It’s been a very tiring yet meaningful, fruitful Christmas this year, with so many restless working days and sleepless working nights. Yet, it reenforced me again that I love what I do knowing that many people (a crowd of picky, demanding foodies in HK) were eating my cakes to celebrate the festive season; knowing my pastries filled with labor-intensive love were delivered as lovely holiday gifts to ones beloved families and friends. I’m honored to be the one who made people happy and more merry on festivals like this.
Classics like red velvet cake, pecan pies, cranberry upside down cakes and chocolate tarts are always a hit during Christmas. And as usual, I love to add some of my own twists into those classic staples. My recent fave include red velvet chiffon cake with candied pecan Bavarian, and the sugary nutty gooey pecan pie with an extra touch of caramelized banana tucked underneath. I know, it’s totally against the trend of being light and healthy. But hey, it’s Christmas! And it’s not so wrong with the nutrition packed wholesomeness of pecan and banana, right? Well, not too bad of a perfect excuse to indulge some real comfort dessert I guess
There’re so many other things I love making lately, and my fave of the fave must be the lusciously creamy lime tart. (I think i’ve lost count how many of lime tarts I’ve made in the past couple months:P and hope people who’re close to me have not got sick of them yet:p) The recipe is based on the Tartine’s cookbook with a few adjustments and modifications. I would proudly say that it’s my own recipe now!
One of my dearest friends got married in 2012, we all made a trip to Sydney to be part of the warm, cozy and intimate wedding gathering and celebration. Definitely one of my highlight in 2012 as well, words can’t describe the words and blessing I have for her.
Sorry for the cheesy quality for the pecan pie (absolutely no time for taking any good picture before having them delivered on time…not to mention styling before shooting… this is a last minute shot of a mini one as a little gift for my friend
If you are a fan of this heavenly sticky rich pie, do try this recipe out! I always use the Chez Panisse recipe for my flaky tart dough, filling is adapted and adjusted from David Lebovitz’s recipe (who worked for Chez Panisse as well) then my favourite caramelised banana to add something extra in terms of both aroma and texture, in this case, creaminess that is. Of course, the banana part is totally optional, but I personally do love it in my pecan pie A typical pecan pie filling calls for corn syrup or golden syrup, I sometimes use agave nectar in mine if I’m in the ‘make myself feel less guilty’ mood for its low glycemic index or grade B maple syrup for its unrefined nutritions with its charming deep, complex sweetness and aroma. And use coocnut flower sugar in place of the dark brown sugar. Those much healthy alternatives would just work as beautifully as the regular old sugar and syrup. It might sound a little redundant, but I like my pecan lightly toasted with a drizzle of clove honey and sprinkle of cinnamon and Fleur De Sel before going to the pre-baked pastry shell — yes, pre-baked! Some bakers prefer not to have the pastry blind-baked as they like the filling to fuse into the shell during baking; yet, I like my pastry to be perfectly cooked through, even to a point where it’s almost too dark brown before I put the filling in, so the pastry would stay crispy after it’s done, or even after it’s been sitting on the cake stand for a night
So here’s the recipe…once you have the pastry done, this is actually something pretty easy and quick to whip up as the perfect festive dessert. And definitely, a crowd pleaser.
Flaky pastry: (I usually make more than I need, so I can use half, and save the rest in my freezer for later use! Talking about convenience!) (makes two 9″ inch pie or tart or galette)
2 cups of all purpose flour
12 tablespoons butter, unsalted, diced and keep it very chilled
1/4 cup iced water
1/4 tsp. sea salt, I still use Fleur De Sel here
1. scatter the chilled diced butter over the flour. (Using a food processor works best for this) Pulse the flour , salt and butter a few times or until it’s become a sandy mass with pea sized butter-flour chunks. Sprinkle the iced water in, pulse couple more times, or until the dough just start to come together. Do not over work, or the dough will be tough.
2. Gather the sandy dough together, divide into two. Shape each into a flat disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and let it rest in fridge for at least couple hours befre rolling.
3. When it’s ready to roll. lightly dust the counter top, the rolling pin and both sides of the dough. Before rolling, use even pressure to pound the dough a few times with the rolling pin. So now, it’s nice and pliable. Start to roll from centre, keep turning the dough from time to time to make sure it doesn’t get stuck with the rolling surface.
4. Roll into a even 1/8″ disk, large enough to cover the tart tin with over hang. Carefully brush away the extra flour using a pastry brush. Then transfer the dough onto the baking tin without stretching the dough. Pleat the overhang around the edge of the tin, make it as neat and nice as pssible.
