Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: pear

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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Issue 11: Pears

Note to myself: Never make promises on deadlines. I am officially the best procrastinator on this island. At least, I’m good at submitting late posts, that’s something to probably ‘brag’ about.

Okay, I digress.

In this household, we consume apples almost on a daily basis (even our dog loved them). If you peep into our fridge, there is a probability of 99% that there will be an apple over a pear. Compared to the crisp apple, there was a lack of crunchiness to be found in pears, they tend to be grainy and break down into a pulpy mush the moment you bite into them. Or perhaps, we have just been eating overripe pears to fully experience the actual lushness of the fruit. For that very reason, we figured it’s time we gave these voluptuous pears the attention they deserve.

That saying, we shouldn’t have put the pear against the apple. They are both utterly different in terms of texture, fragrance and taste. While an apple delivers punchy fruity notes, the pear offers subdued honeyed and floral flavours. The pear is like the awkward introverted kid in a party beside the boisterous loud apple, but in an one-on-one setting, you’ll find that the pear has a quiet confidence that will mesmerise and inspire. (Wow, I just made myself connect to pears on an endearing level now.)

With a determination to showcase the pear in its full glory, we surfed through the internet hoping to get a local supplier of pears but it seems our weather probably doesn’t permit the growing of pear trees. So it was off to scouring the markets for them. It’s good (and a little sad) to know that out of more than 400 varieties of pears, there is only a handful available to the public. And maybe because it’s not grown locally, the list is a lot shorter as compared to pear-growing countries. Our grocery notebook spotted the common Asian pear that is available all year round, and the occasional Packham, Conference, Anjou and Forelle, and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Bosc and Williams.

Sadly, while we were shopping around for these sensual babies, the only varieties we could get our hands on were the Conference and Packham. The first is an elongated fruit with freckled skin and is a great cooking pear, while the latter is a succulent bottom-heavy variety best eaten raw. Our bakes used plenty of the Conference while we kept the Packhams for after-dinner refreshments.

We have paired pears with both savoury and sweet dishes before, and found the contrast of having pear present in a savoury dish most satisfying. Especially in salads with pungent blue cheeses and nuts. They go very well with spice like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger; are lovely companions to pork and game; and definitely shine alongside chocolate. In fact, pears such a versatile fruit, I wonder why we haven’t actually cooked them more. Pies, cakes, jams, tarts and biscuits, or even poached – they are no stranger to a dessert table.

Now, our Dad keeps stealing our Conference pears. Looks like we found a convert.

The Novice Cook: Apples, Pears and Bananas

At this rate, I’m supposed to be highly proficient around the kitchen and basic cooking methods should not faze me. But every single time, I surprise myself at my continued lack of skills and confidence. (In fact, I cooked myself dinner last night. And being alone, I decided on a poor man’s meal of eggs, soy sauce, leftover rice and beetroot. I managed to not cook the eggs properly.)

When Ned finds me rummaging through her sacred grounds, she would stand at the door and ask if I needed any supervision or guidance of sorts before she leaves the house. That’s how much of a dunce I am in the area of culinary arts. Each dish I have cooked was a battle fought – some with crushing defeat and some conquered with pride. Most times, I seek assistance from my parents who willingly help. They rather dirty their hands than me with the kitchen. And this time, Mom had to help me core the fruits because I’ve never done it before – using a knife felt a little daunting then.

Watching my mother skilfully remove the seeds from the fruits, it made me wonder why was there even fear in the first place. Was that what’s stopping people from entering the kitchen? As celebrity chefs show off their impressive chopping moves on television, we are slowly stepping away from actual cooking and relying on microwave meals. I do admit that watching my late mama whipping dinner up was awe-inspiring and yet, also intimidating. In my eyes, cooking was left for those who knew and understood it. With the lack of hands-on experience, cooking slowly became detached from my life. I don’t even know how to use a rice cooker.

That’s slowly changing though. Step by step, I’m learning the basics whether by watching others or plainly experimenting it on my own. I do prefer cooking alone – it pushes me to act on my feet using my own resources and not relying on others. Unfortunately, I had way too much help with this simple recipe from the cutting of the fruits to the toasting of the walnuts. Sure, I did them myself but they were executed under observation. It was like taking a Home Economics exam.

