Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: meringue

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.

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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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Hello Kitty Macarons (Rose; Green Tea with Azuki Beans)

When there are parties and celebrations, we are never one to back down. It might mean long hours in the kitchen and being covered in flour and sugar, but the end result always brings a great wave of satisfaction and pride. The ‘funnest’ part (is funnest even a word) was coming up with the flavours. Oh, the joy of imagining a melange of different textures and tastes!

Every celebration is a milestone in life, especially for a child who is marking her very first birthday. A close friend of ours decided to host a themed party of 70 guests in a beautiful Chinese restaurant. Her only brief was “Hello Kitty” – the famous Japanese cartoon cat that has no mouth. Its popularity is immense worldwide and the female population go crazy for it. (Don’t ask us why, we never got its appeal.) Oh, that and one of the flavours had to be rose.

The only other flavour we had to brainstorm over was the ‘green’ macaron. (There was a colour theme for the party: mint green and coral pink.) We could have easily chose mint and dark chocolate, but we weren’t big fans of mint-flavoured items (or that’s just me). Hence, we decided to play on classic Japanese flavours such as Green Tea and Azuki Beans (Sweet Red Beans). They are natural partners and commonly used in modern Japanese desserts. (Ah, my inner Gintoki is salivating at the thought already.)

A trial test was done before the actual production to make sure that the ears were perfect. The first trial had the cats looking more like bears, as though it was a Rilakkuma party instead. You could say that we were slightly troubled by this incident, we couldn’t, after all, hand over 140pcs of Hello Teddy.

The Rose macaron was the easier one out of the two. Using our newly bought rose syrup from Fortnum & Mason London, the meringue biscuits turned out lightly fragrant instead of the usual heavy bandung notes. For the Green Tea macaron, quality tea powder was used (you can find them in Takashimaya, albeit the high price tag) to flavour the shells and the white chocolate ganache. We added the sticky Azuki bean paste in the middle of the ganache to add layers of each bite.

I can only say that the party was a success and although the little girl might not remember it when she grows up, here’s hoping that we added a tiny sparkle into her life.

The party decor was done up by our friends The Magpies.

Mango and Yoghurt Macarons (Mango Lassi Macarons)

Last of the Indian musketeers (this reminds me of the excellent Bollywood film ‘3 Idiots’) is the Mango Lassi macaron. It’s probably the most familiar item for anyone not of Indian ethnicity. It was also the very first item I tried at the restaurant. So this brings back many delicious memories.

Mango is featured plenty in Indian cuisine. One other mango item that I love would be in the form of a festive confectionery called the mitthai. In which, the chefs in the restaurant can make really outstanding mango-flavoured mitthais that prove to be one of the most popular item among the guests. Or the mango kulfi, a traditional Indian ice-cream moulded predominantly made with evaporated milk and moulded in small cylindrical metal cans. And of course, who can forget the King of all mangoes – the Alphonso?

We did think of using the famous Alphonso mangoes since it was conveniently in season, but the fruit can command a rather exuberant price tag. Thai mangoes can do the job equally, if not brilliantly well. To emphasize the presence of the yoghurt, a dollop of the dairy product sits naked alongside the mango ganache that is spiced with a hint of cardamom. The idea was to give different layers as one bites into the macaron. To create another dimension, you could try placing a small piece of cooked mango on the yoghurt. It’s the ice cold yoghurt-y drink at one go.

The project brought us a balanced amount of creativity and discipline. This being the first collection of macarons in which we created the flavours from scratch, only gave us even more satisfaction and determination. There is still room to improve, but this only cements our love of playing with contrasting ingredients. And with this Indian-inspired macaron collection, I bid my last farewell to three wonderful year of yummies, friendship and growth.

And hello, new challenges. Now, that’s another journey to take.

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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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Saffron, Cardamom and White Chocolate Macarons (Rasmalai Macarons)

We don’t really divulge a lot about our personal lives since food really is the focus on this blog. But life and food are so intertwined that sometimes they form part of our memories. Like the vivid pink strawberry cream cake I had on my fourth birthday, the fried breaded prawn balls Mama used to make for reunion dinners, or the fresh crunchy prawns we had for our first supper in China. This time, I celebrated a transition in my career with a few culinary additions.

I will only say that I worked in a fine-dining Indian restaurant for the past three years. (There aren’t many in Singapore, so make a guess.) It was in this place that I was given plenty of opportunities and met amazing people whom I can keep as friends. This was also where I learnt so much about Indian cuisine and fell in love with it. (And was so spoilt after, no other restaurant can do Indian better.) So what better way to show my appreciation and respect than to present Indian-inspired macarons to the very people who made work a bliss?

N and I went to the storyboard to recreate three of my favourite Indian desserts (or drinks). One of them was Rasmalai, a cottage cheese dumpling steeped in cream flavoured in saffron and cardmom, and then sprinkled with pistachio. The beauty about the snow white dessert is that the pure simplicity of it; the ingredients came together to create a complex and rich aroma and texture. The cottage cheese is like a sponge, soaking up the spiced milk – bursting and crumbling in your mouth.

To capture the essence of Rasmalai, we decided to put the milky soup as the forefront of the macaron. Saffron and cardamom are the two main spices used, and they were infused into white chocolate which acts as a great substitute to the clotted cream. The paneer (cottage cheese) was a little tricky. With two powerful spices alongside the cloying buttery white chocolate, there might be a battle of flavours with the cheese. Perhaps one day, we might try this macaron again, but with cheese. Like the Rasmalai, the macaron was kept white and showered with chopped pistachio nuts. It tasted so much like the actual dessert so success!! In fact, this was probably my favourite out of the three.

Fun fact: N loved sprinkling the pistachio so much, she accidentally had the nuts on all the shells. Well, they were still pretty though.

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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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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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Ispahan

Ispahan

The Ispahan is probably the most copied desserts of all time. It is like a rite of passage for all aspiring patissiers. To be able to succeed is like reaching the highest peak of Everest – okay, not trying to undermine the extraordinary efforts of proper mountaineers. Just a form of expression!

It’s like a Duchess of Macaron, with a monstrous poufy skirt layered with tons of jewellery (raspberries and lychees). I would even go so far to call it Macaron de Pompadour. A woman but a very remarkable woman indeed. The other macarons probably bitch about her all the time.

We referred to recipes from Travelling Foodies and Kitchen Musings since the actual book cost about $300. Our only reserve was the butter cream as it loses its structure after being removed from the fridge. We did batches of different butter cream but nothing seemed to work. Butter tends to melt in warm humid conditions and not until we can have an air-conditioned kitchen, there is no way our pastries will hold their shape.

Although The Incident of The Butter Cream was a boohoo, the overall result was worthy of a pat on the back. For a first time, I’d say we conquered Mount Faber (probably the only mountain in the world that’s not an actual mountain.)

Jasmine Macarons

Jasmine Macaron
To complement the other macaron, we decided to go with Jasmine for its light and gentle fragrance. Strangely, I do not associate Jasmine with sweets very much. My weekend dim sum breakfasts usually consist of savoury petite dumplings, and I usually wash the oil down with xiang pian cha (jasmine tea).

The beauty of tea is that it can be enjoyed in the most simple of ways.  In fact, the Chinese usually appreciate tea on its own – leaves and water. Our family gatherings usually end with a tea-drinking session. Everyone would crowd around the little tea table and observe my cousin’s little performance of preparing tea. It’s a time of laughter and bonding. If inspired, some of the kids would try their hand on poetry, often with hilarious outcomes. (Chinese poetry is extremely deep. I don’t get it 90% of the time.)

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