Thom & Aimee

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

Tag: sweets

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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Classic Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Ahhhh~~~ ice cream… Nothing beats hearing the familiar tinkling of a bell rung by the ice cream man, and then licking a ball of ice cold milky cream topped on a crispy golden biscuit cone. Walk under the blazing sun and fret over the sticky liquid going all over your fingers. It’s okay if it got messy, the sweetness of the dessert will solve it all. Drop it and it’s the end of the world (I have too many of such memories in my childhood to understand its traumatic effects).

With our current freak weather (Singapore’s getting too hot for comfort these days), ice cream is our only solace to calm our nerves and cool our souls. It is odd how such a simple item can bring so much joy and satisfaction into our lives. Try walking down the street with a cone of ice cream or a ice popsicle, then, be very aware of the stares you get as you walk by. The ice cream can be a very good attention-seeking tool.

When we got our little sticks of vanilla, we knew we had to make our own stash of vanilla ice cream. It might be the most common flavour but I swear that using proper real vanilla is a whole new world altogether. The flavour of the vanilla deepens and the intense smokey notes have a stronger presence that is usually overpowered by the cream. For once, we could appreciate vanilla ice cream as the main star rather than the accompaniment it has always been.

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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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Baked Spiced Plums with Cream Chantilly

The simplest way to appreciate the natural taste notes of the ingredients is to step away from fussy cooking techniques and to avoid using too much of other contrasting flavours. By doing so, it sometimes brings out marvellous results. This recipe showcases the very best of plums in its most naked form, paired with the lightest chantilly cream. We especially love the intensity the cinnamon offered.

Because we couldn’t find passion fruit juice, we decided to make our own from the actual fruits. Strangely, it only brought home that nothing really beats stripping down to the beauty of fresh simple ingredients and homemade goodness.

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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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Lemon Posset

As I type this down, Ned and I have had a proper discussion about what to do next after these hectic few months. Not that we would be less busy in the coming weeks (quite the contrary), but we realised T&A needed some TLC after the long hiatus. Sitting down with recipe books splayed out and our handy journals, I had the slight tingles. It’s not that we haven’t been cooking, it’s just that we haven’t spoken about food for a long time. And that got us pretty excited.

In our conversations, The Gingerman would always be at the tip of our tongues: “wouldn’t be nice to be back there again”, “remember the broccoli soup” or simply “let’s go back to Brighton”. (I will do a proper post of that particular day… soon.) Their lemon posset was one of the reasons why the strawberries were dumped. Strange isn’t it? It was after all just cream, sugar and lemons. Just three basic ingredients and we were sent to candy heaven. (Ned loved the posset so much, she had another in Bath.)

The Gingerman’s posset was topped with cream and blueberry jam, and the custard was quite sturdy – almost like a jelly. It was difficult to achieve that sort of consistency; unless we stuffed the possets into a freezer. Ours turned out to be creamier and a lot sharper in taste. With the absence of the cream and jam, the dish felt slightly naked. Was it like the Gingerman? Not so much, but a little taste of England was good enough for us.

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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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