Tuesday, 18 December 2007

learning to like Brussels sprouts

Growing up, there was nothing I detested more than Brussels sprouts. Along with every other child in Belgium, it would seem. My dad would occasionally make them (boiled) and the house rules were such that I had to eat whatever was on the table. I usually got away with three sprouts – my brother even managed to get away with eating just the one.

I felt the same about chicory and didn’t like the bitter taste of it at all, but it now is one of my favourite vegetables. Braised, or wrapped in ham with a cheesy béchamel sauce topped with breadcrumbs in the oven – I absolutely love chicory. And so I thought I owed it to myself to give Brussels sprouts another chance as well.

Plus they keep on popping up everywhere: at my local market, in Christmas food magazine articles and on various blogs. All of which was starting to make me feel like I was missing out on something. So I bought myself some sprouts and got a-cooking.

I went with Molly’s recipe, because masses of butter, cream and brown bits are always a good thing in my book. In an ideal world I would have added some bacon as well, but I didn’t have any. And as for the result… I think I can learn to like Brussels sprouts. They probably won’t make it on my all time favourites list, but they certainly are off the yuk list. And for S, who still didn’t like them because ‘they still tasted of sprouts’ (even though he had to admit they didn’t taste as bad as he remembered from his childhood) I mixed them with potatoes into a wonderfully creamy mash the next day, which he did like.

apologies for the awful picture, but the vanille & chocolat household has been extremely busy of late with hardly any time to cook, let alone take decent snaps (and of course I will continue to blame lack of decent daylight for the next few months)

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

lavender crème brulée - almost

SHF#38 the proof is in the pudding - with a Tartelette tutorial

It's been ages since I participated in Sugar High Friday, and this month's theme - the proof is in the pudding - chosen by Zorra of Kochtopf, is just up my street. Also, for my birthday way back in September my auntie gave me a nifty little blowtorch (and she even smuggled a can of gas lighter refill stuff to go with it in her luggage on Eurostar!). Which, shame on me, I hadn't used yet. Although S had a jolly good time playing around with the torch already. What can I say: boys, gadgets, and flames - an irresistible combination.

Crème brulée was on Kochtopf's approved pudding list, so crème brulée it would be. Somehow it's one of those things I've never made before, even though it seems dead simple. Maybe because it's I'm not utterly crazy about it - to me, there seems to be something not quite right about a fridge-cold dessert with a piping hot crust on top - or maybe it's because I had a few bad versions in the past, one of which made me really sick.

Anyways, I decided it was high time to put my little blowtorch to good use, finally use that lavender I still had lying around, and give crème brulée a go. The recipe I used was a Claudia Fleming one and very easy to make: basically a custard, which is then baked in the oven in a water bath covered with pierced aluminium foil. I was a bit nervous about the bain-marie - all the other times I tried similar things were complete disasters; whatever I put in there would completely boil over. And this time was no different. Luckily the cremes were not completely ruined and still salvageable. And they still tasted quite nice, so not all was lost. I was stumped though, and in need of professional advice. And who better to turn to then the one and only Tartelette! Who, very kindly, answered my questions and suddenly things seemed very clear.

Turns out that my crème brulée wasn't exactly crème brulée, more like a set custard with a layer of sugar over the top. See, you're not supposed to thicken the custard on the stove, which I did - you just pour the hot cream over the beaten egg yolks with sugar, let that mixture cool, skim off the foam on top and bake au-bain-marie. The water bath distributes the heat evenly and gently to the custard so that the eggs don't curdle. It is also a bit more forgiving if you let them cook a little bit longer than necessary. Tartelette top tip number one: 'check for that tiny giggle in the middle and remove them before they are completely done'.

Then there was that issue of my custards 'boiling over'. Enter Tartelette top tip number two: 'I am thinking the steam and heat created by the foil makes the cremes boil over. Also if you whisk your eggs too vigourously they will have a tendency to foam up a lot and create a soufflé motion.' and whisk vigourously I sure did. Funny how I almost never succeed in turning out a good soufflé, except when I'm trying to make a crème brulée.

