my memory, all the streams were planted with white lotus flowers when I was a little girl. I had a lot of fond memories with the streams as I used to catch fish, shrimps, tadpoles and swim in them throughout my childhood.


More surprises were lining up for me…I found out that not only some of the cocoa trees were still alive, they were bearing fruits heavily! I took all the photos I could, even the tools that my grandpa used for fermenting and drying the cocoa seeds.
Cocoa pods on the trees…the yellow ones were ripe and ready to be harvested.

Cocoa pod cut to reveal seeds. The seeds would be fermented and sun dried before being processed.

Tools for fermenting and drying cocoa seeds. The wooden box in the middle is for fermentation, the wooden stands and netting for drying. These are at least 3 decades old…

Not only I got to photograph the cocoa pods, I also managed to taste some durians (king of fruits) and rambutans (same family as the lychee). They were really yummy!

Durian on the tree.

Rambutans in heavy bunches…

All I can say is that I had a really rewarding trip back to my hometown this round. Although I do not live there anymore, it’s a place that left me so many fond memories and will always have a soft spot in my heart, I will hopefully be back sooooon!!!!

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!

Goat Cheese

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.

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

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!

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!

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.

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.