Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: pastry

Pancakes and A Broken Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tiramisu

It’s typical to make a tiramisu when one thinks about coffee. This is probably the most famousest of Italian desserts in the world. Go to your nearest Italian eatery and you’d definitely find a tiramisu in the menu. You can even find it disguised under unfamiliar ingredients such as matcha, strawberries or even beer (you heard me right). Despite its worldwide reputation and popularity, the tiramisu was only a recent invention. Created in the 1970s at Le Beccherie in a northern town of Treviso (the restaurant is closing down though), the tiramisu is an icon beside the pizza and pasta of Italy.

To me, the tiramisu is almost like eating a trifle (will Italians kill me for saying that). Its too creamy for a cake but too stodgy to be called a mousse. With a concoction of mascarpone, coffee, marsala wine and sponge ladyfinger biscuits, the dessert is a great after-dinner treat of booze and coffee. We have eaten many tiramisu, from horrendous watery sloshes in cups to frozen ice-cream like cakes, and knew immediately what we wanted our own tiramisu to be like.

Although we grew up eating creamy cups of tiramisu, we were not big fans of digging our spoons into tons of cream. Here was the challenge: to make the tiramisu an elegant dish. It got Ned really excited with the prospect of designing and creating her own dessert. But that was where it got difficult. She had to get the ingredients, quantity and cooking methods right. It was basically a trial-and-error with a sit-and-pray mindset. You should see the number of designs she came up with. They were terrifying and amazing at the same time. It was like watching The Doctor come up with plans that aren’t really plans.

All the usual ingredients had to remain to stay true to its origin but the dessert will have to be almost cake-like for a cleaner shape. More chocolate was incorporated into the pastry in the form of luxurious ganaches. Soaked in potent espresso, ladyfinger biscuits act as the base and divider between the ganache and mascarpone custard. The key difference is the form of the mascarpone. No longer sloppy, the top layer is a sturdy semifreddo-like custard. Dusted with lavish sprinkles of cocoa powder, the dish was definitely a tiramisu when you taste it, but in a new dress.

We might have committed a crime by tweaking the recipe but as with life, nothing stays still. And with all things well-loved, classics will always stay close to one’s heart but new interpretations must be welcomed with open arms. Besides, the tiramisu itself is considered a new kid on the block in the books of history. So, a little makeover won’t do this dessert any harm. If anything, we are loving the new look.

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Chocolate and Coffee Crème Brûlée Tart

The reason of why we made this dessert was quite a simple one: we had one in a shop and just had to make one in case of sudden cravings. The first time I had it was when a friend bought a slice of a Brazilian Coffee Tart for my birthday and I swear it was the best thing I have had for a long long time. In fact, it was sitting quite plainly beside the Lemon Meringue Tart. But the moment I popped a piece of it into my mouth, I thought I died and went to chocolate-y coffee heaven.

The luscious fudge-like chocolate just melts in your mouth and the creamy bitter coffee melds perfectly with the sweetness of the chocolate. Are you salivating yet? Because I am. Most chocolate desserts tend to overpower with its cocoa but this manages to be subtle and allow an amazingly balancing act alongside the coffee. After which, I told (more like raved to) Ned to give it try. Well, to cut long story short, she went to the same piece of heaven and here we are, trying to create the foods of angels.

Lucky for us, we managed to get hold of the recipe from Eric Kayser’s book of tarts. We’ll be honest here: heaven was not in our grasp yet. The tart base used was a chocolate shortbread pastry instead of the plain shortcrust used in the shop, and this resulted in a far too crumbly texture. The chocolate and coffee layers thankfully came through fine. Although instead of singing a duet together, it was like watching two contestants pitting each other in an episode of The Voice. The flavours were amazingly strong and powerful. Not that it was bad, but after gobbling half the tart, it seemed a little too rich for any more. We figured the tart base could have contributed to the chocolate-ness of the pastry.

Overall, it was still an amazing dessert but improvements could be made. Can I just complain how difficult it was for me to slice the dessert? Well, that’s just me because I was being spoilt. (Ned happened to be busy and I was left with the cutting.) But at least I learnt how to handle such desserts – have patience and more patience. Ned is adamant in making another batch until she achieves that slice of perfection. I’m all for it as long as I don’t have to cut it.