And to finish her tutorial, Helen threw in a basic crème brulée recipe for free! Thanks so much for your advice, Helen. It is much appreciated and I will certainly give it one more try before I throw in the towel. If only because S would like to have another go playing around with that blow torch...

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

design dessert

Last weekend I finally got around to doing something with the sweet potatoes I'd had lying around for way too long - I don't use sweet potatoes all that often and all the lovely Thanksgiving posts I've been reading everywhere made me itch to try something new. I browsed through my cookbooks, thought about adapting and combining different recipes and was determined not to get myself into a catch-22 situation, where I end up making nothing at all because I'm unable to choose from all the possible dishes.

Also, I wanted to challenge myself a bit: I have a few cookbooks with complex dessert recipes, consisting of several components and looking oh so beautiful. Which I never get around to making, exactly because they're so complex. Not difficult - just a lot of work. Invariably, you need a gazillion different ingredients for all the parts, so it takes half a day doing the preliminary grocery shopping, another half day to make everything and when you're finished, the kitchen looks like a battlefield. And then, of course, just when you sigh and think 'that was ok', you take a last look at the recipe and you find that, under 'assembly' or 'presentation', a few more components and some complicated garnishes are thrown in for good measure.

So I often end up making just one component, rather than the whole dessert. Which tastes nice and looks fine, but not spectacular. And sometimes, you know, a girl just wants to show off and make something that looks as if it came out of a restaurant kitchen. This girl does anyway.

And so here it is, my first show-off (but no sweat) dessert: sweet potato and white chocolate flan on a gingersnap crust, sweet potato gnocchi and coconut custard, all flavoured with sweet massala spices. Very easy to make, because it doesn't use a million different ingredients, and looks like a million dollars. Just one warning: pretend you don't know how much butter goes into the whole thing.

Also, because the flan squares tasted rather nice all by themselves and because - in my mind anyway - the sweet potato thing has a decidedly American feel to it (plus they are not too showy by themselves and won't upstage a brand new house) I'm taking them to Peabody's housewarming party.

sweet potato flan squares

inspired by D & C Duby's Wild Sweets

100g roasted and mashed sweet potatoes
100g crushed gingersnaps (by all means, make them yourself if you want, but store-bought will do just fine)
195g + 25g butter
130g white chocolate
3 eggs
80 caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean extract
1 tsp sweet massala spices

line a baking tin (I used a 20 cm square one) with baking paper, making sure it the sides of the tin are covered as well. Melt 25g butter, mix with the crushed gingersnaps and spread evenly on the bottom of the tin. Melt butter with chocolate (I used the microwave, in 30 second bursts). Combine sweet potatoes with eggs, sugar, vanilla and massala, then fold in the chocolate mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Pour mixture over gingersnap base and bake in oven (150˚C) for 30 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to use.

sweet potato gnocchi
inspired by Hidemi Sugino The Dessert Book

125g roasted and mashed sweet potatoes
50g plain flour
1/3 whole egg
1 tbsp coconut milk
caster sugar with pinch of sweet massala spices

combine all ingredients in mixing bowl until incorporated. Cover bowl and leave to rest in fridge for at least one hour. Flour work surface and roll dough into a log, about 1 inch diametre. Cut into half inch cubes and cook in boiling water (they are ready when they float). Coat in massala sugar mix.

coconut custard
adapted from here

1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 tbsp cornstarch
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tsp sweet massala spices
1/6 cup sugar

Combine 1/4 cup coconut milk and cornstarch in a bowl and blend until smooth. Whisk in yolks, beating until smooth. Combine rest of coconut milk, vanilla, massala and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour into jug and cool.

To assemble: dust flan squares with icing sugar, add a few gnocchi and a drizzle of custard.

Monday, 26 November 2007

potato bread

Another month has flown past, which means it's time for another Daring Bakers' challenge. This month, Tanna of My Kitchen In Half Cups chose potato bread - you'll find the recipe on her blog. As usual, I left it to the last minute to start baking, but this weekend was the only weekend this month I actually spent in my own home. One weekend I had to work, another weekend there was an interesting symposium, and last weekend S and I were in Antwerp, showing 'our' city to two friends, doing touristy things, and of course sampling lots of chocolate and beer. Such a hard job, playing tour guide!

