Le Noël Blanc
Christmas came and went like a ghost from a Charles Dickens novel. We have been planning for our first dessert table for more than a month now. Different state of emotions ran through us: excitement, fear, calmness, confidence then the usual freaking out. The funny thing about Christmas was that there was always not enough time whether you were feeding six or 50 people. Something was probably missing or not done. (That was always solved with a glass of pinot noir and a small amount of charm.)
Dessert tables can be daunting. Just google it and you can find plenty of different inspirations and examples. The beauty of a dessert table at its most basic and importance is that it must be an aesthetic masterpiece. Some might disagree but we have a reason of saying so. A lot of colour coordination comes into play, alongside complementary props. Many use icing and fondant to achieve that level of thematic consistency, which is something we as bakers are not keen on. To all cupcake and fondant lovers, sorry, we are just not that into them.
But as all dessert tables, yes, there was still a theme to abide to.
Working with an upcoming events boutique The Magpies, we were given a small brief: White, Rustic and French. The France that everyone knew well were the chic streets of Paris with their high-fashion houses and a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. To achieve rustic charms, we decided to drop ourselves into a region famous for its rolling lavender fields and charming bastides (country houses): the south eastern part of France, Provence.
When one speaks of a Provençal Christmas, the famous 13 desserts come to mind. Here was the difficult part. As fascinating and mouth-watering 13 desserts could be, churning out so many types of sweets could become literally a Nightmare before Christmas. There were a number of other factors that came into play: the need of balance between the savoury and sweet, dietary specifications, a tight baking schedule and availability of ingredients and recipes.
So, many recipes were tried and tested. Those you see on the table above are the successful bakes after weeks of homework. We tried to keep the Provençal spirit alive with or without the 13 desserts. It may not be the best representation, but it was still as delicious. We hope to execute the real Provençal Christmas desserts one day. Someone, please let us know where we can find a good Calissons recipe in English!!
Here was the menu that was served:
Two types of hassle-free tea sandwiches, one with eggs and chives, and the other was roasted chicken with cranberry sauce. Lovely roasted potatoes served with mustard mayonnaise. And a personal favourite – mini Caramelised Onion and Gruyère tarts.
The sweets were fronted by a magnificent chocolate Gugelhupf cake (I’d call this the show-stopper), toffee nut macarons, dainty orange blossom crème caramel cups with meringue, and a dark chocolate fondue served with marshmallows and bananas.
To quench one’s thirst, we had Lemonade and Pastis de Marseille. (Yes, it’s a summer drink but pastis is such a fixture of the Provençal culture that we had to serve it.) We also gave Ginger nut Biscuits as a little gift to the guests.
At a glance, the menu does not seem extensive or difficult. To be honest, we did not meet with any major mishaps other than some burnt caramel. This was our first dessert table after all, we could aim for the stars but it was better to get it right for a start. As with many beginnings, it can only get better the next time.
Pictures are from our friends at The Magpies. (Thank you girls!) For the recipes, just scroll down to the end of the entry!!
By the way, The Hobbit came out 2 weeks ago and we were very very happy and satisfied fans. If you have yet to watch it, go catch it (especially in HFR 3D, it’s eyegasm galore)!!!! WE INSIST.
Now that Christmas is over, there is only 3 more days to the New Year…. we feel old already… *sobs*
Roast Chicken and Cranberry Tea Sandwiches
By Thom & Aimee
20 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
900g of chicken thigh
A few sprigs of rosemary
Salt and pepper
1 can of cranberry sauce
Preheat oven to 240°C. Drizzle the chicken thigh with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Crush the rosemary and rub them all over the chicken. Place the chicken into the oven and turn the temperature down to 200°C. Cook for 50 minutes to 1 hour.
When the chicken is cooked, remove from oven and allow to cool. When cooled, remove skin and fats and shred the chicken. Season with salt and pepper, then add the cranberry sauce to the shredded chicken. Apply the mixture onto sandwich breads and serve.
