Thom & Aimee

Two Hobbits. The Kitchen. The Garden. And trouble ensues.

Tag: almond

Roasted Almond Affogato

With the unearthly timings the World Cup matches are broadcasting locally, a single cup of coffee is just not enough to last us through the night. Or should I say early morning. In any case, we are surviving on an average of two to three hours of sleep these days. And no matter how many cups of coffee you down, the caffeine seems to stop its magical effects after awhile. (I tried drinking a total of 8 shots once. Please do not try it unless you wish to have an accelerating heart rate.)

Sometimes, we do get a little hungry in the middle of the night. Swearing at the television and watching 22 men kick a ball can take up a lot of energy. Especially if your team is not playing up to expectations, hunger plus anger, on top of fatigue, makes a rabid fangirl. To combat potential crazy breakdowns, we figured a simple dessert would calm even the most frantic. (No, really, I actually lost sleep because Germany drew an equaliser with Ghana. A sleep-deprived person who can’t fall asleep. The world could have combusted.) A word of caution though: the sugar and caffeine rush might work differently on different people. And this is not for those worried about their waistlines.

Let’s turn back the clock a little. One of our very first meals in London was at Polpo and to beat the jet lag, we decided to have an affogato after our very satisfying meal. A dessert in a cup of coffee, nothing beats the simple combination of pure vanilla ice cream melting in your cup of rich espresso. I don’t know if it was the excitement of being on a holiday or that we were hungry and cold, but it was one of the most luscious cups of heaven we have had. Ever since then, we knew we had to recreate it when we go back home.

Back to the present, we came across the cookbook ‘One’ by Florence Knight, who is the head chef of Polpo. And to our delight, within it lies a recipe of an affogato. Traditionally made with vanilla ice cream and a cup of espresso, this version is a much richer concoction with its inclusion of roasted almonds. And boy, when we both tasted the dessert, it was like we were transported back to London and into the cosy corner of the bar at Polpo.

The combination of the caramelised almond ice cream lifted the bitterness of the coffee. We used a deeper roast of beans as we favoured the contrast of bittersweet. You can add pralines to the dessert for an extra indulgence but for convenience’s sake (half time is only 20 minutes), we are satisfied with just almond ice cream and coffee. In fact, almost too satisfied because we just downed two cups each. Well, stomachs come first, guilt can come later.

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Chocolate and Coffee Crème Brûlée Tart

The reason of why we made this dessert was quite a simple one: we had one in a shop and just had to make one in case of sudden cravings. The first time I had it was when a friend bought a slice of a Brazilian Coffee Tart for my birthday and I swear it was the best thing I have had for a long long time. In fact, it was sitting quite plainly beside the Lemon Meringue Tart. But the moment I popped a piece of it into my mouth, I thought I died and went to chocolate-y coffee heaven.

The luscious fudge-like chocolate just melts in your mouth and the creamy bitter coffee melds perfectly with the sweetness of the chocolate. Are you salivating yet? Because I am. Most chocolate desserts tend to overpower with its cocoa but this manages to be subtle and allow an amazingly balancing act alongside the coffee. After which, I told (more like raved to) Ned to give it try. Well, to cut long story short, she went to the same piece of heaven and here we are, trying to create the foods of angels.

Lucky for us, we managed to get hold of the recipe from Eric Kayser’s book of tarts. We’ll be honest here: heaven was not in our grasp yet. The tart base used was a chocolate shortbread pastry instead of the plain shortcrust used in the shop, and this resulted in a far too crumbly texture. The chocolate and coffee layers thankfully came through fine. Although instead of singing a duet together, it was like watching two contestants pitting each other in an episode of The Voice. The flavours were amazingly strong and powerful. Not that it was bad, but after gobbling half the tart, it seemed a little too rich for any more. We figured the tart base could have contributed to the chocolate-ness of the pastry.

Overall, it was still an amazing dessert but improvements could be made. Can I just complain how difficult it was for me to slice the dessert? Well, that’s just me because I was being spoilt. (Ned happened to be busy and I was left with the cutting.) But at least I learnt how to handle such desserts – have patience and more patience. Ned is adamant in making another batch until she achieves that slice of perfection. I’m all for it as long as I don’t have to cut it.

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Pear and Frangipane Tarts (Tarte Bourdaloue aux Poires)

You would think we would be bored of baking tarts by now. On the contrary, I think we’d never stop popping them into the oven. There is a quiet sense of satisfaction knowing that slowly but surely, improvement could be tasted after every bake. Kudos to Ned who persevered despite it all and once again, delivered a tray filled with petite tartlets of crisp golden brown pastry, luscious fruits and delightful almond filling.