When I told S I'd be making potato bread, he went 'seriously, potato bread? Why? Not so sure about that'. But by the time I switched off the oven and had him taste one of the rolls, he was singing an entirely different tune. And then... I told him he couldn't eat any more of it until the next day, because I wanted to take a decent daylight photograph. Which I couldn't take at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, because it gets dark ridiculously early these days (yes, I will probably keep complaining about this until, oh, April or so). We couldn't resist though, which is why the focaccia (brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, black pepper and rosemary from my garden) is mysteriously absent in the pics. We ate it all while watching Star Trek - it didn't survive Captain Picard's mission of the day and didn't live to see real daylight.

I often bake bread at weekends - it's just so much better than the stuff you can buy here, at least you know what goes in it, and you won't get a heart attack or break your tongue when trying to pronounce all the ingredients in pre-packed breads. I'd never tried potato bread though. And one thing I can now say: when you make potato bread, make sure you have someone at hand to flour the work surface and scrape the dough together because, boy, is this a sticky bugger!

This month I've been a good daring baker and stuck to the recipe. Well, almost stuck to the recipe, but no major cheating this time. I added the butter to the mashed potatoes instead of later on, because I didn't think I'd get the butter to distribute evenly otherwise. And I skipped the second rise for half of the bread: I forgot to buy fresh yeast, so had to make do with the dried, instant, fast-action stuff, which only needs to rise once (you knead your dough, shape it, let it rise and then put it straight in the oven). In the past, I have tried two rises with this yeast, but without success: after the first rise and re-kneading the dough it wouldn't rise again, resulting in a rather dense and heavy bread. There was plenty of dough to go around though, so I put half in a rectangular bread tin and plonked that in the oven straight after the first rise. The other half I reworked into smaller bread thingies and left for a second rise, ready to put in the oven after my first bread came out. And, this time, both methods worked equally fine.

Like I said, the dough is incredibly sticky - after the 5 cups of flour specified in the recipe, the dough is nowhere near dough-y enough to turn it out onto a floured work surface. But, following the instructions to a t, that's exactly what I did (I am a bit blonde sometimes). and that's also when having an S on stand-by came in incredibly handy. He kept on adding flour until my blob became a workable, silky smooth, elastic dough, out of which I got a loaf, a piece of focaccia and some rolls I sprinkled with sesame seeds, and cumin seeds.

Even if I say so myself, this was one of the best breads I've ever baked, and S wholeheartedly agreed. The taste took him right back to his childhood, because it tasted exactly like the 'ovenkoeken' he would eat at a local harvest festival. I will certainly bake this again - but next time I might try it the other way around. Usually when I bake bread I start with flour and add a liquid gradually, however this recipe started with 'potato water' to which flour is added - rather strange and more difficult I think. But the end result was more than worth it.

random pic of dead stuff in my garden

Check out all the other Daring Bakers' potato breads here.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

sweets for Diwali

Diwali was actually celebrated on the 9th of November this year so I’m an entire week late, but I’m sure Ganesha’s appetite for sweets is the same all year around. And as for Lakshmi (even though she’s a tough cookie – my friend’s words, not mine), surely my rice pudding is sweet enough to sway her.

Diwali, the festival of lights, is celebrated big in the area where I live, with lots of fireworks. My friends who celebrate it make sure their house is spic ‘n span clean from top to bottom, in anticipation of Ganesha and Lakshmi’s visit. These Hindu deities bestow wealth, success and happiness, but only upon clean households. In addition to all the cleaning, there are also sweets. Lots of them.

Now why would I be celebrating Diwali - blonde Belgians and Indian festivals, surely that’s a strange mix? Well, blame my friend S, a crazy (in a lovely way crazy) Mauritian girl, from Indian descent. She not only decided that I was going to be half Indian, but also introduced me to Bollywood music and films, textiles, henna, and of course Indian sweets. Which, with all their spices, are absolutely perfect for this time of year. And after restraining myself with the custard last week, I was itching to make something else with a mix of heart-warming spices.