Egg and Chives Tea Sandwiches
By Donna Hay
6 hard-boiled eggs, egg whites chopped and egg yolks left whole
75g whole-egg mayonnaise
sea salt and cracked black pepper
10 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
extra whole-egg mayonnaise, for spreading
1 bunch chives, chopped
Mash the egg yolks with mayonnaise until there are no more lumps. Season with salt and pepper. Place the chopped egg whites and mix well. Spread the egg mixture over half the bread slices, then sprinkle chopped chives over and sandwich with the remaining slices of bread. It is ready to serve.
By Thom and Aimee
10 potatoes, peeled and cut into small bites
3 clove garlic, smoked if possible
salt and black pepper
Preheat oven to 190°C.
Drizzle olive oil over the potatoes and season generously with salt and pepper. Place in the garlic and crushed thyme and toss the potatoes. Cook for 50 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the thickness of the potatoes. You can always check by using a fork to stick through a potato. It is cooked when the fork goes throughly nicely.
To make the sauce, start by adding a teaspoon of dijon mustard to several tablespoons of mayonnaise. Depending on your preference, you can add more mustard. Mash the garlic and add them into the mixture. Season well with salt and pepper and chives.
Toss the potatoes with the sauce and it is ready to serve.
Caramelised Onion and Gruyère Tart
Adapted from Olive Magazine
For Caramelised Onions
3 large yellow onions, halved and sliced
1 to 2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
500g all-butter shortcrust pastry block
200ml double cream
100g Gruyere, grated
Thyme leaves from 2 sprigs, chopped
25g parmesan, grated
Salt and Pepper
To make caramelised onions, heat a thick bottomed pan to medium heat and add enough butter to coat the onion slices. Once the butter has melted, add the onions and stir to coat the onions with the butter. Add a good pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to low.
Spread out the onions evenly onto the pan and stir occasionally. When onions are softened and tinged golden, add balsamic vinegar. Stir occasionally. Cook until onions are sticky and caramelised. If there are browns bits on the surface of the pan, scrape them together with the onions – this is part of the caramelisation process. Once it is sticky and caramelised, remove from heat immediately and store in a sterilised jar.
To make the tart, heat oven to 190°C. Roll out the pastry and line a 23cm tart tin. Line with baking paper and fill with baking beans and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove the baking paper and beans and bake further for 10 minutes.
Mix the cream, eggs, gruyère and thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the caramelised onions. Pour mixture into the tart case. Sprinkle over the parmesan.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until just set. Serve at room temperature.
Use a thick bottomed pan to cook as it distributes heat evenly.
Cooking caramelised onions will take up to 1 hour; do not turn the heat up to hasten the cooking process as it would burn the onions.
Meringue with Orange Blossom Crème Caramel
Adapted from Sarabeth’s Bakery
Makes 24 shot glasses
To prepare ahead, you can make the orange crème caramel the day before.
55g liquefied egg whites
150g caster sugar
38g mineral water
75g caster sugar
19g mineral water
For Orange Blossom Crème
802.5ml whole milk
90ml heavy cream
Zest of 1 orange
6 large eggs, room temperature
4.5 large egg yolks, room temperature
102g superfine sugar
1.5 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.5 teaspoon orange blossom water
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 160°C. Place 24 shot glasses in a roasting pan.
To make the caramel, bring the sugar and water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over high heat, stirring just until the sugar is dissolved. Boil the syrup, occasionally swirling the pan by the handle, until it is caramelised, the colour of amber, and smoking lightly, about 5 minutes.
During the last few minutes of making the caramel, place the shot glasses in the roasting pan in the oven for about 3 minutes to warm them. Remove the shot glasses from the oven.
Working quickly, pour equal amounts of the caramel syrup into the warm shot glasses. Return them to the shallow roasting pan.
To make the custard, bring the milk, cream and orange zest to a simmer in another medium saucepan. Whisk the eggs, yolks and sugar together in a heatproof medium bowl. Gradually whisk in the hot milk mixture.