As I watched the fruits caramelise in the oven, peace and calmness settled in. The familiar therapeutic feeling I often get from cooking alone returned. Although my foray into cooking will be a never-ending challenge, but it was one I gladly took. After all, in return, I get to eat fantastic dishes such as this dessert (the baked bananas were sublime and the crunchy walnuts against the soft fruits was a great balance of textures). Nothing really beats cooking with your very own hands.

The recipe can be found here.

The Long-(Un)expected Party

It’s been about a year since we last hosted a proper formal dinner and despite all the praise, we did not get down to holding more dinners. Since then, all word about the previous party became stuff of memories. But strangely enough, the occasion was briefly mentioned during a recent family gathering and an aunt who missed the last party wanted to experience it for herself.

To be honest, cooking for family could be a very stressful job. Expectations were higher and the pressure to perform was more intense than usual. Families tend not to mince their words, no matter how awful they sound. But we were never one to back away from a challenge. We were given about one and a half months to start preparing: the menu, the wine list, the tableware and the decor. This includes a choice of two main courses (a beef dish was a must) for over 26 guests. It wasn’t a 100 person catering event, but over twenty diners for a course-by-course meal was equally intimidating. And it didn’t help that some of the guests had dietary restrictions.

To be honest, we were very frenzied by the amount of work that was needed for this dinner. And we didn’t help ourselves by deciding on an elaborate menu complete with a pre-dinner cocktail. The fact that we had to use an unfamiliar kitchen was already daunting. Doing a site recce of the kitchen was the very first thing we did off the checklist, which gave us a better idea of how the cooking should be done. There were two kitchens: one was located outdoors where the heavy work was done, and the other was the dry area where preparation took place.

Equipment was checked – oven was not working, certain kitchen utensils were not available, there weren’t enough tableware to go around, and tables needed for plating. Then came the front of the house: guests would have to be split into a few tables, the number of service staff needed (yes, even that!), and how the decor will be put up in the house. At that point in time, the both of us were slightly frazzled but the weight of the whole situation hasn’t really sunk in yet.We knew a lot of work was needed, and yet reality had barely seeped in.

The menu was the biggest hurdle. How were we going to serve 26 guests a range of courses in perfect timing, temperature and portion? We had a very clear idea of how the skeleton of the menu would be: an amuse bouche, a seafood starter, a salad, a pasta dish, the main courses and of course, dessert. And I was guilty of insisting on sorbet and petit fours (blame it on occupational habits). After a week of drafting and planning, the menu was sent over to the host for approval. Thankfully, it went through the first round which gave us enough time to start our trial tastings.

This was how the menu was like:

Canapes
Pork Sausage with Brie Cheese and Red Onion Chutney
Moët & Chandon Imperial Brut

Amuse Bouche
Cream of Broccoli Soup (served with sourdough bread)

Starter
Beetroot, Pear, Watercress, Walnut, Goat’s Cheese, Elderflower Vinaigrette
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc

Seafood
Prawn, Bloody Mary Jelly, Avocado Puree, Watercress

Entree
Spinach Ravioli, Sage Butter, Parmesan, Pine Nuts

Sorbet
Green Apple Sorbet with Mint

Main Course
Salmon, Potato Mash, Spinach, Dill Creme Fraiche

or

Beef, Mushrooms, Spinach, Foie Gras, Parsley Puree, Madeira Sauce

Dessert
Orange Basil Mille-feuille, Chocolate Ice Cream, Assorted Berries

Freshly Brewed Coffee or Gourmet Teas
(served with Valrhona Chocolate)

(Looking at it now, I have no idea how we even managed to convince ourselves that this menu could ever come out of the kitchen.) The trials gave us a chance to gauge how much time each dish required in terms of preparation and actual cooking. Because most of it were done by hand, freshness was crucial. It also gave Ned a chance to perfect the recipes and tweak it accordingly to suit the overall menu plan. At this point, we were off pre-ordering the main ingredients like the beef, salmon and tons of vegetables. That in itself was another crazy affair of bargaining and endless conversations about the best cuts.