Many moons ago I made gajjar ka halwa (carrot halwa) – an extremely sweet dessert with grated carrots and lots of cream, butter and milk – which was delicious but took me an entire afternoon to make, and I just didn’t have that much time on my hands. Ras malai is my absolute favourite – it’s a sort of milk curd ball in sweetened milk with pistachios and rose water – but I have absolutely no idea how to make that myself. And so I thought I’d give my gran’s rice pudding a go.

A bit nerve-racking, considering her rice pudding is heaven on a plate (and that’s a lot to live up to!), and also a bit of a challenge, with the vague instructions she gave me. It turns out her vague instructions are absolutely spot on though, there’s no way to make them any clearer. Gran only adds saffron to her rice pudding, but I added a bunch of spices. Other than that, I stuck to her ‘recipe’. And the result? A very Flemish dessert, with an Indian twist.

1 cup of rice (I used Arborio, but any rice that is suitable for risotto will do)
a knob of butter
full fat milk (about 1 litre)
a squeeze of honey
1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract
half a stick of cinnamon
a pinch of saffron
1 star anise
5 cloves
3 cardamom pods
a pinch of nutmeg

Melt some butter in a saucepan, add rice to pan and make sure it is coated with butter. Add enough milk to cover rice and add all the spices. Keep on stirring and adding milk (I added a tiny squeeze of honey halfway through) until the rice is soft, about 45 minutes.

It’s basically like making a risotto, so it takes some dedication, but the results are more than worth it. The spices I listed are the quantities I used, but you can of course adapt according to preference (S tasted and said it was ok, but he thought the star anise was too overwhelming), add some cream instead of only milk, and sweeten it as much or as little as you like.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

vanilla custard

After reading all the comments on my last post (the cheating-custard one) saying how easy and quick the custard was to make from scratch and how delicious it was, and a ticking-off from the one and only Tartelette, I shamed myself into making the custard part of the Bostini Cream Pie Daring Baker challenge. Which, indeed, took about fifteen minutes or so to make, was incredibly easy, didn't curdle at all, thickened within a minute and was utterly delicious.

I was of course tempted to add a twist to it - I was thinking cinnamon, cardamom and maybe star anise - but I know that S loves his custard good ole' plain vanilla. And since he had volunteered to make a lovely Sunday roast (and also because I love him and like to make him happy), I decided to stick to vanilla. When the custard had thickened I called S over to the kitchen and said 'look what I made'. His eyes lit up and I didn't have to ask him twice if he wanted to scrape every last bit of the custard out of the pan and lick the whisk.

Luckily I had started early enough in the day so that I could still get a decent daylight picture of my custards - unlike the nuclear looking pics in my last post. I probably should have done something fancy with the custard, saucing it over a decadent chocolate cake or something to that effect, but that would mean I'd have to bake a chocolate cake as well, and by the time that would be ready it would be dark, resulting in more fluorescent looking food. Plus there is something quite comforting about vanilla custard all by itself and so, after the pics, S and I dug straight in.

S of course loved it but I needed a lie-down afterwards, it was so heavy. Couldn't move for half an hour. Even S had to agree that, yummy though it was, it was a bit too creamy to eat by itself - next time I might substitute all that cream with milk. It would have made a perfect sauce for a Bostini Cream Pie though.

adapted from Alpineberry

1/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoons cornstarch
3egg yolks, beaten
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1/6 cup sugar

Combine milk and cornstarch in a bowl and blend until smooth. Whisk in and yolks, beating until smooth. Combine cream, vanilla and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour into cups and refrigerate to chill. Delicious with chocolate sprinkles.

p.s. Baking Soda is only forgiving me for cheating with custard if I send her over some of that Japanese dinner our friends made us. You'll have to make do with a virtual treat, Baking Soda, I hope that's enough. And for good measure, I'll throw in a few pics of our lovely weekend in the country.

sushi rice with salmon flakes, green beans and egg ribbon;
stew with minced meat, potatoes, onions, carrots and okra, with pickles;
French beans with black sesame

countryside - you know, a place outside the M25, with real trees and fresh air

Monday, 29 October 2007

Daring (cheating, last-minute) Baker

It’s amazing how time flies, especially when you spend one weekend at a friends’ cottage in the countryside (doing nothing all weekend but eating, sleeping, and walking the dog) and another weekend hosting friends who take over your kitchen to cook you a lovely, amazing and delicious Japanese meal. Such a hard life, I know.

