Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: french

Pancakes and A Broken Heart

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As I write this now, February will almost be over. How did we even start 2016? I am not one who bares my heart so readily on this blog, because why should I anyway? This is about Thom and Aimee, isn’t it? But I realised how food and cooking heals, and how the chef can translate his or her love through the dish. No, it’s not about Valentine’s (which is long over). It’s about starting the New Year with a broken heart and the healing process.

To be honest, I’ve expected this to happen back in last December. I think we all know how big a procrastinator I am, so I’ve dragged ending an almost-relationship (this term is funny no?) long enough. It is not to say that it hurt lesser by having the mental readiness, because nothing can really prepare you from an actual broken heart. Strangely, it was accompanied with relief and some peace. And then, the rally from loved ones around you that made you understand who actually truly cared.

Nothing comforts one best when your own sister wakes you up with homemade pancakes on a rainy weekend (great for mopping around while looking pretty). Ned makes the Crêpe Suzette almost every day at work, but it’s not about the dullness of routine that mattered. It’s always special when someone creates a dish from scratch for no special reason whatsoever, but just so you, the diner, can at least smile.

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The performance that comes with a Crêpe Suzette is alluring and magnetic. Maybe it was my emotional state that made the dish more romantic than it seemed. Yet, to watch the blue flames dance upon the delicate golden pancakes and the bright caramelised sauce bubble with slight ferocity was almost hypnotising. To be honest, nothing was romantic because Ned was screaming her head off when she splashed the liqueur into the pan. And you’d think she does this for a living.

But that’s what cooking is all about. Happiness, sadness, laughter, tears, and maybe all at once. It’s not uncommon to see people disappear into the kitchen to celebrate or to mourn. Or to eat cause they are just damn fucking hungry. There is something therapeutic about the whole process, whether it’s for you or someone else. That’s why I decided it was alright to talk about something personal alongside Thom and Aimee. Because both are important and so intrinsic with each other.

They say time heals, but I say, nothing heals better than a noisy kitchen that fills the house with the aromatic heady fragrance of citrus on a wet morning. It is difficult still, but I know things will get better. Hey, you know what, I did smile when eating those pancakes. Those were darn good pancakes.

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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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Brioche

Some changes have taken place in this household recently. To be exact, a turning point has happened in Ned’s life and it’s nothing but excitement. After years of baking in the comfort of our tiny kitchen at home, she would finally spend most of her days in an actual kitchen doing what she loves best. Ladies and Gentlemen, say hello to a properly real (I’m stealing Moffat’s lines) Junior Pastry Chef.

As Ned embarks in this new chapter in life with anticipation and slight trepidation, we can’t help but look back at how much we have grown from when we started. Well, I should give most of the credit to Ned, who actually did 90% of the baking and cooking (I only did the eating). It’s always scary to foray into something foreign. Although she might have been baking for some time, going into the industry is a whole different level altogether. The speed, precision and consistency required is beyond the comforts of one’s home kitchen. But we are anal freaks already, so compromising on quality is a big no-no.

I don’t exactly remember when this sister of mine started baking. We were never really allowed in the kitchen so any real cooking was done during home economics in school. There were the few peanut cookies during the holidays when all four of us kids would sit on the floor rolling the dough. (Things were fun-ner when done on the ground.) Then, I made my first Victoria Sponge cake (which failed miserably – my late grandmother lovingly ate it anyway). My memory’s a little fuzzy now, but perhaps Ned did make a couple rounds of cornflake cookies, cupcakes and the odd jelly.

The only thing I oddly remember of Ned baking was her first tray of macarons. This was before macarons were fashionable and so readily available in this island. Go ahead, roll your eyes – instead of sticking to the idiot-proof cupcakes and biscuits, she went straight to the technically-challenging macarons. Well, she had plenty of beginner’s luck and it probably kickstarted her passion into the life of a baker.

After which, activity in the kitchen risen. No longer was it the domain of our grandmother, Ned was making her imprint felt. Slowly but surely, you’ll find the cupboards filled with baking trays and mixing bowls, boxes filled with different types of flour and sugars, and a fridge filled with goodies. Suddenly, it was a norm to see her in the kitchen every weekend. And yet, it never occurred to any of us (Ned included, I suspect) that one day she would actually turn this into a career. It took a lot of time to convince not only the parents, but ourselves that it was the route Ned was prepared to plunge into.

