Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: ginger

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 Novice Cook: Rhubarb and Ginger Fool with Ginger Biscuit Crumble

I have a confession to make: I cannot live without having at least one dessert each day. Best meals are when dessert is served after dessert (some restaurants do that) or when a platter of beautiful sugary items sit on on a buffet display. With N in charge of all the sweets at home, my taste buds are blessed with countless confections. (Bad luck to my diabetic genes. And tummy.)

For the past Novice Cook entries, the dishes have all been of a savoury nature. Cooking might be daunting, but stepping into dolce territory was nerve wrecking. I felt almost like Matsumoto Jun when he was tasked to prepare the desserts for kitchen service in Bambino – intrusive and foreign. Having no experience and even lesser interaction with rhubarb, it already sounds like a recipe for disaster.

After trimming and washing the rosy pink stems, I peeled them not knowing if that was necessary. (Anyone can tell me if this was needed?) They were then chopped into pieces and popped into a saucepan with sugar. Because rhubarb is filled with so much moisture, sometimes water is not needed. Their own juices absorb the melted sugar, creating a beautiful mass of the pinkest blush. I gushed ‘きれい’ as the stems slowly released the sticky liquid. Then I covered the saucepan. Probably a bad decision because two seconds later, the pieces disintegrated into stringy pulp. Still very pretty though.

Whipping up the yoghurt and cream into a mixture was probably the most labourious task in the whole recipe. I concluded that N must have superbly toned arms after all the baking, because my arms could barely hold the mixer for barely a minute. The mixture was whipped till soft peaks were formed, or I thought they looked like peaks. Had my fair share of watching cooking shows to identify what they are. The rhubarb was added in later and topped with crunchy ginger biscuits, which gave the fool some bite.

Reflections on my first dessert? It’s definitely a lot more to do then it looked on paper, but as always, the end result always make all the work worthy. N thought the taste was good, but if the rhubarb had not broken down, the dessert would have more texture. Well, not bad then, for a noob like me.

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

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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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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Orange Flower, Ginger and Rose Macarons

Orange Flower, Ginger and Rose Macarons

This has been dragged for too long. November brought the lazy out of us, and the kitchen was left alone for awhile and pending posts were always in progress. Now that 2013 approaches (just 11 days to go!), the familiar feeling of urgency creeps up. I always feel that way at the end of a year. Like there is not enough time to accomplish anything. January 2012: I will lose the extra weight. December 2012: Hello to more lumps!

Note to self: no more New Year resolutions!

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Glutinous Rice Balls with Rock Sugar in Sweet Ginger Soup (Tang Yuan)

Tang Yuan

Well, the earth hasn’t ended and the human race are up and about. It’s another day like the day before and will be so the next.

But today is a special day.

21 December marks the Winter Solstice and on this occasion, it is tradition for the family to come together to celebrate Dong zhi (冬至). In our house, it will be a simple meal that ends off with a bowl of Tang Yuan (汤圆) – glutinous rice balls in sweet ginger syrup. We used to buy ready-made ones from the supermarket but this year, we decided to make them from scratch. Perhaps it was the recent passing of our beloved Grandma that roused this sudden need of keeping tradition. Our Mama (as we called her) used to squat on the kitchen floor and roll out rice ball after rice ball. All of them were in the prettiest shade of pink. Sometimes if we didn’t mess up too much, she would let us help. Sticky fingers and young children weren’t the right combination though. We were better at gulping down those delicious Tang Yuan.

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