After waving goodbye to our Japanese friends on Sunday morning (S duly made crepes for breakfast, the third weekend in a row), I realised I had only the rest of the day left to finish this month’s Daring Bakers challenge, hosted by Mary of Alpine Berry: bostini cream pie, which consists of vanilla custard, orange chiffon cake, and melted chocolate.

Having already missed last month’s challenge, I didn’t want to miss this month’s again, even though work has been insanely busy, my weekends filled with, you know, other things, and, last but not least, the fact I simply don’t like chocolate and orange combined. But time was running out, so prepare for a bit of cheating along the way.

The chiffon cake was an absolute doddle to make and came together in no time at all - I think it took the whole of 10 minutes to throw all the ingredients together. I halved the quantities, used leftover egg whites I had frozen a while ago, and used orange juice from a carton. Oh, and I left out the zest because I don’t exactly like zest of anything either. That’s my first bit of cheating, but it will get worse. Consider yourself warned. I used my new mini-brioche moulds and a muffin tin, and the resulting cakes were nicely fluffy, airy and moist. They did shrink and change shape after cooling tough, which I also experienced when I made the infamous strawberry mirror cake for the DB July challenge. I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan of chiffon cake, but I can see how it might work in a ‘supporting role’, to bring together other components of a dessert. Chiffon cake by itself always seems to lack something to me, I find it just too sweet and bland. Having said that, the orange juice added a subtle bit of tang to it, which made it taste slightly more interesting.

Warning: major cheating coming up. I didn’t have that much time left to finish and photograph the dessert – now that the clocks have gone back an hour, it starts getting dark ridiculously early in the afternoon, which means less time to make decent photographs. I could have got up early this morning to make some pics of course, but I know myself too well to know that wasn’t going to happen. So I may, ahem, have made custard from a packet. Powder from the packet, milk, vanilla sugar, and some vanilla bean paste added to it, a bit of stirring et voilà, the quick ‘n easy cheat’s way to custard. But at least I’m being honest about it - my parents brought me up well that way, teaching me not to lie.

The chocolate and butter I melted together in a soup bowl in the microwave, which took another entire minute, and I dipped my little chiffon cakes in it to give them a chocolate coating.

After a few quick piccies I found a willing guinea pig in S - who had been hovering around the kitchen, his spoon at the ready, ever since he saw the custard. He loved it (but he loves everything that comes drenched in custard) until I mentioned that there was orange in the cake, and then he didn’t like it as much any more. I knew I wouldn’t like it, but I didn’t dislike it as much as I thought I would. The orange was rather subtle; the combination of soft fluffy cake with custard and chocolate makes for a very comforting dessert; the cake by itself tasted ok; I’ll have to fight S for the rest of the custard; and it was incredibly easy to make and present, which makes it perfect to show off at dinner parties. It’s just not very ‘me’, this dessert. But if you like chocolate and orange combined, by all means, give it a go.

You can check out all the other Daring Bakers’ efforts here.

Monday, 15 October 2007

weekend breakfast crepes

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m not a morning person. Never have been and never will be. Mind you, I’m not moody or grumpy in the morning, it’s just that in between my stumbling out of bed and actually being awake, a fair amount of time can pass. I don’t mind people talking to me, so long as they don’t expect coherent replies. Or replies at all, for that matter. As my mum knows all too well.

S, on the other hand, opens his eyes and is wide awake, ready to start the day. Which makes me a very lucky woman, because when I get up at weekends, breakfast is always ready. I even get to choose what I’d like for breakfast: bacon & eggs, French toast, or crepes. And yesterday I was the lucky recipient of the latter.

When I was growing up, crepes were a rare occurrence and a real treat. Mum would bake them once in a blue moon – for my birthday, or when my girlfriends came over for play dates. Which is why, even though I can eat crepes every weekend now if I like (if I ask nicely), it still feels like Easter, Sinterklaas, birthdays and Christmas all rolled into one!