Frangipane is a filling made from almonds and acts like a pastry cream. Back then when I was clueless about baking and culinary terms, I always thought frangipane was made from frangipani flowers. That is, you have to admit, really quite an interesting flavour should it be true. (Technically, you can actually consume frangipani or plumeria flowers in salads, teas and even candy. My brain is raging with ideas now.) Now that I have grown a little wiser, visits to the local pâtisserie won’t have me leaving red-faced with my silly questions.

The almond acts like a base and pushes the honeyed sweetness of the pears in every bite. What I love is the burst of juice from the fruit against the dense frangipane filling – a mouthful of pure indulgence! For which, I am not ashamed to say that I ate two in one sitting.

Off to the gym…

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Warm Plum Clafoutis with Crème Fraiche Sorbet

For the record, I personally do not love shooting any cold desserts of any sort. Especially those that melt almost immediately the moment they come in contact with our local tropical humidity. It will only create unnecessary fuss and unwanted stress to race against time to capture the said cold item in its peak form. I have no bitterness against ice creams, sorbets, granita or semifreddo. I just do not love shooting them. Now I feel better after ranting.

This is another of never-tasted-before dishes that Ned has attempted. The risk of doing something absolutely new was not knowing if we were on the right track. It was like doing a Great British Bake Off technical challenge, but with the full set of instructions. It’s tough to actually be critical of one’s bake without any fore knowledge or experience. We could only leave it to gut instinct and taste buds. Up till now, we aren’t really sure if the consistency of the clafoutis batter was right. (Why aren’t there any clafoutis sold in any restaurants in Singapore?)

Doing my research online, it describes a clafoutis as a classic French dessert that’s almost flan-like, and typically uses black cherries over other types of fruit. Even by comparing our clafoutis against those experimented by Guardian’s Fecility Cloake, we can’t tell if we did the dessert justice or not. For example, our attempt utilises ground almond, which causes the batter to have a less-smooth texture. We know what flans look like, and yet our clafoutis didn’t resemble anything like the said dessert.

Plunging into unknown territory, Ned managed to pull off an enchanting dish – golden brown cake-ish exterior, sliced plum fan out like petals with a brilliant shade of deep burgundy and glossy blood red plum compote. This reminds me of the apple pudding we made a year back: it is just so yummy that I could clean a few off at one go. Topped with homemade creme fraiche ice cream, it created the perfect balance of sweet and sour. The tanginess of the creme fraiche refreshes the palate and reduces the sugary level of the clafoutis. We paired it up with vanilla ice cream as well, but it only made the dessert overwhelmingly rich.

If this was beginner’s luck, we cannot wait to taste what a masterclass clafoutis will be like. Till then, our tummies are pretty satisfied with our own creations.

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Raspberry and Pistachio Tarts

Ned has been pretty obsessed with tart tins recently, resulting in a much unnecessary amount of tins in our kitchen. They come in all shapes and sizes: big, not so big, small, super small, fluted, non-fluted, round, rectangular, removable base and the unremovable ones. I expect this collection to grow even more. It’s pretty odd for someone who used to run away from tart making. Now, all Ned loves doing are tarts. Not that I’m complaining, when there’s always something delicious at the end of the day.

It’s not uncommon to see a variety of immaculate mini tartlets sitting behind a clear glass of most patisseries. They usually are round and at about 8cm in diameter. (No idea why 8cm became the standard measurement for individual tart portions.) And Ned managed to get her hands on some of these particular tart tins after plenty of searching.

Most tarts that feature fruits usually do not incorporate them into the filling (not including my all-time favourite tarte au citron) which I find it rather odd. Be it apple, pear or apricots, the fruits are often made to do their most natural duties of adding a tartness to the dish and being wonderful decor pieces. The raspberry tarts we have made here are no different. But what is interesting here is that the crust contains pistachio, which is a great pair with the raspberries. Having just three raspberries on each tart really is not enough. We kept popping on more of the scarlet jewels into our mouth as we dug into the tarts.

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Mango and Yoghurt Macarons (Mango Lassi Macarons)

Last of the Indian musketeers (this reminds me of the excellent Bollywood film ‘3 Idiots’) is the Mango Lassi macaron. It’s probably the most familiar item for anyone not of Indian ethnicity. It was also the very first item I tried at the restaurant. So this brings back many delicious memories.

Mango is featured plenty in Indian cuisine. One other mango item that I love would be in the form of a festive confectionery called the mitthai. In which, the chefs in the restaurant can make really outstanding mango-flavoured mitthais that prove to be one of the most popular item among the guests. Or the mango kulfi, a traditional Indian ice-cream moulded predominantly made with evaporated milk and moulded in small cylindrical metal cans. And of course, who can forget the King of all mangoes – the Alphonso?

We did think of using the famous Alphonso mangoes since it was conveniently in season, but the fruit can command a rather exuberant price tag. Thai mangoes can do the job equally, if not brilliantly well. To emphasize the presence of the yoghurt, a dollop of the dairy product sits naked alongside the mango ganache that is spiced with a hint of cardamom. The idea was to give different layers as one bites into the macaron. To create another dimension, you could try placing a small piece of cooked mango on the yoghurt. It’s the ice cold yoghurt-y drink at one go.

