Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: patisserie

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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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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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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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.

Lemon-Pistachio Polenta Cake with Lemon Icing

To be honest, there is a long list of entries lining up to be written. It doesn’t help that all I want to do these days is snug into bed and watch anime (damn you, Gintama and Shingeki no Kyogin) or tumblr stupid gifs. The procrastination bug has hit me real bad this time.

Back to business: the lemon-pistachio lemon cake is another homage to our trip to Great Britain, and one of our favourite chefs Yotam Ottolenghi. I remembered how knackered we were from all the walking and from the cold, that we decided to do a quick takeaway from one of Ottolenghi’s cafes. Being not unusually greedy, we bought more than our little tummies could handle.

One of the many dishes we brought away was a lemon polenta cake topped with icing and pistachio bits. At first bite, yotam’s cake was slightly stodgy and the icing was dry. We kept half of it for the next morning and strangely it tasted better. The flavour intensified and had more moisture than before. Nevertheless, the cake was gone at the end of the day.

Polenta is one ingredient we’ve not dealt with so far. The Italian cornmeal is usually used as a gluten-free substitute in cakes, which will result in bakes that are moist and dense with a grainy texture. I’m not trying to be biased here, but Ned’s polenta cake turned out better than Yotam’s (blasphemy!!). It had the right amount of tanginess of the fruit and sugary sweetness of the lemon icing. Unlike what we had in London, the cake had good consistency in moisture and texture. It’s a dessert Gin-san would approve. (Good job, Shinpachi.)

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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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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.)

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