The brioche was one of the very first breads Ned baked. I think I’ve said this before, pastry was Ned’s first love and wife but bread will forever be her mistress. Bread-making can be very seductive (and so happens the brioche look like part of the female anatomy). Though, we can consider the brioche to be part-pastry with its addition of eggs, butter and sugar. Usually served for breakfast or as a dessert, it has a very rich and crumbly texture. I’d love to dip them into sweet chilli crab sauce for a snack.

How apt then, that Ned starts her new job with a fresh loaf of brioche. So, a toast (literally) to new beginnings and crazy futures! It’s going to be a wild ride.

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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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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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Christmas Macarons

It was Macaron Overdose this Christmas, with trays and trays of colourful meringue shells filling the air with saccharine notes. So much so that I can not say ‘macaron’ without a sudden reflux welling up in my system. Both Ned and I have agreed not to mention the ‘M’ word or make any ‘M’s for the next few months. There was really such a thing as having too much of a good thing.

The original plan was to float past Christmas without doing anything at all. We wanted to be away from the kitchen and not fuss over tons of cooking. Festivities tend to bring unnecessary stress despite it being a holiday. (We even decided not to get a tree or do up the house in loads of pine and excessive reds and golds. Christmas this year was pleasantly un-festive.) That was the original plan. Was.

Until we received a text from a friend looking to order for festive macarons. And we obliged to a very very tiny order. Then came a whirlwind of madness, frustrations, sugar, sleepless nights, countless days of experimentation, sudden realisations, sugar, crazed debates on flavour, sugar, extreme fatigue, sugar and more sugar. We would not say much but let’s just put it down that we had a pretty interesting lesson and it never hurt to be a tad wiser in the future. It was simply one good experience to have, but that should hopefully be the first and the last.

Still, it was not all bad and no fun. Conjuring up flavour combinations was always the highlight of any food project. Christmas proved to be an easy challenge with its obvious seasonal offerings: cinnamon, dates, ginger, chestnuts, nutmeg, cranberries, clementines, mincemeat, brandy, peppermint, and so much more. Of course, we could be greedy but over-ambition could lead to serious trouble.

In the end, we settled for six different flavours:

Black Forest
This familiar cake is not a mainstay during Christmas but it was the magical winter wonderland image of a dense deep brown wooded forest capped with the whitest snow that lingered in our minds. It was like staring into a snow globe and watching the white flakes float gracefully – a little like Narnia.

Many different cherries and types of chocolate were tried and tested to recreate the flavours of Black Forest. The final ganache consisted of 70% dark chocolate ganache with a centre of Morello cherry compote. We would have wanted to add a dash of kirsch to intensify the cherry notes but alcohol was not permitted. The shells were coloured in the deepest red to give a big festive kick. It was a tiny pop of a sharp sour cherry flavour amidst the lushness of the chocolate. And it was a joy to bite into bits of actual fruit as well.

Gingerbread
Ahh, ginger… This is one food item that we grew to love as our taste buds mature (okay, we were getting older). We knew there had to be a ginger-flavoured macaron within the six. If you walk down the aisles of any supermarket, food department stores and bakeries, you’d find beautiful gingerbread architectures grace the shopping windows at this time of the year. There was something about having a kick of spice in the cold winters, from a hot cinnamon-chocolate drink or warm ginger date pudding.

It was definitely not winter here, but one can always imagine sitting in front of a fireplace in a snug warm blanket and munching on freshly baked ginger biscuits Grandma made. In our recipe, ground ginger powder and cinnamon was added to the macaron shell. Orange peels were then infused to the milk chocolate ganache for a fruity perfume – chocolate and citrus make good partners! Last but not least, tiny pieces of stem ginger were sprinkled in between the shells to give a good punch of warmness.

Marron Glacé
The famous Christmas song that went “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” created such a romantic picture and it has pretty much become an inside joke between Ned and I. Because chestnuts are a bitch to do –  there, I’ve said it. It only made us appreciate the makers of marron glacés and understand why they were priced exorbitantly. It was a time-consuming and labourous process that involved so many different components: the marron glacé, chestnut paste and chestnut purée. Never before did one macaron cause so much pain and exhaustion.

Because we were that anal to make sure everything was homemade, fresh chestnuts were bought and Ned’s fingers were raw prying the shells and skins off the scalding hot chestnuts with not much help other than a tiny toothpick. After which, three different batches of the nuts were transformed into either the confection, paste or purée.

The paste and purée were incorporated into the ganache, while the marron glacé was chopped and sprinkled over. And we love adding fruit so Conference pears were poached with vanilla pods and cubed to complement the chestnuts. Each time we look at the pinkish chestnut macarons, we sigh knowing that every ounce of effort poured into it was a piece of pure chestnut heaven. And every bite of it was just worth it.

