Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: cream

Tiramisu

It’s typical to make a tiramisu when one thinks about coffee. This is probably the most famousest of Italian desserts in the world. Go to your nearest Italian eatery and you’d definitely find a tiramisu in the menu. You can even find it disguised under unfamiliar ingredients such as matcha, strawberries or even beer (you heard me right). Despite its worldwide reputation and popularity, the tiramisu was only a recent invention. Created in the 1970s at Le Beccherie in a northern town of Treviso (the restaurant is closing down though), the tiramisu is an icon beside the pizza and pasta of Italy.

To me, the tiramisu is almost like eating a trifle (will Italians kill me for saying that). Its too creamy for a cake but too stodgy to be called a mousse. With a concoction of mascarpone, coffee, marsala wine and sponge ladyfinger biscuits, the dessert is a great after-dinner treat of booze and coffee. We have eaten many tiramisu, from horrendous watery sloshes in cups to frozen ice-cream like cakes, and knew immediately what we wanted our own tiramisu to be like.

Although we grew up eating creamy cups of tiramisu, we were not big fans of digging our spoons into tons of cream. Here was the challenge: to make the tiramisu an elegant dish. It got Ned really excited with the prospect of designing and creating her own dessert. But that was where it got difficult. She had to get the ingredients, quantity and cooking methods right. It was basically a trial-and-error with a sit-and-pray mindset. You should see the number of designs she came up with. They were terrifying and amazing at the same time. It was like watching The Doctor come up with plans that aren’t really plans.

All the usual ingredients had to remain to stay true to its origin but the dessert will have to be almost cake-like for a cleaner shape. More chocolate was incorporated into the pastry in the form of luxurious ganaches. Soaked in potent espresso, ladyfinger biscuits act as the base and divider between the ganache and mascarpone custard. The key difference is the form of the mascarpone. No longer sloppy, the top layer is a sturdy semifreddo-like custard. Dusted with lavish sprinkles of cocoa powder, the dish was definitely a tiramisu when you taste it, but in a new dress.

We might have committed a crime by tweaking the recipe but as with life, nothing stays still. And with all things well-loved, classics will always stay close to one’s heart but new interpretations must be welcomed with open arms. Besides, the tiramisu itself is considered a new kid on the block in the books of history. So, a little makeover won’t do this dessert any harm. If anything, we are loving the new look.

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Vanilla Brioche and Butter Pudding

(This was supposed to be posted slightly over a week after our brioche recipe. By posting it now, I just made it look like we kept our brioche loaf for a month. That, my friends, is not humanly possible.)

There is something about bread and butter puddings that invoke an image of cuddly warm hugs and being wrapped in layers of soft quilts. Its probably just the buttery goodness in every mouthful – so much calories but too good to not sin. Best eaten after a hearty meal… don’t ask me why, I just love adding more guilt. Plus, it only proves that there’s always space for dessert. Every time Ned and I start talking about bread and butter puddings, we get a little too crazy like flustered cockroaches upside down (okay, that was not a very good reference but you get the picture).

We shall be very honest and confess that we made too much brioche for one reason: to make a huge serving of brioche and butter pudding. Yes, like a pair of cunning witches, we actually set aside a loaf of brioche and waited for it to become prey to eggy heaven. The best part was smelling butter in the air as it bakes in the oven. Nothing beats the fragrance of melting butter. Is it disgusting for us to love butter so much? We especially love hard cold butter stuffed into warm crusty bread.

Strangely, our brioche and butter pudding became a tad too dry when it came out of the oven. The bowl that was used was a little too wide, causing the custardy mixture to dry up and the top layer of bread to overcook. Despite the oversight in serveware, the flavours came out perfectly fine. The bottom layer of brioche had soaked up the rum and the essences of vanilla. In fact, it was a rather interesting pudding with a crusty top and a firm but custardy bottom (no, not soggy). Serve it with cream or homemade custard for added calories.

At the end, my only real complaint was that we should have added more butter. Well, I’ll just wait for Ned to make a Croissant and Butter pudding then.