The crepes from my childhood were made with a ready-made mix. But making them from scratch isn’t all that much more work. And of course they taste a million times better. S likes his with sugar, I like mine with syrup (a kind of molasses, treacle-like thing that I stock up on every time I’m in Belgium). Either way, they are utterly delicious and a wonderfully indulgent weekend breakfast. Did I mention how lucky I am?

S's crepe recipe
200g self-raising flour
30g caster sugar (half of which vanilla sugar)
500ml milk
2-4 eggs (to taste)

Mix everything together and pass batter through sieve to make sure there are no lumps. Butter or oil pan (make sure pan is hot) and add one ladle-full of batter. Swirl batter around into crepe shape. When baked on one side, flip and bake other side. Repeat and then eat.

Sunday, 7 October 2007


Pressies! A whole bunch of cook books and other goodies.

I woke up one morning and suddenly realised it’s October already. There was also this nagging thought in the back of my head - something to do with chocolate. And vanilla. And then it dawned on me. My little blog! So woefully neglected this past month! Oops.

Well, I guess that’s what happens when one spends weekends in Belgium visiting family (and stocking up on chocolate), frantically doing DIY preparing one’s house for a visit of said family, attending talks by certain food bloggers, and organising a big birthday party for oneself (my thirtieth, but shhh, don’t tell anyone).

Which didn’t leave much time at all for kitchen experiments. Or for the Daring Bakers September challenge, which completely passed me by. Check out all the other DBs cinnamon and sticky bun rolls here.

On the plus side, I now have beautifully oiled ‘dark Jacobean oak’ stained floors, which - I have already discovered - provide a perfect backdrop for food pics; the family (who all came over from Belgium especially for the birthday party) were suitably impressed with our house renovations and it was wonderful having them all here to celebrate with me; and, throwing yourself a birthday party of course means getting lots of presents, some of which will make appearances on vanille & chocolat in the not too distant future...

Thursday, 13 September 2007

my very first meme

Hendria from Canadian Baker Too tagged me for a fun little meme. I’ve never been tagged before, so I’m ever so slightly excited about this. Even though I haven’t got the slightest idea how ‘meme’ is even pronounced. Or who invents these things. Maybe a little fairy who lives inside the internet.

The rules for this one are as follows: list one fact, word or tidbit that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of your first or middle name. Blog about this. Then choose one person for each letter of your name to tag.

Tis good I have a short name, it took me long enough to come up with four words. Since this is a foodblog, and also because I’m not ready to share my deepest and darkest secrets with the entire internet, I kept everything food related. Here goes.

innovative - I love making and baking things that tickle my imagination and pair unusual ingredients, or use techniques I’ve never heard of. Wild Sweets for example, full of exciting and unusual desserts, is one book I often browse. Having said that, I don’t often bake from it, as every finished dessert requires some serious commitment and would undoubtedly take me three days to make. Also, I do draw the line at molecular gastronomy. Although I wouldn’t mind experimenting with a syphon, only I don’t have one. And I would love to browse through the cookbooks of El Bulli, only they are prohibitively expensive.

natural - I prefer my food all natural, without any additives, colourants, flavour enhancers, genetically modified things, reconstituted whatever or the like. You’ll never ever catch me eating a ready-meal and I’m one of those annoying people you can see at the supermarket reading the list of ingredients on the label, putting things back if I don’t like what I read. This ‘rule’ of mine is very flexible though, I happily ignore the ingredient list on Nutella. Or wasabi snowpeas. Or any other terribly unhealthy thing I happen to be fond of.

new - I’m an adventurous cook and an adventurous eater, I simply love trying out foods I haven’t tried before. Unlike S, who usually wrinkles his nose when I bombard him with new recipes I want to try. He is happiest with simple ‘Vlaamse boerenkost’ (Flemish peasant fare). Maybe this tendency of mine developed as a reaction against my parents’ cooking - nothing wrong with their cooking, I was fed very well when growing up, just not very imaginative and always the same things.

easy - despite loving spending hours in the kitchen experimenting, I love it when I find a recipe that’s easy peasy but incredibly yummy. There is a chocolate fudge pie I regularly make (note to self: must blog about this soon) which takes the whole of 15 minutes to throw together, but it never fails to impress.