Strain the custard through a medium mesh wire sieve into a large, heatproof pitcher. Discard the zest. Stir in the vanilla and orange blossom water.
Divide the custard equally among the shot glasses. Pour hot water to come about 1/2 inch up the sides of the shot glasses. Cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes.
It is ready when a knife inserted near the edge of the custard comes out clean, even if the center seems slightly unset. Remove foil, and remove from the oven. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
Cover each shot glass with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.
Place sugar and water to a large saucepan under low heat. Dissolve sugar before bringing it to a boil over medium heat at 118°C. Do not stir the sugar mixture when it starts bubbling as it will create sugar crystals. Have a pastry brush with a bowl of cold water at hand. When the sugar boils, clean the sides of the saucepan with the damp brush.
While sugar is bubbling, simultaneously start whisking the egg whites to soft peaks. When the sugar reaches 118°C. take the saucepan off the heat and pour the hot sugar in a thin stream over the egg whites. Whisk egg whites at high speed for 1 minute before reducing to medium speed. Continue to whisk for 2 minutes then allow meringue to rest until it cools down to 50°C.
Immediately scoop the meringue into a piping bag, fitted with a star nozzle. Pipe out the meringue onto the crème caramel. Then use a blowtorch and sear the meringue until it is lightly browned. It is ready to be served.
Make the meringue closer to the serving time as it can disintegrate quite easily. Always place it in cold temperature or it will melt, and the meringue will turn into a sloppy mess.
Gingernut Biscuits (Cookies)
By Donna Hay
Makes 100 small cookies
225g butter, room temperature
1.5 teaspoon vanilla paste
105g brown sugar
278 plain all-purpose flour, sifted
1.5 tablespoon ground ginger, sifted
1/3 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, sifted
Demerara sugar, for rolling
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Cream the butter, then add vanilla and sugar in an electric mixer and beat for 8-10 minutes or until combined. Add the egg and beat for 2-3 minutes or until pale and fluffy. Add the flour, ginger and bicarbonate of soda and beat until a smooth dough forms.
Roll teapoonfuls of the dough into balls and roll in the Demerara sugar. Place on baking trays lined with non-stick baking paper, leaving room to spread. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden. Cool on wire racks.
By Thom and Aimee
Makes 36 macarons, 72 shells
For the Macaron Shells
150g ground almonds
150g icing sugar
55g liquefied egg whites
7.5g titanium oxide powder
5g warm mineral water
150g caster sugar
38g mineral water
55g liquefied egg whites
For the Toffee Cream
150g demerara sugar
168g liquid crème fraiche
58g slightly softened good butter
108g dark rum
145g softened good butter
Prepare the template for macaron shells by cutting a sheet of baking parchment that fits inside a baking tray. Draw circles measuring 3.5cm in diameter and space the circles 2cm apart.
To make the macaron shells, sift together the icing sugar and ground almonds.
Dilute the titanium oxide powder in a bowl of warm mineral water and stir it into the first portion of liquefied egg whites. Pour them into the mixture of icing sugar and ground almonds. Do not stir.
Place sugar and water to a large saucepan under low heat. Dissolve sugar before bringing it to a boil over medium heat at 118°C. Do not stir the sugar mixture when it starts bubbling as it will create sugar crystals.
Have a pastry brush with a bowl of cold water at hand. When the sugar boils, clean the sides of the saucepan with the damp brush.
While sugar is bubbling, simultaneously start whisking the second portion of egg whites to soft peaks.
When the sugar reaches 118°C, take the saucepan off the heat and pour the hot sugar in a thin stream over the egg whites. Whisk egg whites at high speed for 1 minute before reducing to medium speed. Continue to whisk until it cools down to 50°C.
Tip meringue into the mixture of icing sugar and ground almonds. Fold the batter and stir outwards from the middle to the sides, rotating the bowl as you stir. Continue stirring until the batter is just starting to turn glossy, like slightly runny cake dough.