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Pear and Chocolate Éclairs (Poire Belle Hélène)

It was one of those days that sudden cravings would hit you in the middle of the night. And all I wanted were some goddamn éclairs. To date, I’ve not eaten any éclair in this tiny island worth traveling a distance for. (Now, if you’re talking about the luscious chocolate éclairs from La Maison du Chocolat – that’s a whole new story altogether. I’d travel to Hong Kong for a day for those babies.)

Éclairs are a classic French pastry and traditionally flavoured with chocolate, coffee or white-glazed fondant. In the recent years, they have been given a makeover from different glazes, exotic flavours and extensive decorations (there are even savoury ones!). At times, you’re just eating half a pastry with tons of cream, puree, candy and what not’s. It doesn’t even look like an éclair anymore but nail art. One can just peer at the windows of Christophe Adam and Fauchon to see collections of extravagant and vibrant little ‘flashes’.

Move over, le macaron, it’s time for l’éclair to shine.

For our own attempt in a fashionable éclair, we wanted to incorporate the flavours of the classic dessert Poire belle Hélène – made with pears served with vanilla ice cream, chocolate and crystallised violets. We had a dilemma on the violets on whether to get fresh ones or the ready candied flowers. No one seemed to sell candied violets and buying them online meant we had to wait for shipping. At long last, we decided to candy our own violets and managed to get fresh edible violet flowers from the market – only to find out that we bought violas instead. No sweat, we’ll just have to make do.

Candying the tiny petals proved to be a challenge especially in this heat and humidity. The moment the flowers were exposed to the open air, their petals curl and shrink in size. And it doesn’t help that they are so fragile. Delicate sturdy hands and a very cold dry room are needed for this operation. The beautiful blue-purple violas don’t really taste of anything but at least they are a sight to behold. A pity though. (Guys, make sure you get the right flowers. Or better still, use the already candied ones.)

The pears (we used Williams in this recipe) were poached in sugar syrup infused with Mexican vanilla pods. The fruits were then cubed into tiny pieces and mixed into the crème pâtissière for piping after. While little rows of choux pastry were baking in the oven, a rich glossy dark chocolate glaze was prepared. I loved the combination of smells coming from the kitchen – chocolate, vanilla and custard. After the éclairs were piped and dipped, the final touches of flowers were pressed into the chocolate top. And voilà, an éclair au Poire belle Hélène was born.

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Millefeuille with Fig and Orange Basil Cream

Ah, we are on puff pastry madness. Following the previous post, we got lazy and decided to get the dough off the shelf instead of getting out arms deep in butter. Since we had some left, we decided to embark on our very first millefeuille. (Oh, didn’t GBBO cover it in the latest season, this shall be a signature bake then!)

The millefeuille is a pastry that feels a little daunting at the start. It’s a classic French dessert that you cannot ruin for fear of a revolution. Make a bad millefeuille and you will hear the people sing. Translated as “thousand leaves”, the sweet consists of thin delicate golden brown layers of puff pastry sandwiching luscious pastry cream and then topped with either confectioner’s sugar or glazed with icing.

We are steering away from the traditional vanilla millefeuille with an addition of fig, orange and basil instead. Before you cry ‘Sacrilège!!’ and hunt us down, hear this out: like many classic French desserts, innovation is not disapproved of. Take a look at macarons and eclairs, they have gone through experimentation in terms of varied flavours. In essence, the quality and the basic foundation should remain, but please feel welcome to be creative with the presentation and flavours.

We’ve added fresh figs to the dish, which we weren’t sure if it actually works on a whole. The orange basil cream overpowered the natural sweetness of the figs (or maybe the figs we got just aren’t fresh enough). And I know there were those who weren’t keen on the inclusion of fresh fruit in a millefeuille. But overall, interestingly, it worked still. The figs gave a different texture to the dessert – a moist, squishy burst of juices interlaced with the crispy puff pastry and herby zesty cream. We doubt we’ve done anything treacherous towards the land of proper pastries.