Toffee Nut
How do we know the Christmas season has come to our tropical island? Other than the lights down Orchard Road, it’s when our friends go ga-ga every time they enter a Starbucks because they get to drink a toffee nut latte. What better way to take inspiration from one of the most commercialised retail store and make this popular drink into a macaron!

Toffee is an amazingly (probably too) sweet confection that involves caramelised sugar and tons of butter. So much so, that it was a pain to wash off all the grease afterwards. What we wanted was a thick sticky consistency that felt almost like they could glue your teeth together. Well, the kid in us used to think toffee were actually great tasting super glue. You could splash some rum for a more adult sweet (and we would probably add too much if we could). This was a rather carefree macaron as compared to the chestnut, albeit the wash-up.

Hazelnut Praline
Another nutty concoction but not as painstaking as the chestnuts. Watching Ned prepare the pralines was a pretty moment, the nuts were glazed with a golden brown sugary coat – they almost look like tiny precious golden glass marbles. You know how these translucent hazelnuts globes or spikes are used to decorate petite pastry creations, I felt like decorating my dressing table with them. And our Dad just stared at them, asking if he could pop them into his mouth.

Sadly, they all have to go into making our hazelnut praline macarons. These glossy babies were then smashed into pieces with a mortar and pestle (we have this granite stone set from our Mama – probably much older than us and one of the most precious items we have in the kitchen). This was my personal favourite out of the lot despite its humble ingredients; there was just something luxurious about hazelnuts with its distinct aroma. Or I really just like hazelnuts a lot in the first place.

Cranberry & Vanilla
Last but not least, we round up our Christmas collection with a dual-coloured macaron with the obvious cranberry and versatile vanilla. Ned actually bought proper vanilla pods which was probably too much of an expense. I think one can tell that we were losing money from this venture. Were we too silly? Maybe. But we always believed in giving the best, though not the smartest approach in actual business. Well, that’s one learning curve to hit.

We tried many ways to include the cranberry, either by adding its juices to the ganache but the vanilla was far too overpowering or having just the fruits which caused too much moisture. In the end, we went with the compote route à la Black Forest. The slight difference was that we jelly-fied the cranberry compote to give it more structure. The Cranberry & Vanilla combination was the simplest but also the most Christmassy macaron out of the bunch.

After weeks of experimentation and baking, we barely had time to sit down and actually look back at the past year. To be honest, we were pretty chuffed about how far we have come despite it being a short time frame. Thom & Aimee is barely more than a year old and we haven’t got bored of it (we do get bored very quickly but hey, here we are at our 100th post!!) at all. In fact, it only pushed us to better ourselves. So, 2014 – new beginnings, more cooking, fresh experiences and challenges.

Just no macarons. For now.

The Long-(Un)expected Party

It’s been about a year since we last hosted a proper formal dinner and despite all the praise, we did not get down to holding more dinners. Since then, all word about the previous party became stuff of memories. But strangely enough, the occasion was briefly mentioned during a recent family gathering and an aunt who missed the last party wanted to experience it for herself.

To be honest, cooking for family could be a very stressful job. Expectations were higher and the pressure to perform was more intense than usual. Families tend not to mince their words, no matter how awful they sound. But we were never one to back away from a challenge. We were given about one and a half months to start preparing: the menu, the wine list, the tableware and the decor. This includes a choice of two main courses (a beef dish was a must) for over 26 guests. It wasn’t a 100 person catering event, but over twenty diners for a course-by-course meal was equally intimidating. And it didn’t help that some of the guests had dietary restrictions.

To be honest, we were very frenzied by the amount of work that was needed for this dinner. And we didn’t help ourselves by deciding on an elaborate menu complete with a pre-dinner cocktail. The fact that we had to use an unfamiliar kitchen was already daunting. Doing a site recce of the kitchen was the very first thing we did off the checklist, which gave us a better idea of how the cooking should be done. There were two kitchens: one was located outdoors where the heavy work was done, and the other was the dry area where preparation took place.

Equipment was checked – oven was not working, certain kitchen utensils were not available, there weren’t enough tableware to go around, and tables needed for plating. Then came the front of the house: guests would have to be split into a few tables, the number of service staff needed (yes, even that!), and how the decor will be put up in the house. At that point in time, the both of us were slightly frazzled but the weight of the whole situation hasn’t really sunk in yet.We knew a lot of work was needed, and yet reality had barely seeped in.

