Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: fruit

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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Warm Puff Pastry Tart with Fig, Olive, Capers and Goat’s Cheese

To showcase the versatility of the fig, we decided to do a savoury dish instead of the usual sweet suspects. It was either this, or another puff pastry fig tart with crème pâtissière and homemade cinnamon ice cream (it sounds really good at the moment). The savoury one won in the end, and we do not regret it one bit. In fact, we actually applaud ourselves for making this decision.

In our short history of tart making, this is by far and honestly the best dish I’ve ever eaten. So much so I wished we had made more so that I could have the whole tart myself. I mean, just look at it! It just draws you in with the bright contrast of colours: crispy golden brown pastry, lush flame-red baked figs, soft milky white goat’s cheese and dark shiny olives.

And with one bite, you’ll be lost in a combust of flavours – the sweet caramelised onions at the bast, the fragrance of the thyme and toasted pine nuts, the sharpness of the olives and capers, the tang of the cheese that amazingly brought out all the star quality of the figs. It was practically orgasmic.

Of course, puff pastry is always a roadblock but if you’re not keen on rolling out your own dough, there are some good quality ready-made puff pastry sheets available in the market. It saves up plenty of time and still tastes good. Yes, we are lazy sometimes. Making puff pastry from scratch can be satisfying but there are those days you just want to lie down under the sun with a glass of white wine and a scrumptious slice of tart. Lazy afternoons are our guilty pleasure.

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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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Issue 10: Figs

As I write this now, Ned is in the kitchen preparing some items for this month’s issue (which will be pears). We thought we could get the momentum back on track but somehow, some events popped up and disrupted the schedule a little. A little promise to at least post the pear issue by the end of November. For now, it’s time for the poor little figs to shine.

Yet another uncommon fruit in our tropical climate, the fig is mostly associated with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine and is one of the oldest plant in civilisation. Sometimes we feel like we are veering off our fundamental ethos of local produce, no excuse we know. But we couldn’t help ourselves from being seduced by these fragile dark-blue fruits (or should I say, flowers) with blood-ruby red flesh. Imagine the colours on the plate! I wouldn’t mind growing figs in the garden but (a) we live in an apartment, (b) the weather might not be suitable and, (c) I’m terribly terrified of insects with stings (figs are dependent on wasps for reproduction).

The thing with vegetables and fruits: they should be eaten straightaway once they were rooted or plucked for maximum enjoyment. That’s before the sugar turns into starch, and figs do not ripen after being picked. Which only means, the ones we get in the markets are usually quite bland (a tip, always look for ripe ones when buying – they should be plump and quite soft to touch). Why bother then, you ask. I think they still deserve a little chance, with a little cajoling, they can become a wonderful addition to any dish. And this was something we experienced first hand, or first taste.

Although we only do get one type of varietal in the market here, it’s good to know that there are other types available if you are able to get your hands on them (and if you do, you are obliged to share with us *evil cackle*). From purple and black fruits, to the hardier green, yellow or brown ones, and we’re not too sure how each differ from the other. If we could ever have the chance, we would definitely have a taste test of our own. One thing’s for sure, we’ll be happy licking the sticky red juices off our fingers (now we sound like perverse vampires).

One thing we found out is how versatile figs are: they go very well in both sweet and savoury dishes and can dance the tango with a great number of other ingredients. Such as honey, yoghurt, marsala or madeira, spice (cinnamon, five spice), herbs (rosemary, thyme), nuts, dried-aired meats (proscuitto, parma), fruits (orange, pomegranate) and amazingly, young goat’s cheese and those full-bodied blue cheeses (Stilton, Gorgonzola). If we had a basket of them, we’d be off making fig chutney and jams. A pity that we don’t get more of these babies on this island.

We can only say that we’ve fallen in love with this sensual fruit and will continue to lust for it until we meet again.

The Novice Cook: Plum Crumble with Ice Cream

Crumbles are the ultimate comfort food. Soft baked fruits tender in its honey juices with a crunchy topping, usually made with oats or granola. They are easy to prepare and relatively convenient to consume. However, unlike the typical crumble, this recipe uses an ‘independent’ crumble where its prepared separately from the fruit, but equally as scrumptious.

I found the whole process of getting one’s fingers dirty with cold butter and flour amazingly therapeutic. The more I cook, the more I find it fascinating. It’s odd how food break down with heat and becomes something else entirely. It’s quite like alchemy, in this case, the gold meant delicious food in your tummy later on. And using your hands only makes the event very personal, it’s putting your handprint (literally) into your food and saying, “this is my gift to you”. I say that to my tummy.

The crumble was baked separately from the fruits. The key was to keep the crumble as loose as possible, hence turning and tossing with a fork (in which case, hands were not allowed unless one was keen to be burnt) whenever possible. Because the crumble remained on its own while baking, this only meant more time was needed to prepare this dish than a typical crumble. But what I love about an ‘independent’ crumble was that you could decide on how much of the crunchy oats you’d like on your fruits after. It’s such an unfussy way of enjoying the dessert.

Due to the lack of time, I decided to stew the plums instead of baking them. By adding a tiny amount of water, some sugar and star anise (I had quite a bit which overpowered the fruits a little), a deep red-purple infused into the fruit stew to become glorious plum syrup. In about 20 minutes, the plums were soft but kept their structure. Plate them up, sprinkle the crumble generously and scoop a dollop of the best vanilla (or clotted cream) ice cream, and give your tummy a lovely present.

Recipe can be found in Hugh’s Three Good Things.