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Fig and Marsala Trifle with Toasted Meringue

I must be watching too much Great British Bake Off or simply being too much of an anglophile. Every time a celebration or an occasion is mentioned in British context, there seems to be a glorious towering glass of trifle being brought out onto the dining table with all eyes fixed on the distinct multiple layers of cake, fruit, cream, custard and jelly (or not). Just reading about it just makes me salivate, I don’t even have a look at an image.

The French or the Italians may scoff at it, but digging my spoon into layers and layers of trifle-goodness is a personal dream of mine. Who in the sanest mind would refused a deep dish of overindulgence of possibly many desserts put into one? I wouldn’t. Sure, it could be a massive fool (the other dessert) in disguise but one would be an actual fool to not like it.

The challenge of trifle was the layers. Sadly, we did not have a trifle bowl so we had to make do with wineglasses. So, goodbye layers, we’ll be doing trifle free-style. The recipe called for rather unconventional ingredients so it didn’t matter how sticky we had to be with tradition. For example, we used a madeira sponge cake instead of the typical finger boudoir biscuits. We did however made sure the custard was as original as it was, without any added support from flour or corn starch.

After the cake was laid at the bottom, figs and pomegranate seeds were placed as neatly as they could. Custard was then poured into the glass, and thus filling up all the gaps the fruits and cake made. Topped with lightly toasted meringue, the dessert was like a gooey mixture of creamy goodness. The joy about trifle is not about looking good when eating it (it never be – just too sloppy), it’s about indulging the kid in you. Although we didn’t grow up eating trifle, at least we know how it feels like now.

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Plum Rum Baba with Cream Chantilly

Anyone reading this blog will know that we are fans of a television contest that features amateur bakers competing to be Britain’s top in the world of cake, pudding and all things sugary and saccharine. Set in a white marquee tent dressed with Union Jack buntings and paisley-hued furniture, the Great British Bake Off has got us salivating and craving for sweets all the time. After four seasons, it never fails to make us tremble with fear each time a soggy bottom is mentioned.

Sure, there are plenty of baking shows on TV. Such as Cupcake Sisters, which we will never, in our whole lives, understand its popularity. Food, like fashion and music, comes and goes with different trends. Ask the person on the street, dessert now comes in petite-sized portions with eclectic colours and detailed decorations. Peer into a cake shop and you’ll find stylish crowds nibbling into tiny cupcakes, macarons, fondant birthday cakes, eclairs and the latest, cronuts and duffins. We have nothing against these pretty items, and we do find them awfully lovely to look at. But taste is another matter altogether.

Yet, GBBO manages to stand out despite its lack of human drama or excessive glamour and plastic surgery. You might say “it’s just baking!!”, and you are right about that. But that’s why it’s so popular, it was baking at its truest. For once, a reality show without sob stories and crazy antics! Talent and the product was very much the focus in GBBO. And one thing we love about it was how it not only featured popular classics and innovative creations, it revived forgotten bakes back into our kitchens.

The rum baba is one of those forgotten desserts that not many have heard of at this age. Few serve rum babas, and even lesser know how to make it. For us, it is something new and unusual. The moment it graced the screen, we knew we have to try it one day. Like Mary Berry, we just love anything with alcohol in it and the thought of a rum-soaked cake was just too tempting to ignore. And we could finally make use of our savarin moulds that we bought when in Salisbury (yes, pretty random).

A rum baba is a hybrid between bread and cake, and has a pretty interesting past. Classic bakes are usually invented in royal courts or for the aristocracy. Despite its humble moniker, the rum baba has seen a colourful history from Poland to Versailles. Now, it graces the tables of Michelin-starred chef Alain Duscasse. Our rum babas may not be blue-blooded, but for first timers, they tasted almost heavenly.

Being quite versatile, one can use different types of fruit or rum syrup (Raymond Blanc uses raspberry eau de vie once), making it the perfect dessert to feature seasonal produce (hence the plums). We remained true to the dessert and used dark rum (there are many grades of rum from dark to light) for the syrup. Because the batter is rather unusual from a typical cake, it takes some courage and instinct to decide the readiness. If you want to be as authentic as possible, use dariole moulds instead of savarins, but we found ring babas held the cream better. And we were very very very generous with our drink.