Tableware was another obstacle, though luckily we had our own private sources. We really shouldn’t say as it’s almost illegal how we managed to get them. In all, we managed to procure a range of pure bone china for all five courses, amuse bouche, sorbets, side plates, flatware, wine glasses, champagne flutes, water goblets, dinner trays and even table cloths. Simple arrangements of flowers were done the night before, crystal beads all strewn up like pearl necklaces, and candles were bought.

After five days of mise-en-place, barely enough sleep and weeks of planning, it was almost surreal when the Big Day arrived. Right off the bat, Ned and I were off doing specific tasks early that morning. Being the head chef, she was off to the venue in preparation (with two cousins helping out) and I was running around to pick up all the main ingredients for utmost freshness. That was when I realised our butcher forgot about our order and we had to get our steak off the shelf instead.

The dining space was transformed into a cosy intimate French bistro with warm lighting and jazz playing in the background. Three more cousins were enlisted to help out with service, and a small briefing was held to make sure everyone was on the same page. It was almost as though we were getting ready for a typical day at a restaurant.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to say that no matter how much preparation you have gone through or bad luck you can anticipate, when shit happens, it just does. That’s when you just trudge on and try to make do with what you have. Were we afraid? Yes, because screwing things up was just too easy. At this point, we could only leave it to fate and sheer hard work.

And the show finally starts.

6.45pm: The first stream of guests arrived. Many oo’s and ah’s were heard from the dining area. Canapes and champagne were sent out to appease any impending hunger. The host has given instruction not to serve dinner until more of the guests were here. We were playing the waiting game.

7.15pm: Canapes have ran out and the guests were pretty high on bubbly now. Some stray unwanted guests decided to pop into the kitchen asking for more food and were shooed out. Still no news from the host on whether we could start proper dinner service.

7.17pm: Oh fish, service starts. The guests have promptly sat themselves down. Soup was given a quick heating up and poured into tiny espresso cups. Bread was given a toasting through. Kitchen crew have started plating the beetroot salad. (The broccoli soup was inspired by our lunch in The Gingerman, Brighton and what better way to start a meal with warm creamy liquid in the tummy.)

7.30pm: The momentum in the kitchen had picked up a few notches. Thin slices of beetroot and pear were laced intricately round the plate, topped with watercress salad, crumbly goat’s cheese and walnuts and dressed with elderflower vinaigrette. It was a little messy trying to make sure there were no pink fingerprints on the clean porcelain plates. As the service staff brought out the salad into the dining hall, almost immediately, fresh plates were laid out for the next course to be plated.

7.33pm: Too much beetroot, they said. Well, we did want to push the traditional Asian palate a little with the ‘unconventional’ beetroot, and surprise, surprise, the older crowd wasn’t a big fan of the deep-burgundy vegetable despite its natural sweetness. It was something that appealed more to the younger ones.

7.35pm: Prawns were being stacked. Avocado puree was piped delicately on the chilled Bloody Mary jelly. It was difficult trying the get the jelly pieces to stay in place. The warm temperature in the kitchen didn’t help at all. Update from the service team was that the guests were finishing up their salads. Boy, they were really starving themselves before this dinner. Then actual shit happened, because Ned found out that the ravioli pieces for the third course decided to morph into one gigantic pasta monster.

7.40pm: The seafood starter was sent out while the kitchen crew tried to salvage whatever ravioli parcels that could be used. Instead of serving three patchwork babies, we could only save two pieces per guest. Imagine our frustrations and panic!

7.41pm: Guests have devoured the seafood starter in seconds. Were we serving giants?

7.45pm: Patchwork ravioli babies were still in surgery. More stray giants guests wandered into the kitchen. Pressure level was boiling way over limit.

7.50pm: First of the spinach ravioli pieces were popped into water. With pine nuts and shaved Parmesan cheese, the third course was finally served. As quickly as the ravioli flew out of the kitchen, the crew were armed with spoons to quenelle lovely ovals of green apple sorbet. We should actually be worried with plating the sorbet that soon because they could melt before they were served. Should we?