And there you go. Four things about me - the juicy secrets will remain secret for now. But maybe one of the following four people would like to share theirs:

Bake My Day
Feeding My Enthusiasms
Food Lover’s Journey
Rose’s Recipes

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

milk chocolate and caramel tart – the Daring Bakers’ August challenge

From the moment I read the recipe Veronica and Patricia chose for this month’s DB challenge, I knew that this tart and I would make very good friends. Because, what’s not to like: chocolate hazelnut crust! Caramel! Chocolate cream! Not a drop of food colouring or a grain of gelatine in sight, just the bare minimum of no-nonsense instructions, and a recipe which didn’t generate leftovers enough to feed a small army. Apart from the crust that is, which made enough for three tarts, but the recipe duly mentions that and anyways it would be so easy to halve quantities for the crust recipe so it doesn’t count. Not that I halved the quantities, I just froze the leftovers so I can use them again in a few weeks or so. I originally planned to bake this tart when my family came to visit, but I was so frantically cleaning prior to their arrival I didn’t have enough time left to bake something as well. My parents, aunt and cousin didn’t get to sample this heavenly tart, but S’s and my work colleagues did. And they liked it. A lot.
Now, I may have purposefully ‘forgotten’ (ahem) to put cinnamon in the crust, but only because other Daring Bakers found it overwhelming and distracting from the chocolate. Which, in my book, is never a good thing. Nothing should ever distract from chocolate. Ever. I do like cinnamon, but I wasn’t convinced it would work in this tart and I was determined to love this tart (pease don’t take away my DB badge, pretty please!). I also had to substitute the ground hazelnuts with almonds, as I couldn’t find hazelnuts of the ground variety anywhere - I even went to the new ginormous Wholefoods in Kensington High Street. Also I don’t own any snazzy devices that could grind hazelnuts for me and I didn’t think my little hand held mixer would be up to this job. So almonds it was. I made the crust entirely without the aid of any electric appliances, partly because the butter was very soft anyway and partly because I made it at 11pm at night and didn’t want to wake the neighbours. The next day I rolled it quite thinly, as other DBs had experienced the crust rising exponentially. Just to make sure I stabbed it furiously with a fork and poured all my baking beans on top of it as well. I used a square, loose-bottomed tin and had no problems whatsoever rolling the dough over the square, unlike some other DBs who ended up with a brittle greasy dough, that needed to be patched onto the baking tin.
Making the caramel turned out to be really easy as well. I have heard quite a few horror stories involving caramel (massive splashing and horrible burns on forearms), so I was perhaps a bit too careful, but it all worked out nicely. Melting sugar I had done before, so I wasn’t afraid of that, but I made sure the heat was very low nonetheless. Of course the sugar seized up when I added the cream, but I continued to stir it over a low heat and it all came together nicely. I found it needed a bit longer in the oven than the suggested 15 minutes – after 15 minutes the edges had set but the centre was still liquid. Oh, and because I didn’t sculpt any edges on my crust and the crust shrank ever so slightly away from the edges of the tin during baking, the caramel of course dripped through the tin and onto the bottom of my oven, causing a terrible burnt smell which made me panic I had completely messed it up. But luckily I hadn’t, the caramel set beautifully and all I had left to do was whip up a chocolate mousse.

For the chocolate mousse, which was incredibly easy to make (and which I actually prefer to the one made with egg whites), I used a brand of fairtrade chocolate I only recently discovered: Divine milk chocolate with coffee. Since it was milk chocolate, and also since in my world chocolate, nuts and coffee are like a holy trinity, I figured I would not be breaking any DB rules. Plus I just knew this chocolate would be perfect for my tart.

Once the entire tart was finished, set and refrigerated, I cut it into rectangular individual servings and decorated the top with a single hazelnut and a shard of vanilla salt. Originally I had wanted to cover the hazelnuts in edible gold leaf, but I couldn’t find any in the shops and didn’t have enough time to order it online. But I was determined to have an elegant pastry, and even though the hazelnut was pretty enough by itself, the vanilla salt added a little extra oomph to the tart. Nut and salt got along wonderfully with each other and they lived happily ever after. No, not really, because the tart was a huge hit with everyone who tasted it and it didn’t survive very long at all. But it made all the people who ate it happy. And of course that’s the sole purpose of tarts in life.
Check out all the other Daring Bakers’ efforts here and the recipe here.