Like the clafoutis, the rum baba found itself new fans in this household and we’ll definitely be serving them again for dinner parties or sunday afternoon teas. No, we were not drunk, but we must admit: those babas were really that brilliant.

 

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Baked Spiced Plums with Cream Chantilly

The simplest way to appreciate the natural taste notes of the ingredients is to step away from fussy cooking techniques and to avoid using too much of other contrasting flavours. By doing so, it sometimes brings out marvellous results. This recipe showcases the very best of plums in its most naked form, paired with the lightest chantilly cream. We especially love the intensity the cinnamon offered.

Because we couldn’t find passion fruit juice, we decided to make our own from the actual fruits. Strangely, it only brought home that nothing really beats stripping down to the beauty of fresh simple ingredients and homemade goodness.

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A Summer South American Barbecue

To be honest, every meal that we have hosted thus far was never planned in advance. I mean, there is planning for the feast, but the actual thought of “ah, let’s have a party” was always picked up randomly from the clouds. Don’t ask me how we decided to hold a South American inspired barbecue, was it the hot weather, or the desire to drink margaritas and chew on smoked ribs?

South America is one huge continent, and to generalise South American food is the same as saying the French and Russians eat croissants for breakfast. What we did was borrow different dishes from different countries from Colombia to Chile (and a little Mexican). But we need to understand that even within a country, different regional cuisines exist so we really did just generalise Latino food. (I’M SORRY!)

I grew up reading Gourmet magazine until their very last publication in November 2009 (I still have the last copy). One of the editorial spreads that was seared into my memory was Maricel Presilla’s Latino barbecue: the smoke, the char-grilled meat, the dark sticky sauces, the vivid colours of the partygoers’ clothes. The atmosphere portrayed was exotic and almost intoxicating. It became our point of reference as we slowly did our research. There were so many things that came into play, like “can we get these ingredients”, “can they be cooked over barbecue”, and “would our guests like the flavours”.

The menu showcased probably the most familiar South American dishes, including the typical tortillas and a variety of salsas. We managed to get our hands on specific ingredients (sourced from a local specialist Mexican grocer) such as lovely dried pasilla peppers, habanero peppers, and black beans.

Looking at the menu on paper, it didn’t look like it would fill the stomachs of ten persons. But when you have these ten said individuals under the scorching hot sun by the pool, you would realise that the drinks would be gone before the food was gone. And that people would be floating in the water than be by the grill.

Handcrafted Mexican papel picado bunting in pastel colours were hung up to enhance the mood. (We are very superficial and yes, we know that the paper craft is usually used for religious events, not barbecues.) What we loved about this was the ease of feast, every one could personalise their tortilla wraps, do up their own burgers, sauce up their grilled corns and mix their alcoholic concoctions. Plus, it was a joy to buzz around the table and just lapping food onto the plate.

Despite the simplicity of the actual feast, plenty of preparation actually happened behind the curtains. Ned and I busied ourselves in making the condiments, marinations and meat patties a few days before. (We did think of making our own tortilla wraps, but the work load would be too much to bear.) The stinging sensation of the chillies and peppers was intense, I probably died a few times when Ned excitedly pushed the cup of blended spices into my face.

Most of them were homemade (because we are anal) and really, the end results were pleasantly good. Without further ado, behold the menu of our South American feast:

Chilled Gazpacho

Leafy Salad with Pomegranate and Feta

Quinoa Salad with Mint and Mango

Chile-Smothered Shrimp Skewers with Lime

Mushroom Quesadillas

Refried Black Beans

Guacamole

Fresh Tomato Salsa

Homemade Mexican Crema

Salvadoran Grilled Corn (Elote Loco)

Babyback Pork Ribs Adobo

Dominican Chimichurri Burgers

Dulce le Leche Ice Cream with Pecans

Cucumber Cooler (Agua Fresca de Pepino)

Margaritas and Tequilas

(Okay it does look like a lot of food now.)