The project brought us a balanced amount of creativity and discipline. This being the first collection of macarons in which we created the flavours from scratch, only gave us even more satisfaction and determination. There is still room to improve, but this only cements our love of playing with contrasting ingredients. And with this Indian-inspired macaron collection, I bid my last farewell to three wonderful year of yummies, friendship and growth.

And hello, new challenges. Now, that’s another journey to take.

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Spiced Darjeeling Tea and Milk Chocolate Macarons (Masala Chai Macarons)

Ah, masala chai. I have a dangerous addiction to this creamy tea concoction. Whenever I visit the restaurant, a knowing smile will appear on my colleagues’ faces and out comes a cup of this hot luscious stuff. There is something comforting about this drink. It makes you want to sit by a window and read a good novel. Or pen out a short story. Because it sends you away to somewhere far filled with eclectic colours and heavy aromatic smells. Tea on its own is a beautiful thing, but when it takes the form of masala chai, now that’s a whole different story.

My friends who have visited India will always mention masala chai and its allure. The tea beverage vary in different regions of India with each using their own mixture of spices. Traditionally, ginger and cardamom are the foundation with other ingredients added on such as cinnamon, clove, star anise or fennel. The spices are infused together with tea, milk and sugar, resulting in a warm sweetened drink.

Our masala chai macarons are kept minimal with ginger and cardamom dominating the palate. The floral Darjeeling tea was probably a tad too subtle against the full-bodied chocolate. As you bite into it, the spices gives a powerful hit, followed by a soft velvety milk chocolate and last but not least, a fragrant tea aftertaste. Was it like the drink itself? Well, close enough – it was like having afternoon tea in a resplendent Rajasthani palace with gourmet chocolates and of course, a china-bone tea cup of heavenly masala chai.

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Saffron, Cardamom and White Chocolate Macarons (Rasmalai Macarons)

We don’t really divulge a lot about our personal lives since food really is the focus on this blog. But life and food are so intertwined that sometimes they form part of our memories. Like the vivid pink strawberry cream cake I had on my fourth birthday, the fried breaded prawn balls Mama used to make for reunion dinners, or the fresh crunchy prawns we had for our first supper in China. This time, I celebrated a transition in my career with a few culinary additions.

I will only say that I worked in a fine-dining Indian restaurant for the past three years. (There aren’t many in Singapore, so make a guess.) It was in this place that I was given plenty of opportunities and met amazing people whom I can keep as friends. This was also where I learnt so much about Indian cuisine and fell in love with it. (And was so spoilt after, no other restaurant can do Indian better.) So what better way to show my appreciation and respect than to present Indian-inspired macarons to the very people who made work a bliss?

N and I went to the storyboard to recreate three of my favourite Indian desserts (or drinks). One of them was Rasmalai, a cottage cheese dumpling steeped in cream flavoured in saffron and cardmom, and then sprinkled with pistachio. The beauty about the snow white dessert is that the pure simplicity of it; the ingredients came together to create a complex and rich aroma and texture. The cottage cheese is like a sponge, soaking up the spiced milk – bursting and crumbling in your mouth.

To capture the essence of Rasmalai, we decided to put the milky soup as the forefront of the macaron. Saffron and cardamom are the two main spices used, and they were infused into white chocolate which acts as a great substitute to the clotted cream. The paneer (cottage cheese) was a little tricky. With two powerful spices alongside the cloying buttery white chocolate, there might be a battle of flavours with the cheese. Perhaps one day, we might try this macaron again, but with cheese. Like the Rasmalai, the macaron was kept white and showered with chopped pistachio nuts. It tasted so much like the actual dessert so success!! In fact, this was probably my favourite out of the three.

Fun fact: N loved sprinkling the pistachio so much, she accidentally had the nuts on all the shells. Well, they were still pretty though.

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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*

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Jasmine Macarons

Jasmine Macaron
To complement the other macaron, we decided to go with Jasmine for its light and gentle fragrance. Strangely, I do not associate Jasmine with sweets very much. My weekend dim sum breakfasts usually consist of savoury petite dumplings, and I usually wash the oil down with xiang pian cha (jasmine tea).

The beauty of tea is that it can be enjoyed in the most simple of ways.  In fact, the Chinese usually appreciate tea on its own – leaves and water. Our family gatherings usually end with a tea-drinking session. Everyone would crowd around the little tea table and observe my cousin’s little performance of preparing tea. It’s a time of laughter and bonding. If inspired, some of the kids would try their hand on poetry, often with hilarious outcomes. (Chinese poetry is extremely deep. I don’t get it 90% of the time.)

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