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Vanilla Brioche and Butter Pudding

(This was supposed to be posted slightly over a week after our brioche recipe. By posting it now, I just made it look like we kept our brioche loaf for a month. That, my friends, is not humanly possible.)

There is something about bread and butter puddings that invoke an image of cuddly warm hugs and being wrapped in layers of soft quilts. Its probably just the buttery goodness in every mouthful – so much calories but too good to not sin. Best eaten after a hearty meal… don’t ask me why, I just love adding more guilt. Plus, it only proves that there’s always space for dessert. Every time Ned and I start talking about bread and butter puddings, we get a little too crazy like flustered cockroaches upside down (okay, that was not a very good reference but you get the picture).

We shall be very honest and confess that we made too much brioche for one reason: to make a huge serving of brioche and butter pudding. Yes, like a pair of cunning witches, we actually set aside a loaf of brioche and waited for it to become prey to eggy heaven. The best part was smelling butter in the air as it bakes in the oven. Nothing beats the fragrance of melting butter. Is it disgusting for us to love butter so much? We especially love hard cold butter stuffed into warm crusty bread.

Strangely, our brioche and butter pudding became a tad too dry when it came out of the oven. The bowl that was used was a little too wide, causing the custardy mixture to dry up and the top layer of bread to overcook. Despite the oversight in serveware, the flavours came out perfectly fine. The bottom layer of brioche had soaked up the rum and the essences of vanilla. In fact, it was a rather interesting pudding with a crusty top and a firm but custardy bottom (no, not soggy). Serve it with cream or homemade custard for added calories.

At the end, my only real complaint was that we should have added more butter. Well, I’ll just wait for Ned to make a Croissant and Butter pudding then.

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Brioche

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pear and Chocolate Éclairs (Poire Belle Hélène)

It was one of those days that sudden cravings would hit you in the middle of the night. And all I wanted were some goddamn éclairs. To date, I’ve not eaten any éclair in this tiny island worth traveling a distance for. (Now, if you’re talking about the luscious chocolate éclairs from La Maison du Chocolat – that’s a whole new story altogether. I’d travel to Hong Kong for a day for those babies.)

Éclairs are a classic French pastry and traditionally flavoured with chocolate, coffee or white-glazed fondant. In the recent years, they have been given a makeover from different glazes, exotic flavours and extensive decorations (there are even savoury ones!). At times, you’re just eating half a pastry with tons of cream, puree, candy and what not’s. It doesn’t even look like an éclair anymore but nail art. One can just peer at the windows of Christophe Adam and Fauchon to see collections of extravagant and vibrant little ‘flashes’.

Move over, le macaron, it’s time for l’éclair to shine.

For our own attempt in a fashionable éclair, we wanted to incorporate the flavours of the classic dessert Poire belle Hélène – made with pears served with vanilla ice cream, chocolate and crystallised violets. We had a dilemma on the violets on whether to get fresh ones or the ready candied flowers. No one seemed to sell candied violets and buying them online meant we had to wait for shipping. At long last, we decided to candy our own violets and managed to get fresh edible violet flowers from the market – only to find out that we bought violas instead. No sweat, we’ll just have to make do.

Candying the tiny petals proved to be a challenge especially in this heat and humidity. The moment the flowers were exposed to the open air, their petals curl and shrink in size. And it doesn’t help that they are so fragile. Delicate sturdy hands and a very cold dry room are needed for this operation. The beautiful blue-purple violas don’t really taste of anything but at least they are a sight to behold. A pity though. (Guys, make sure you get the right flowers. Or better still, use the already candied ones.)

The pears (we used Williams in this recipe) were poached in sugar syrup infused with Mexican vanilla pods. The fruits were then cubed into tiny pieces and mixed into the crème pâtissière for piping after. While little rows of choux pastry were baking in the oven, a rich glossy dark chocolate glaze was prepared. I loved the combination of smells coming from the kitchen – chocolate, vanilla and custard. After the éclairs were piped and dipped, the final touches of flowers were pressed into the chocolate top. And voilà, an éclair au Poire belle Hélène was born.

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Pear and Frangipane Tarts (Tarte Bourdaloue aux Poires)

You would think we would be bored of baking tarts by now. On the contrary, I think we’d never stop popping them into the oven. There is a quiet sense of satisfaction knowing that slowly but surely, improvement could be tasted after every bake. Kudos to Ned who persevered despite it all and once again, delivered a tray filled with petite tartlets of crisp golden brown pastry, luscious fruits and delightful almond filling.