The menu was the biggest hurdle. How were we going to serve 26 guests a range of courses in perfect timing, temperature and portion? We had a very clear idea of how the skeleton of the menu would be: an amuse bouche, a seafood starter, a salad, a pasta dish, the main courses and of course, dessert. And I was guilty of insisting on sorbet and petit fours (blame it on occupational habits). After a week of drafting and planning, the menu was sent over to the host for approval. Thankfully, it went through the first round which gave us enough time to start our trial tastings.

This was how the menu was like:

Canapes
Pork Sausage with Brie Cheese and Red Onion Chutney
Moët & Chandon Imperial Brut

Amuse Bouche
Cream of Broccoli Soup (served with sourdough bread)

Starter
Beetroot, Pear, Watercress, Walnut, Goat’s Cheese, Elderflower Vinaigrette
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc

Seafood
Prawn, Bloody Mary Jelly, Avocado Puree, Watercress

Entree
Spinach Ravioli, Sage Butter, Parmesan, Pine Nuts

Sorbet
Green Apple Sorbet with Mint

Main Course
Salmon, Potato Mash, Spinach, Dill Creme Fraiche

or

Beef, Mushrooms, Spinach, Foie Gras, Parsley Puree, Madeira Sauce

Dessert
Orange Basil Mille-feuille, Chocolate Ice Cream, Assorted Berries

Freshly Brewed Coffee or Gourmet Teas
(served with Valrhona Chocolate)

(Looking at it now, I have no idea how we even managed to convince ourselves that this menu could ever come out of the kitchen.) The trials gave us a chance to gauge how much time each dish required in terms of preparation and actual cooking. Because most of it were done by hand, freshness was crucial. It also gave Ned a chance to perfect the recipes and tweak it accordingly to suit the overall menu plan. At this point, we were off pre-ordering the main ingredients like the beef, salmon and tons of vegetables. That in itself was another crazy affair of bargaining and endless conversations about the best cuts.

Tableware was another obstacle, though luckily we had our own private sources. We really shouldn’t say as it’s almost illegal how we managed to get them. In all, we managed to procure a range of pure bone china for all five courses, amuse bouche, sorbets, side plates, flatware, wine glasses, champagne flutes, water goblets, dinner trays and even table cloths. Simple arrangements of flowers were done the night before, crystal beads all strewn up like pearl necklaces, and candles were bought.

After five days of mise-en-place, barely enough sleep and weeks of planning, it was almost surreal when the Big Day arrived. Right off the bat, Ned and I were off doing specific tasks early that morning. Being the head chef, she was off to the venue in preparation (with two cousins helping out) and I was running around to pick up all the main ingredients for utmost freshness. That was when I realised our butcher forgot about our order and we had to get our steak off the shelf instead.

The dining space was transformed into a cosy intimate French bistro with warm lighting and jazz playing in the background. Three more cousins were enlisted to help out with service, and a small briefing was held to make sure everyone was on the same page. It was almost as though we were getting ready for a typical day at a restaurant.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to say that no matter how much preparation you have gone through or bad luck you can anticipate, when shit happens, it just does. That’s when you just trudge on and try to make do with what you have. Were we afraid? Yes, because screwing things up was just too easy. At this point, we could only leave it to fate and sheer hard work.

And the show finally starts.

6.45pm: The first stream of guests arrived. Many oo’s and ah’s were heard from the dining area. Canapes and champagne were sent out to appease any impending hunger. The host has given instruction not to serve dinner until more of the guests were here. We were playing the waiting game.

7.15pm: Canapes have ran out and the guests were pretty high on bubbly now. Some stray unwanted guests decided to pop into the kitchen asking for more food and were shooed out. Still no news from the host on whether we could start proper dinner service.

7.17pm: Oh fish, service starts. The guests have promptly sat themselves down. Soup was given a quick heating up and poured into tiny espresso cups. Bread was given a toasting through. Kitchen crew have started plating the beetroot salad. (The broccoli soup was inspired by our lunch in The Gingerman, Brighton and what better way to start a meal with warm creamy liquid in the tummy.)

7.30pm: The momentum in the kitchen had picked up a few notches. Thin slices of beetroot and pear were laced intricately round the plate, topped with watercress salad, crumbly goat’s cheese and walnuts and dressed with elderflower vinaigrette. It was a little messy trying to make sure there were no pink fingerprints on the clean porcelain plates. As the service staff brought out the salad into the dining hall, almost immediately, fresh plates were laid out for the next course to be plated.

7.33pm: Too much beetroot, they said. Well, we did want to push the traditional Asian palate a little with the ‘unconventional’ beetroot, and surprise, surprise, the older crowd wasn’t a big fan of the deep-burgundy vegetable despite its natural sweetness. It was something that appealed more to the younger ones.

