Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: ice cream

An Obsession for Toast

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As children, we woke up to fuss-free breakfasts – sandwiches or sugary cereal on school mornings and McDonald’s, char kway teow or prata for the weekends. When I mention sandwiches, I speak of the crappy white sliced varietal that we would slap with peanut butter, jams, tuna mayonnaise, or a slice of Kraft cheese. You could say breakfast was not really given much thought, it was just a meal to start the day. (Unless it involved dim sum, now that’s a breakfast we both can die for.)

There was never a time that we were not under the care of a house helper. If we were hungry, she would whip up a bowl of instant noodles or take a trip to the mama shop for some crisps. Basically, we grew up on a diet of processed junk food. But there were times our Dad would get a little creative and request for the helper to cook up something different. I remember it so clearly still, because when Dad liked a certain dish, we would have it for days.

Our crappy white bread slice was soaked into beaten egg and fried in sunflower oil. We didn’t go to McDonald’s that week but I’m sure my Dad’s attempt in a french toast made up for the same amount of calories. The end result was an heavily eggy toast served alongside sugar or butter. Sometimes, when I crave for a little nostalgia now, I get them at our local coffee houses with a generous heap of kaya (coconut jam).

The french toast of our childhood might not pass any taste tests but it was a little bit of innocence from a time when our only worry was missing Power Rangers on TV. There’s a special place for this fried eggy bread in our hearts.

With the onslaught of brunch-centric cafes that popped up on this island in the past years, the real McCoy made an entrance with flamboyance and pompadour. Le Pain Perdu with American brashness that gave birth to thick toast slices bathed in egg custard, topped with exotic fruits, designer ice cream, unique sauces, bacon and cream. (Although I must say that the Eggs Benedict has overshadowed it a little.) It might not be the familiar eggy bread that I know but oh, I welcome thee with open arms.

As I slowly ate my way through a myriad of french toasts offered, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing from every dish I sampled from. The bread was too crumbly or too limp, the egg custard didn’t come through, the focus of the toast was dethroned by its toppings, etc. Well, I guess if nothing could satisfy, it’s back to the kitchen to whip up our own.

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A snowball started rolling, I began to soak up information as would a pain perdu. A french toast, in essence, is simply just bread soaked in egg custard and then fried. But it’s the simplest dishes that command the most attention for quality of ingredients and technique. Using what I’ve read across thousands of books and websites (I exaggerate), these are the eight commandments of making french toasts.

  • Use good quality but dry, stale brioche or challah
  • The bread must be sliced to the thickness of an inch
  • Ingredients should be at room temperature
  • The egg mixture would be a ratio of 1 egg to 150ml of whole milk
  • You can flavour the custard with vanilla, spices, zest, salt, sugar or even alcohol
  • Soak the bread for approximately a minute on each side until saturated
  • Use clarified butter or ghee to fry the bread
  • This is optional: use a cast iron pan so that heat is evenly distributed

One thing I love most about toasts in general is the freedom of creativity. You can throw any toppings on top of it; savoury, sweet, flavoured egg custards, stuffed. The sky’s the limit. In fact, I was so obsessed that I came up with a long list of flavour combinations. We decided to only do four versions before Ned kills me or I die from french toast overdose.

All four toasts are stuffed; two are savoury and the other of the sweet variety. We made tons of brioche loaves for this very purpose (what sort of idiots make batches of bread to make toasts and puddings? Us?). Then, just for the fun of it, we invited friends over for a Toast for Brunch party. Behold, the four toasts:

  • French Toast stuffed with Ricotta & Baby Portobello Mushrooms, and topped with Prosciutto Ham, Tomato Chutney and Poached Egg
  • French Toast stuffed with Avocado & Cream Cheese, and topped with Smoked Salmon, Hollandaise Sauce and Poached Egg
  • French Toast stuffed with Passion Fruit curd, and topped with Grilled Lemongrass-spiked Mango, Lime Caramel Sauce, Coconut Ice Cream and Chocolate Biscotti Crumbs
  • French Toast stuffed with Kalamansi Curd, and topped with Flambé Banana, Dark Chocolate Sauce, Peanut Butter Ice Cream and Speculoos Crumble