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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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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Issue 09: Plums

Now that November is upon us, it is a wonder how fast the last ten months went by. Take a pause and think, what have we done and how much have we grown… There’s a thing called life which tends to get us pretty busy and being creatures of habit, sometimes we fall into the same routines each and every single day. Despite holding full-time jobs (which means late nights and even work on weekends), squeezing out whatever time to cook and bake becomes very precious.

With 2014 looming very closely, Ned and I have sat down to make groundwork for the next year. Alas, yet all we did was hide in a bistro to watch the nearby horses and sip our peach bellinis. To finally have a free Saturday, our minds were geared towards the art of idling. It was one of those days that the bed looks awfully inviting, or that your throat longs for next glass of bubbly. But we’ll get down to proper discussion soon… for now, let’s focus on today’s luscious fruits.

We ventured into plum territory this September with little interaction with the plump stone fruits. (Plump plums! Now I’m inspired to come up with a tongue twister.) The only contact we had were dried prunes which were quite scrummy in actual fact. Mom loves popping them after dinner like a petit four, and now we understand why we had pretty healthy bowel systems growing up.

The interesting thing about plums is that they comprise of a vast array of species and varieties – damsons, greengages, mirabelles, satsumas and pluots (a hybrid). For this issue, we are concentrating purely on plums, as scientifically or biologically accurate as we can get. These luscious drupes vary in size, colour and sweetness. With a spectrum from an almost blueish black to the loveliest tinge of sunny orange, plums are a delight to lay one’s eyes upon. And this is why our fridge was filled with boxes of multi-coloured plums.

Of course we didn’t just bring home bags of plums purely on superficial reasons, the main reason was to have a little taste test. As mentioned, both of us have not the slightest clue how each plum variety differ from the other and this calls for a little experiment. If you could just see us sitting in front of stacked punnets filled with these waxy fruits, we look almost two ridiculous greedy hobbits who got into trouble unknowingly. I swear plums were off the menu for the rest of the year.

It is never easy to define the actual taste notes of each variety as they come almost too close to the other, whether by its sweetness, its tang or sometimes, almost blandness. We found darker skinned plums to be the sharpest yet fullest in flavour. Plums in shades of yellow-orange were honey sweet and a delight to taste. At this stage, we have not gained enough knowledge to fully decide which was a ‘dessert’ or ‘cooking’ plum – they were all too delicious to pass judgement.

Juicy and highly versatile, plums are perfect for jam-making, compotes, puddings, crumbles, pies, and even alongside dishes of a savoury nature. Given a boost of sugar, these fruits collapse into the perfect balance of sweet and tangy. They pair very well with spices such as cinnamon, star anise, clove and vanilla; and work brilliantly with cream and custard. In fact, it’s odd that they are given little exposure in the markets than deserved. We definitely having plums next time round… without the massive taste test.

Ah… what about this: Plump plumbers plummet into plumptious plums.

The Novice Cook: Chicken with Tomatoes and Tarragon

You know how dependant one is on cookbooks when you look at the state of the cover jacket. Hugh’s lovely face is now spotted with oil stains and other undistinguished sauces. The once pristine pages were tampered with soiled fingerprints and leftover flour have found home deep within the rim. But I’d like to think that Hugh would be proud of me ruining his book because that only meant I’ve been using it! (I’ve managed to wipe off the stains off his face for now.)

In all my attempts in The Novice Cook, I’ve yet to do a proper main course and much less, meat. It’s fascinating to learn about the different animal breeds, meat cuts, and cooking techniques. Unlike seafood, I’ve always found meat less daunting and slightly romantic. Maybe because these gentle beasts live on the same land that we do which makes our relationship a tad more closer. Man raises the animal, and the animal gives back to Man with meat or by kind.

I’m not trying to romanticise the reality of death and brutal farming methods. Battery chicken farms are not uncommon in the modern world where the demand for cheap poultry is high. These poor birds are kept in tight overcrowding barns covered in their own droppings, and spend their days being overfed with chemically-‘enhanced’ feed without seeing the outside world. This results in unhealthy short-lived chickens that appear on our tables. And you know what they say about “paying what you get”.

Sadly, organic or free-range chicken can only be found in speciality stores at an exuberant price (about $40!) and are mostly frozen. And yes, kampung does not mean it’s free-range. Isn’t it odd for a country who loves its poultry to not encourage sustainable and humanely-farmed meat? On another note, does anyone know if rearing one’s own chickens is illegal? With the avian bird flu, I suspect stringent regulations are in place to prevent the spread of diseases. For now, Ned and I will just have to keep dreaming of our little brood of chickens.

Back to the recipe: poulet à l’estragon is a classic French dish that features the chicken laced with a creamy tarragon sauce. Tarragon is one of the four herbs that makes up fines herbes and is often used in French cooking (the famous Béarnaise sauce is mainly flavoured with it). The herb has a very distinct grassy note of anise and one leave is enough to give a weighty liquorice-y punch into any dish – be it fish or fowl.

Tasting it for the first time, we love the complexity of flavours tarragon offered. It is odd how we have never used this herb more often. (Any French tarragon leaves around for us to propagate?) Cream or butter is usually paired up with it to balm the bitterness. In Hugh’s version, cream is plainly absent but to avoid the overwhelming pungency, the herb is only added at the very end to give a gentle perfume. It stood very well on its own against the chicken and the sweet-sour tang of the tomatoes.

A round of applause should be given to me for my very first stab at actual cooking. Yes, Ned had to supervise me again or I’d undercook the bird. Memories of hot oil bursting from the pan onto my skin and the long roasting hours were eased away by a crispy golden-brown skin of a tender chicken thigh with juicy tomatoes and aromatic tarragon leaves. And I foresee more stains on Hugh’s face soon.

Recipe can be found in Hugh’s Three Good Things.

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