5. Prick the bottom all over. Place back into freezer for at least 15 minutes to firm up before baking.
3 medium eggs, preferably Japanese free range
120g brown sugar, or coconut flower sugar
180g corn syrup or golden syrup, or agave nectar, or maple surup
200g toasted pecan,(toasted with honey, cinnamon and Fleur De Sel in an preheated 180C oven for about 7-8 minutes), half very roughly chopped, and half whole
120 g finely chopped bitter-sweet chocolate, (I use 61% Valhrona, and I do not like using chocolate buttons)
2 tablespoons of melted unsalted butter
1/2 tsp fleur de sel
1 tsp. vanilla paste
1 banana, sliced, caramelised in a non-stick pan with a little sugar
*rum raisin is another good extra something that marry well with the others in this pie if you do use them, simply add two tablespoonful each of rum and water with 1/4 cup of golden raisins in a small sauce pan, bring to a boil and simmer for couple minutes, off heat. Let it sit overnight allowing the raisins to macerate. (Sounds a little time-consuming, but when you do, you’ll find it super simple and easy
1. Preheat the oven to 190C.
2. Bake the crust for about 35 minutes or until dark brown. Let it cool.
3. Prepare the filling: simply whisk all the ingredients for filling altogether until well mixed.
4. Pour the filling into the cooled pastry shell, bake for 35-45 minutes until filling is lightly puffed but the centre still looks moist. Let cool.
5. Garnish with dollops of whipped cream and extra candied pecans.
It’s a very rich pie. It’s good on it’s own with a cup of tea to cut the sweetness. But I like it served with generous mount of softly whipped cream. Call me cream fanatic:P
Technically, it’s not an opera, but it’s obviously inspired by the elaborate layered delicate classic. I’ve been thinking about caramel a lot lately, if you know me, I have a soft spot for this heavenly sweet gooey liquid…especially its bitter character and deep amber hue. And to me, salted caramel always sounds tempting, but I couldn’t remember how many disappointments that name brought me–a distinctive saltiness from fine sea salt could never be detected from the intense sweetness. I guess it’s time for me to give a try and be brave enough to put enough salt into the sponge, the ganache, so the complex saltiness will be clearly pronounced. Everything starts with the caramel: I’m so used to making caramel by combining a little water to moisturize the water first, and then slowly heat it up until every grain of sugar dissolved. But this time, I finally tried to make a caramel from plain sugar, adding no water. And the result is amazing…yes, i might have discovered this way too late=p This method leads to a perfect deep amber caramel without any chance of getting sugar crystal formation! Yes, it would take a longer time for all sugar gets dissolved into its own syrup, but it’s definitely worth the time.
The opera consists a rich salted caramel almond sponge, caramel-chocolate ganache, orange chocolate mousse with candied orange zests and coffee cream, finished with chocolate glaze made of cocoa, not chocolate, and a final glaze hued with a bit orange dye.
The pictures I had in this post might look a bit different as I just started playing with a Nikon D60 instead of my old Cannon for dummies…but I guess I’m still more comfortable with using the old macro mode for my food shooting, there’s so much to learn and experiment with the new one, even it’s just another entry level gadget=)
The recipe for the caramel sponge is adapted from a Japanese cook book, written by talented Hiroshi Fujikawa. The sugar content was adjusted tremendously for a less sweet version, although it is definitely still for the sweet-toothed ones! Even if you’re intimidated by the layers of labor, do try out the sponge. It’s very flavorful on its own, could be a perfect tea cake with a cup of coffee to lighten up an afternoon.
I’m not a jello fan even when I was a kid, but looks like jello is really a guy thing…Kai always stocks up packs of jello powder in out pantry, my brother loves them too…I just don’t quite get it…for me they’re nothing more than artificial flavoring and food coloring. But I am a huge fan of gelee, the intense vivid color from the pure fruit puree and the natural essence of the fruity sweetness with a little help of sugar–so intriguing. This simple gelling method transforms fruits into this sophisticated elegant summer dessert, light and refreshing, such a lovely treat pleasing your eyes too.
The recipe is adapted from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook, (speaking of Thomas Keller, a friend of mine was in Vegas couple days ago going for a book signing event at Palazzo, and Thomas Keller was there! I just envy to death!!) alright, back to the jelly–the picture appears in his book is ten times better than what I put up here, I blame this largely on the hot weather here in Hong Kong, as soon as I slice the wobbling delicate thing, it starts to melt, it’s just not possible to make a clean cut and transfer onto a plate. Well, I tried my best, it doesn’t look too bad, the flavor is darn good though=) With the tiny dollop of whipped creme fraiche–totally addictive.