Just reading them is a mouthful. Haven’t we made things complicated? Shouldn’t brunch be a fuss-free affair? Trust us, these babies actually cured my cravings for French Toasts. It might be a lot of work but I did say it was a party. If Ned served it naked with a slosh of maple syrup and berries, I would have gladly devoured it too. But we are always looking for excuses to test flavour combinations. Plus, we had guinea pigs.

It might not be the toast we remembered eating, but damn, this was a new memory to keep for years now.

Roasted Almond Affogato

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

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

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

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

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

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Poached Mandarin Oranges with Vanilla Ice Cream

(I’m on fire here! Three posts in a row!! But that’s only because *cough* Ned sent me a threatening note this morning *cough*. I had to finish up all the old drafts left sitting on the shelf by today or *cough* certain misfortune might befall me.)

At times, we forget why we wanted to do this or our mantra for local seasonal produce. If you haven’t noticed, we barely focus on any fresh fruits or vegetables this year. With the lack of time to do anything in the kitchen, we wanted to avoid wastage of any sort. Fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood are too perishable to keep up with our schedules. We just finished up our next row of desserts and it features another dry ingredient (it’s coffee, if you need to know). If possible, we would love to return to the good old days where fruits play a major part.

The last time we handled fruit of any sort was after Chinese New Year. (Okay, that was four months ago. Please do not glare at me for being four months late in posting this.) Leftover mandarin oranges was common at most Chinese households after the festive season. These citruses are great on their own but we decided to finish the last batch of oranges with a little touch of Middle Eastern spice.

Unlike the typical oranges, mandarins are a lot more tender with its plump juicy pulp held together with thick with white pith. Some do not like the bitterness of the pith, but we tend to eat them anyway since the mandarins are sweet enough. The lovely thing about mandarins is that you can peel them open with just your hands. Just look at how pretty each segment looks! Like tiny gold Chinese ingots (currency of imperial china)! An interesting cultural fact: mandarin oranges and gold have the same pronunciation in Cantonese. And that’s why we exchange mandarins (or gold) during the New Year.

With that much leftover oranges and our (then) freshly made vanilla ice cream, we turned them into a simple dessert that give the usual citrus a little spicy kick. You can poach the mandarins in their tiny ingots or slice them in a cross-section to create beautiful floral shapes. What we really love is how a few added spice could bring the fruit a waft of fresh air. Instead of the usual saccharine taste of orange, the flavour of the fruit deepened with the vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon. To top it all off, add a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream and dust some chopped pistachios for added crunch – a Chinese tradition with an exotic Middle Eastern twist.

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Classic Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Ahhhh~~~ ice cream… Nothing beats hearing the familiar tinkling of a bell rung by the ice cream man, and then licking a ball of ice cold milky cream topped on a crispy golden biscuit cone. Walk under the blazing sun and fret over the sticky liquid going all over your fingers. It’s okay if it got messy, the sweetness of the dessert will solve it all. Drop it and it’s the end of the world (I have too many of such memories in my childhood to understand its traumatic effects).

With our current freak weather (Singapore’s getting too hot for comfort these days), ice cream is our only solace to calm our nerves and cool our souls. It is odd how such a simple item can bring so much joy and satisfaction into our lives. Try walking down the street with a cone of ice cream or a ice popsicle, then, be very aware of the stares you get as you walk by. The ice cream can be a very good attention-seeking tool.

When we got our little sticks of vanilla, we knew we had to make our own stash of vanilla ice cream. It might be the most common flavour but I swear that using proper real vanilla is a whole new world altogether. The flavour of the vanilla deepens and the intense smokey notes have a stronger presence that is usually overpowered by the cream. For once, we could appreciate vanilla ice cream as the main star rather than the accompaniment it has always been.