7.35pm: Prawns were being stacked. Avocado puree was piped delicately on the chilled Bloody Mary jelly. It was difficult trying the get the jelly pieces to stay in place. The warm temperature in the kitchen didn’t help at all. Update from the service team was that the guests were finishing up their salads. Boy, they were really starving themselves before this dinner. Then actual shit happened, because Ned found out that the ravioli pieces for the third course decided to morph into one gigantic pasta monster.

7.40pm: The seafood starter was sent out while the kitchen crew tried to salvage whatever ravioli parcels that could be used. Instead of serving three patchwork babies, we could only save two pieces per guest. Imagine our frustrations and panic!

7.41pm: Guests have devoured the seafood starter in seconds. Were we serving giants?

7.45pm: Patchwork ravioli babies were still in surgery. More stray giants guests wandered into the kitchen. Pressure level was boiling way over limit.

7.50pm: First of the spinach ravioli pieces were popped into water. With pine nuts and shaved Parmesan cheese, the third course was finally served. As quickly as the ravioli flew out of the kitchen, the crew were armed with spoons to quenelle lovely ovals of green apple sorbet. We should actually be worried with plating the sorbet that soon because they could melt before they were served. Should we?

7.52pm: Sorbet was served. I swear we were cooking for actual giants here. Most of the guests ordered the salmon course, so that was the first main course we attacked with. Ned starts panfrying the pink pieces of fish and our designated chef de partie was in pots and pans with getting the mash potato and spinach ready. We could hear the guests leaving their seats to mingle around. Which also meant the sorbet was slurped off the moment it was served.

7.58pm: The salmon was still sizzling away in its juices. Watching them turn into a rosy cooked pink seemed excruciatingly slow than usual. We didn’t want to serve them raw or overcooked, or upset the hungry guests out there. We have not started on the beef and everyone was on their toes and screaming for time-check at every minute. “Is the mash ready?”, “Fish, give me fish!”, “Where’s the creme fraiche?” and “Fisssshhh, we need fishhh”. It was difficult trying to juggle so many things at a time.

8.10pm: Oh boy, were we screwed.

8.15pm: The mash was plated onto every plate and spinach was laid out as neatly as possible. Tender salmon pieces with a crisp skin was laced with a quenelle of dill creme fraiche. Those who ordered the fish course were served immediately. The next ordeal was the beef course – a meat that required time to cook and to rest. New pots sat on the stove to cook the mushrooms and spinach, while the sauce gently warms up on the side. Ned looked a sight with two hands full of pans grilling the foie gras and beef away.

8.17pm: The beef-giants were getting restless watching the salmon-giants eat.

8.26pm: *Listens to the soundtrack of sizzling beef.*

8.38pm: The mushrooms and spinach were portioned onto individual plates and were cushioned with beautiful succulent steaks of beef, topped with a perfectly seared foie gras and parsley puree. They were out of the kitchen the moment a spoonful of sticky Madeira sauce was drizzled over the meat.

8.40pm: A sudden wave of relief seemed to hit the kitchen crew. There was a minute of silence and stares before we got hold of ourselves. Dessert plates were laid out.

8.45pm: Seconds were requested. Could you believe it? (Giants. Giants everywhere.) Since it was actually a family dinner, Ned obliged to stir up more salmon and beef to appease the crowd.

9.00pm: A dessert factory line was born. Orange basil cream was piped gently onto strips of puff pastry. Icing sugar snowed on the top of the mille-feuilles. Quenelles of chocolate ice cream were sprinkled with toasted almond flakes. Berries were strategically placed. Dessert seemed almost a breeze after The Saga of Main Courses. Coffee and tea accompanied the dessert. The giants seemed appeased.

9.16pm: Service finally ended. The kitchen and service crew fell into a sea of utter exhaustion and pure exhilaration. Two full hours to put out five proper courses alongside canapes, amuse bouche and sorbet. Secret bottles of alcohol were opened to celebrate.

Looking back, it was surprising how we jumped at the opportunity to get waist deep into trouble. We did not have the proper experience nor training to execute such an elaborate dinner. Overall, feedback was pretty satisfactory and we definitely need to practice a lot more before we embark on another dinner party. Timing was still a key weakness and presentation of the dish was an area both of us have to invest effort in.

Yet again, the dinner party stirred up some need to pull out dinners on a regular basis. Sure, they were back-breaking but the end result was so satisfactory. It made our tummies warm and our hearts a flutter. So much so, Ned and I were even contemplating whether we should host secret supper clubs. Right now, the idea is still dangling in the air. But who knows, maybe there would be.

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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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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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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