The jelly came with a price though, I used Rose Imperial, Moet and Chandon thinking the rest of the bottle could be enjoyed by the glass since only a bit more than one cups is needed for making the jelly, but unexpected disaster happened–probably because the room was too warm, too much pressure built up in the bottle, the moment I uncorked it, my kitchen floor was flooded with the precious pink liquid. And what left in the bottle was just the right amount for the recipe. So, literally, the whole bottle was gone because of this jelly. Wow, that makes every single bite of jelly is so precious.
Another recipe from the Tartine cookbook was tested in my kitchen last week. I made truck load of chocolate friands with an extra topping of homemade caramel. They’re very petite, and so they’re intended to be extra decadent and rich since you’re only eating small mouthful each. (friand means small mouthful in French.)
The recipe for the chocolate friands: (makes 24 petite ones)
(Adapted from the Tartine, with courtesy to Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson.)
for the batter, you’ll need :
170 g (6oz) Bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (note: really use the best chocolate you can find as the flavor of the friands largely depends on the quality of your chocolate, look for at least 60% cocoa mass on the packaging, I used Valrhona, my new found favorite brand)
225 g (1 cup) unsalted butter
310 g (1 1/2 cup + 1 Tbs.) sugar
105 g (3/4) all purpose flour
2 Tbs. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt (I still use my Fluer De Sel, necessary?…I personally think it makes anything taste better.)
4 large eggs, roughly beaten
For the Ganache:
115 g (4 oz) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (again, use the best possible)
2/3 cup heavy cream
Now, preheat your oven to 350F (180C), line up 24 mini-muffin-cup paper liners on a baking sheet or butter and flour 24 mini-muffin pan wells.
To make the batter, put the chopped chocolate in a metal mixing bowl. In a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat until very hot, pour the hot liquid butter over the chocolate, let it stand and partial melt, then whisk until smooth. In another mixing bowl, sift in the flour, cornstarch, add the sugar and salt, whisk to mix them well. Add the flour mixture to the chocolate in three batches, mix well after each addition. Whisk in two eggs first until combined, add the other two eggs and whisk until just incorporated. Take care not to over mix the batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups to three-quarters full, bake until the cake just start to crack on top, about 15 minutes. Let them cool on wire rack. Then unmold them to cool completely if you bake the in muffin tin; if they are in paper liners as what I did, just leave them in the cups.
For the ganache, place the finely chopped chocolate in a small mixing bowl, bring the cream to just under a boil in a small sauce pan, then pour onto the chocolate, don’t stir first, just leave it to sit for couple minutes, then gently stir until all melted and velvety smooth.
By the time you are ready to dip your friands in ganache, make sure the friands are cool completely. Hold the side of the the friands, dip it in the ganache, then shake gently to let the excess run off the sides.
To be even more indulgent, I coated the already-heavenly friands with another thin layer of caramel–nope, it’s certainly not diet food=)…worth while the calorie killer? oh, sure yes.
Oh, almost forgot the recipe for the best ever caramel with the extra touch of vanilla bean and lemon juice.
This makes about 1 1/2 cups
2/3 heavy cream
1/4 vanilla bean
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp. salt (Fluer De Sel)
2 Tbs. honey
3/4 tsp. lemon juice
4 Tbs. (55 g) unsalted butter
Pour the cream into a small sauce pan, split the vanilla seed and use the tip of knife to scrape the seeds from the vanilla halves into the cream, (I also throw the vanilla pod to the milk to infuse it with deeper vanilla aroma.) bring the cream to just under a boil. turn off the heat, and keep it warm.
Place the sugar, water, honey, salt in a good sized saucepan (since once you add the hot cream into the caramel, it would splash fiercely on you, so having a deep good sized pan can be a life saver on this task, I myself have gone through a disaster when the pan was too small and too shallow, and half of the caramel ended up bubbling away outside the pan.) Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stir to dissolve the sugar. Then cook, without stirring, until it reaches a dark amber, take care not to let it burn as caramelization can happen really fast. Off heat, and carefully and slowly add the hot cream to the caramel, it would boil vigorously at first even it’s off the heat. Let it simmer down, and whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice, let it cool for ten minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the butter into 1-inch cubes, then add to the caramel one at a time, whisk constantly after each addition.
The caramel will keep well in the refrigerator for a month. And it’s such a versatile complement to just about anything from ice-cream, fruits to cakes and tarts. I also make my shake using milk, banana and spoonful of this deep golden gooey caramel with speckles of vanilla seeds.