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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.

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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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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Rhubarb Semifreddo and Pistachio Cream with Honey Madeleines

Was there ever a time when you watched a Masterchef episode and thought to yourself: ‘that looked really pretty, I wished I could do that’. Some desserts are plated with such detail that it almost looks like a painted portrait. Every single item is delicately placed to create a piece of art; it becomes an all-sensory immersion of sight, smell, taste and texture.

In one single plate, there lies multiple desserts that combine to become the masterpiece. There would probably be a sponge cake sitting on a shortbread or a puff pastry, topped with a sorbet, poached fruits, jelly cubes, sauces, flowers, tiny tuile bits and maybe puree. Basically, it looks and is very complicated, and everything is, in all possibilities, hand made from scratch. Then it hits you why it costs so much just to eat sweets in a fine-dining restaurant. Even the bloody sorbet is lovingly concocted in the kitchen.

We could be a little too ambitious to try our hand on such artistic masterpieces. It gave N plenty of tasks to accomplish in a short frame of time, especially since when we weren’t making any shortcuts by purchasing some of the items over-the-shelf. Yes, you read that right, whatever was on the that plate were painstakingly laid out by N, right down to the very chopped pistachio nuts.

The star of the dish was obviously the rhubarb semifreddo, a mousse-y ice-cream-like cake, that captured the tartiness of the vegetable perfectly. The quenelle of homemade pistachio cream (that is made with pistachio paste from our kitchen) might be as aesthetically pleasing as we would want it to be, but the minty green of the cream matches so well with the pastel pinks of the semifreddo. The honey madeleines gave the dessert bite, with its warm sponge and subtle sweetness. Poached rhubarb ties the dish together and brings vibrancy into the plate. A pity we accidentally dumped the juice away, that would have made for a lovely touch and perhaps bring it to completion.

Another challenge was assembling the different components on the plate. Some chefs draw out their creations on paper, while some simply have the talent. Well, we really just did what fools do – we just do it with no actual thought process. The final portrait was probably not of a Blumenthal quality, but as a start, it wasn’t really that bad.s Plus it was fun to exclaim sabayon in Raymond Blanc’s french accent at every opportunity.

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Molten Dark Chocolate Cake

Look at the cake. A perfectly baked chiffon sponge-like cake.

But if you take a closer look…

There. Do you see it?

It beckons to you like a moth to a light.

This will inspire lovelorn gentlemen to abandon all reason and write beautiful poetry. It puts even the most beautiful ladies to shame. It could probably bring about world peace if it wanted. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  No more war because of a chocolate cake.

Nothing could beat a soft warm chocolate cake with thick creamy dark luscious sauce oozing out. Tearing the dessert open is like causing rainbows to spill out. And biting into a piece of heaven and attaining nirvana. Just looking at it makes me salivate. There is no other dessert that I crave that much. in fact, I almost sound crazy just describing it.

Yes, and you know why I went mad.

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Hot Banana Soufflé

When I served ‘S’, our little sister, one of the soufflés (there’s four of us at home by the way – N, S, me and our eldest brother), she just exclaimed, “Soufflé Girl!” Yes, I would do anything to add a Doctor Who reference into one of our posts. While N could be impersonating a soufflé-making Dalek, these magical puffs were nothing like those that turned out in the sci-fi show (they were burnt, in case you didn’t know).

Soufflés are odd desserts. They are like cakes, but are too soft to be actually feel like you’re eating one. It’s almost like eating clouds; they are just so light and fluffy. Watching them rise up from their little cups was giggles-inducing. S would not believe me when I told her that they were not created with modern technology. In fact, it goes all the way back to the 18th century in France. She would then reply in question, “But… how…” Well, I could not answer her after that. If only The Doctor could bring us back to investigate. Maybe it was even The Doctor himself who invented it. He made the Yorkshire Pudding after all.

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