Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: pierre herme

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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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.

Tarte au citron (Lemon Tart)

It’s amazing how many tarts we have done the past year. If we continue at this rate, we can open a tart shop. Plus, Ned’s confidence in tart-making has grown and the consistency of the crusts are getting better each time. If you place a tart made now with one made before, the difference would be obvious.

Where’s the challenge then? Well, every bake can turn into a bad one without practice and a little luck. But really, I specifically requested for a tarte au citron because the image of Mary Berry slicing a knife through that perfectly baked lemon tart has been engrained in my mind since GBBO season one. And what a perfect excuse but to get Ned to make one for me. *evil cackle*

This is a quintessentially French dessert and a mainstay in many patisseries. How do we know if the patisserie has good pastries? We sample the lemon tart. (We do the same for dim sum restaurants, except it’s the har gao.) Whether it comes with meringue or not, if it’s custard or curd, when done properly, the sublime zingy flavours of the lemon will come through with bursts of sweet and sour.

Michael Roux made the famous tarte au citron in which a custard filling is used, and Pierre Hermé’s version had it in a curd-based form. Both were equally delicious but with varying textures. We have plenty of tarte au citron, and found that the tartness of the citrus had a stronger presence in a curd as compared to custard.

So voila, we did a custard version with our favourite Chef Blanc. (Sadly, we couldn’t find Roux’s recipe in his book.)

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Raspberry and Rose Madeleines (Ispahan Madeleines)

Can we just make it clear that although the madeleines pictured above are really pretty looking, we didn’t like the taste of it at all? The partnership between rosewater and raspberries is not unknown. This harmony of flavours has been made famous by the Master Pierre Hérme’s Ispahan macaron dessert. Being fans of this combination, we were quite excited to get these lovely madeleines out. Imagine our disappointment when all the madeleines tasted of were bland cake and powerful hit of rose.

Perhaps we got something wrong (again): the raspberries could have brought in too much moisture, the rosewater was too strong, the oven was too hot. This issue gave us a plenty of firsts. Never in history have both of us wanted to throw our bakes away immediately after tasting it. Yes, it was that bad.

If anyone could try the recipe and let us know if it turned out okay, we would love to know where we did wrong…

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Cream Cheesecake with Raspberry Gelee

Baking can be a very humbling experience. Despite how many successful bakes one can have, there will always be another hurdle to cross. Praise is often showered no matter how simple the bake is. Bring a tray of the easiest brownies you can make over to your neighbours (they have to be edible at least), they would gush about what an amazing baker you are. Unless of course you have honest-to-God neighbours. We do receive plenty of compliments, which we really appreciate, but they are all taken with a pinch of salt. Because only we know how good we actually are.

That’s why we are so fond of Thom & Aimee. It pushes us to experiment with new things, makes us understand our strengths and work on our weaknesses. We are never one to hide that we cannot do certain things and we have had plenty of failed bakes. At times, it becomes upsetting when so much effort, time and money has been used, and only to find that it barely made out of the oven properly. Sometimes they taste good despite their unflattering portraits.

Today, we ate the humble cheesecake. Ned has made cheesecakes before, but it was definitely a first that it got a little screwed up. It could be because we didn’t follow the recipe strictly as we did not have certain equipment. At the end, the raspberry gelee had to be made separately and laid on the cake afterwards. Thus, explaining why it is smaller than the cake. Despite how deformed it looks and the problems we faced, the cheesecake wasn’t that bad at all. Albeit a little too stodgy than usual. The flavour of the cream cheese came through and the raspberry gelee was a subtle touch of sweet tartness. Well, we’ll just have to try this recipe one more time in the future to make it right.

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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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Orange Flower, Ginger and Rose Macarons

Orange Flower, Ginger and Rose Macarons

This has been dragged for too long. November brought the lazy out of us, and the kitchen was left alone for awhile and pending posts were always in progress. Now that 2013 approaches (just 11 days to go!), the familiar feeling of urgency creeps up. I always feel that way at the end of a year. Like there is not enough time to accomplish anything. January 2012: I will lose the extra weight. December 2012: Hello to more lumps!

Note to self: no more New Year resolutions!

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Frivolité Macarons (Salted butter caramel and apple)

Pierre Hermé was probably the first celebrity I’ve ever met and something I never forget. Having him shyly thank you for enjoying his famed desserts was just surreal. Then, macarons were not as popular as they are now. One could say my virgin taste of a macaron was from the Master’s hands (No, not John Simm’s). Since then, there was no looking back.

There are plenty of macarons offered within the island today but good ones are scarce. Having tasted many of the tiny sweets from across the world (thanks to a well-travelled brother), we were able to appreciate how difficult it is to have consistent and almost perfect macarons in one box.

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Apricot Packets

This is great for apricot leftovers, and quite a stage for them to shine. It will highlight the lushness of the fruit and allow the hidden flavours to balloon up. Easy to prepare, this is the perfect note to end of any meal.

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