7.52pm: Sorbet was served. I swear we were cooking for actual giants here. Most of the guests ordered the salmon course, so that was the first main course we attacked with. Ned starts panfrying the pink pieces of fish and our designated chef de partie was in pots and pans with getting the mash potato and spinach ready. We could hear the guests leaving their seats to mingle around. Which also meant the sorbet was slurped off the moment it was served.

7.58pm: The salmon was still sizzling away in its juices. Watching them turn into a rosy cooked pink seemed excruciatingly slow than usual. We didn’t want to serve them raw or overcooked, or upset the hungry guests out there. We have not started on the beef and everyone was on their toes and screaming for time-check at every minute. “Is the mash ready?”, “Fish, give me fish!”, “Where’s the creme fraiche?” and “Fisssshhh, we need fishhh”. It was difficult trying to juggle so many things at a time.

8.10pm: Oh boy, were we screwed.

8.15pm: The mash was plated onto every plate and spinach was laid out as neatly as possible. Tender salmon pieces with a crisp skin was laced with a quenelle of dill creme fraiche. Those who ordered the fish course were served immediately. The next ordeal was the beef course – a meat that required time to cook and to rest. New pots sat on the stove to cook the mushrooms and spinach, while the sauce gently warms up on the side. Ned looked a sight with two hands full of pans grilling the foie gras and beef away.

8.17pm: The beef-giants were getting restless watching the salmon-giants eat.

8.26pm: *Listens to the soundtrack of sizzling beef.*

8.38pm: The mushrooms and spinach were portioned onto individual plates and were cushioned with beautiful succulent steaks of beef, topped with a perfectly seared foie gras and parsley puree. They were out of the kitchen the moment a spoonful of sticky Madeira sauce was drizzled over the meat.

8.40pm: A sudden wave of relief seemed to hit the kitchen crew. There was a minute of silence and stares before we got hold of ourselves. Dessert plates were laid out.

8.45pm: Seconds were requested. Could you believe it? (Giants. Giants everywhere.) Since it was actually a family dinner, Ned obliged to stir up more salmon and beef to appease the crowd.

9.00pm: A dessert factory line was born. Orange basil cream was piped gently onto strips of puff pastry. Icing sugar snowed on the top of the mille-feuilles. Quenelles of chocolate ice cream were sprinkled with toasted almond flakes. Berries were strategically placed. Dessert seemed almost a breeze after The Saga of Main Courses. Coffee and tea accompanied the dessert. The giants seemed appeased.

9.16pm: Service finally ended. The kitchen and service crew fell into a sea of utter exhaustion and pure exhilaration. Two full hours to put out five proper courses alongside canapes, amuse bouche and sorbet. Secret bottles of alcohol were opened to celebrate.

Looking back, it was surprising how we jumped at the opportunity to get waist deep into trouble. We did not have the proper experience nor training to execute such an elaborate dinner. Overall, feedback was pretty satisfactory and we definitely need to practice a lot more before we embark on another dinner party. Timing was still a key weakness and presentation of the dish was an area both of us have to invest effort in.

Yet again, the dinner party stirred up some need to pull out dinners on a regular basis. Sure, they were back-breaking but the end result was so satisfactory. It made our tummies warm and our hearts a flutter. So much so, Ned and I were even contemplating whether we should host secret supper clubs. Right now, the idea is still dangling in the air. But who knows, maybe there would be.

Spiced Poached Pears with Hot Chocolate Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream


There are many varieties of pears available in the markets. Conference pears are not native to us, but we thought we would try something different this time. You might want to experience with other types of pears, let us know, we love to learn from others.

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Pear and Elderflower Macarons

Last week was filled with plenty of drama in the kitchen, hence the little break before we embark on another upcoming dinner. Under lucky circumstances, we managed to work with a secret supper club Petals & Bowls. They embrace good food and company in lush gardens. Please support them!

This event got Thom & Aimee into a roller-coaster ride of hysteria. We didn’t know it will bring so many crazies. It was only after the whole affair that we could finally sit and catch our breath. But it was worth it, really.

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