Like the previous Hobbit Day breakfast we held a year ago, there was no greater joy to bring all your friends together to appreciate good company, food and a little bit of crazy in the kitchen a few nights before. If we brought back anything from this little barbecue party, it was that it’s alright if the beef was overcooked or that the mushrooms ran out faster than the wraps, because at the end of the day, it was too freaking hot to care. Yes, our next feast will probably be during sunset.

(All recipes are below the break.)

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Lemon Posset

As I type this down, Ned and I have had a proper discussion about what to do next after these hectic few months. Not that we would be less busy in the coming weeks (quite the contrary), but we realised T&A needed some TLC after the long hiatus. Sitting down with recipe books splayed out and our handy journals, I had the slight tingles. It’s not that we haven’t been cooking, it’s just that we haven’t spoken about food for a long time. And that got us pretty excited.

In our conversations, The Gingerman would always be at the tip of our tongues: “wouldn’t be nice to be back there again”, “remember the broccoli soup” or simply “let’s go back to Brighton”. (I will do a proper post of that particular day… soon.) Their lemon posset was one of the reasons why the strawberries were dumped. Strange isn’t it? It was after all just cream, sugar and lemons. Just three basic ingredients and we were sent to candy heaven. (Ned loved the posset so much, she had another in Bath.)

The Gingerman’s posset was topped with cream and blueberry jam, and the custard was quite sturdy – almost like a jelly. It was difficult to achieve that sort of consistency; unless we stuffed the possets into a freezer. Ours turned out to be creamier and a lot sharper in taste. With the absence of the cream and jam, the dish felt slightly naked. Was it like the Gingerman? Not so much, but a little taste of England was good enough for us.

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The Novice Cook: White Chocolate Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce and Homemade Shortbread Biscuits

Sometimes images of half-eaten food convey a stronger story than the clean unsullied ones. I particularly love how it can capture a sense of pleasure and a little lust as though the photographer couldn’t wait to eat it before shooting. Or maybe that’s just me.

The last dessert I made was a fairly successful one despite attempting it without any aid. This time, I’m not even sure if I could categorise this under The Novice Cook because I had so much assistance from Ned. The words I utter in the kitchen will stay secret as they are too embarrassing to be known to the world. Just picture this: flying batter, stubborn puddings, missing ramekins, gelatin leave uncertainty and plenty of exasperation. I’m glad to say I survived and that I even managed to get a compliment from my little sister Ned: “I’m so proud of you, Jie, you made shortbread.” Yes, for a girl who still doesn’t know how to cook rice, that’s grand.

The original recipe from Hugh did not have raspberry sauce but I thought it would make a lovely addition to the dish. And that worked very well indeed, especially against the crunchiness of the shortbread and creaminess of the panna cotta. I must stress that good quality white chocolate is highly essential to this dish or the pudding will be a let down. Also, Hugh did not specify the amount of gelatin leaves needed as different brands offer different leaf sizes. So keep the packaging so that you’d have the information readily.

For the shortbread, instead of crumbling them into little pieces, they were cut into smooth circles for very superficial reasons. The thing about recipe books is that they don’t make it dummy-proof for noobs like me. Instead of whisking the butter before adding the sugar, I mixed everything in together and started the electric whisker. Now, that explains the the story of the flying batter. Well, and that I had simply no common sense that a bigger bowl was more suitable for the job.

After the numerous casualties, the panna cotta turned out fine after some prodding. The smell of freshly baked shortbread was intoxicating. I enjoyed dipping the leftover biscuits into the bright red sauce for a light snack. Raspberry, creamy white chocolate and buttery shortbread biscuits – this is like the holy trinity of desserts.

This is my little tribute to our upcoming trip to the UK with the reds, whites and blues of the Union Jack. I have about eight hours and then the plane takes off to the city of fandom. We are huge Doctor Who fans, if you haven’t noticed already. Till then…

The recipe is from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Three Good Things.

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