Frangipane is a filling made from almonds and acts like a pastry cream. Back then when I was clueless about baking and culinary terms, I always thought frangipane was made from frangipani flowers. That is, you have to admit, really quite an interesting flavour should it be true. (Technically, you can actually consume frangipani or plumeria flowers in salads, teas and even candy. My brain is raging with ideas now.) Now that I have grown a little wiser, visits to the local pâtisserie won’t have me leaving red-faced with my silly questions.

The almond acts like a base and pushes the honeyed sweetness of the pears in every bite. What I love is the burst of juice from the fruit against the dense frangipane filling – a mouthful of pure indulgence! For which, I am not ashamed to say that I ate two in one sitting.

Off to the gym…

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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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Two Hobbits Travel: Brighton, England

I figured I should do our first day-trip out of London first.

Despite the streams of Londoners making their way down to Brighton for a weekend staycation, it was still a refreshing change from the cosmopolitan life of London. To be able to sit at the beach and watch time go by as you listen to the waves and seagulls was almost like a luxury. Or walking down the beach to enjoy the sun (finally) and sea breeze.

Obvious sightseeing in Brighton included the pier and the Royal Pavilion Palace, but it held a hidden gem that probably became The Highlight of the trip. (Even our Dad hasn’t stop talking about it up till now.) It was lunch at The Gingerman that cemented our love of simple good food even more.

After getting ourselves lost for about 30 minutes, we managed to find it almost camouflaged in one of the rows of houses. We were utterly lucky to get a table despite having no reservations at this cosy restaurant. It probably sits about 20 persons, so you can imagine how tiny the place was. They serve set lunches with serving options of either two or three courses.

The amuse bouche was an espresso cup of comforting broccoli soup, and that itself set the bar for the rest of the meal pretty high. Most soups often taste processed, but here, you could pick up the earthiness of the florets from the cream easily. Freshly baked bread sprinkled with sea salt was served after. Nothing beats cutting into steaming hot crust.

Ned had the starter: pea risotto with poached egg and parmesan – the grains had a slight chew, but when infused with the egg yolk, every bite was light but full of luscious flavours. We followed up with a succulent salmon, mashed potato and greens topped with crème fraiche; and a beautiful melt-in-your-mouth beef shank with cauliflower tempura and spinach mash. Coupled with a glass of rosé, our sore feet and aching backs no longer mattered. In fact, it made listening to Dad and his famous stories much more enjoyable.

If the meal was a Lord of the Rings trilogy, dessert was definitely a finale worthy of remembrance. The Lemon Posset was possibly the best thing that ever happened to us. How can a simple dish of just lemon juice, cream and sugar create such mind-blowing textures? Paired with tangy blueberry jam and cream, we thought we’ve gone to heaven and back. Yes, we sound almost crazy but we thought we were insane too. It. Was. Really. That. Good.

Food wasn’t the only showstopper; service was a delight as well. There were only two servers and both were amazingly helpful and kind. The whole dining experience was worth every second we spent trying to find our way there. If anything, this is more than enough to pull us back to Brighton for another visit.

When in Hong Kong, we had dim sum every morning. When in England, we had tea almost every afternoon. Plus, I love scones. After pushing ourselves past the festive crowds and meandering down little lanes, we made a tea-stop at The Mock Turtle Tea Shop. What greeted us was this assault of blues and rows of oriental-inspired porcelain plates filling any space on the walls and shelves. And of course, the stacks of tea cakes on the table.

Still satisfied from lunch, afternoon tea was a simple affair with a cream tea set and a lemon sponge cake. The scones were much more crumbly in texture, and tasted almost wheat-like. If you ignore the misshapen forms, it’s quite a refreshing take on the biscuits. Pile on the clotted cream and jam, and any scone can be as pleasurable.

We spent most of time getting lost down little streets and soaking in the festivities. There was joy sitting at the pier as well, listening to the seagulls and watching the waves hit the shores. For a moment, time almost stopped and we could forget words like ‘deadlines’, ‘projects’ and ‘bosses’. Feeling the cold sea breeze across your face and sniffing the waft of food from the roadside stalls, yes, life felt really good that day.

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