Scoop a little batter and scrape into a piping bag, fitted with a plain nozzle. Fill the bag with half of the batter by scraping it on the side of the bag. Squeeze batter into piping bag so it ends up to the end of the piping bag, to prevent any space or air bubbles in the batter. Twist the end of the piping bag several times and start to pipe the batter out.
Lay the macaron template on the baking tray and cover it with a sheet of baking parchment. Hold the piping bag vertically, about 2 cm above the baking tray. Squeeze the top to pipe out the first shell. The shell should be smaller than the template circle, just short of 3.5cm in diameter as the batter will spread during baking.
Continue to pipe the shells out onto other baking trays with the template until all the batter is piped out.
Flatter the points that have formed on the shells by rapping the baking tray on a work surface with a moist kitchen towel.
Allow the shells to stand at room temperature (or in an air-conditioned room) for about 30 minutes until a skin forms on the surface. To test when it’s ready, gently touch the shell; the batter should not stick to your finger.
Pre-heat oven to 180°C and bake the shells for 12 minutes. Open the oven door after eight minutes and after 10 minutes, to let out steam. Once baked, slide the macaron shells out of the baking tray and onto the work surface to prevent the shells from baking further on the baking tray. Allow the macarons to cool on the baking parchment as taking them off when it’s warm will tear the bottom.
When cooled, carefully unstick the shells from the baking parchment. They are now ready to be filled. You can store them for 48 hours in the refrigerator or freeze them.
To make the toffee cream, bring the crème fraiche to the boil. Do not take your eyes off the crème fraiche as it will turn into an overflowing mess when it reaches boiling point.
Pour 50g demerara sugar into a large saucepan and allow it to melt before adding another 50g. Repeat this step one more time. Allow sugar to melt entirely before doing the next step.
Take the pan off the heat immediately and add the 58g lightly salted butter. Stand back as the mixture will bubble and spit. Stir with a spatula and pour the crème fraiche a little at a time while stirring continually.
Pour in the rum and mix well. Return the pan to a low heat. Heat the toffee until it reaches 108°C. Then pour it into a wide dish and press cling film over the surface. Place dish into refrigerator until cold.
In an electric mixer, whisk butter for 8 minutes to make it light and frothy. Whisk the cooled toffee cream in.
Spoon the toffee cream immediately into a piping bag with a plain nozzle.
Pipe the cream onto half the shells then top them with the remaining shells. Store the macarons in the refrigerator for 24 hours before serving.
Mrs. Stein’s Chocolate Cake (Gugelhupf Cake)
By Sarabeth’s Bakery
Softened unsalted butter and flour, for the pan
355ml whole milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
292g plain flour
1 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
14g unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
142g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
394g superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature, beaten
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish, optional
Preheat oven to 175°C. Butter and flour the inside of a 10-12 cup fluted tube pan and tap out the excess flour.
Combine the milk and lemon juice in a measuring cup. Let stand in a warm place (near the preheating oven) while preparing the rest of the batter; the milk will curdle. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt together into a medium bowl.
Bring water to a bare simmer in a small saucepan. Place the chocolate in a heat resistant bowl and place it on the pan. Make sure the bowl does not touch the water. Let stand until the chocolate is melted. Remove from water, and stir chocolate until smooth. Let stand until tepid.
Cream the butter, then gradually beat in the sugar, followed by the vanilla. Beat until the mixture is light in colour and texture, scraping occasionally. Gradually beat in the eggs, tablespoon by tablespoon to prevent curdling. Beat in the melted chocolate.
In thirds, alternating with two equal additions of the milk mixture, add the flour mixture, scraping down the bowl and beating until smooth after each addition. Spoon the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
Bake until the top of the cake springs back when gently pressed with your finger, and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before inverting and unmolding the cake onto the rack to cool completely. Sift a light coating of confectioners’ sugar on top, if using.