Monday, 27 August 2007

SHF#34 going local

Passionate Cook Johanna chose local or regional specialities as the theme for this month’s Sugar High Friday. Which meant I could go a few different ways with this one - British, Asian or Belgian.

For the past six years I’ve been calling London my home, so I could opt for something quintessentially English - trifle, Eton mess, spotted dick, ... None of these really rock my boat though. Not to mention the fact that I haven’t got a clue what spotted dick might be. Or, since the area in East London where I live resembles Bombay (especially on a sunny Saturday afternoon), an Indian sweet perhaps? I absolutely love ras malai but wouldn’t know how to make it myself. Halwa I also like - I once made carrot halwa, which was absolutely delicious but took me about half a day to make. And seeing as I would be working my way through mountains of laundry in addition to adhering to the most clichéd cliche of Englishness, ie spending the bank holiday weekend doing DIY, I thought I’d better opt for something quick and easy.

Which left me with something Belgian. Most of the sweets I recall from my childhood were store bought, or made from a packet. However, one of the few things I do remember making regularly in my parents’ kitchen (apart from pound cake), is a simple chocolate mousse. I don’t even like it that much, but it is an absolute doddle to make and S loves it. And since as he has had to ‘endure’ lots of non-chocolate-and-vanilla kind of desserts lately, I thought I’d humour him and make a simple chocolate mousse.

quantities needed per person

25g chocolate
1 egg white
1 tbsp icing sugar

Whip egg whites until stiff, adding icing sugar gradually. Melt chocolate and carefully fold into egg whites. Pour into ramekins and refrigerate until firm.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

matcha cookies

Still trying to get through that humongous pile of laundry, but I couldn’t resist continuing my Japanese love affair and baking these bright green matcha cookies. I first saw them on Mae’s website; Fanny also made them and so did a whole bunch of other people. And all those people are definitely on to something, those cookies really are amazing – crumbly, buttery and very matcha-y.

Other than the fact these cookies are totally delicious and you simply must make them with the leftover matcha from when I urged you to make matcha ice cream (which remains my favourite, the cookies come in a close second), I’m afraid I don’t have a personal or interesting or funny story about these cookies. Those work issues are still dragging me down, I haven’t exactly been the most cheery person to be around these last couple of weeks, and I'm very guilty of seriously neglecting my blog. But if anything is going to cheer you up, it will be these scrumptious little matcha sweets!

Kelli from Lovescool, who makes these cookies for a living – lucky girl! – kindly provided the recipe on her website. She’s in the process of opening a shop in New York, which should be open next time I go there, and visiting that shop will be the very first thing I do.

Friday, 17 August 2007

afternoon tea

It seems I’ve been neglecting my little blog a bit the last few weeks – mainly because some work issues that are dragging me down, a ginormous pile of laundry that I seem unable to get rid of, and the never-ending DIY. On the bright side, S and I have found the perfect colour wood stain for our floors and a nice finishing oil that doesn’t lift the stain out of the wood and turns the colour into something really nasty.

Also, last weekend, my parents, auntie and cousin were visiting, which meant S and I got to play London tour guide for a few days. We joined the hordes of tourists for a look inside Buckingham Palace, went on the London Eye and had a very posh afternoon tea at Brown's hotel. Which was every bit as good as I remembered it from the previous times.

As we were so busy doing touristy things and catching up, our kitchen didn't see much action, but I’ve got a few sweet things lined up for the next few weeks. If I ever get all that laundry done, that is.

Friday, 3 August 2007

shamelessly plugging a friend

A friend of mine and wonderful artist, Freddy de Vierman, is exhibiting in the Mary Place Gallery (12 Mary Place, Paddington, 2021 NSW) in Sydney until this Sunday, 5 August. If you live in Sydney, like the look of his work and have spare time this weekend, please go see his show - and, while you're there, buy his work as well :-).

Monday, 30 July 2007


translated in English: the Daring Bakers’ July challenge - strawberry mirror cake

A few months ago, I read something about a group of Daring Bakers, and then forgot about it again. But a month later, I found more Daring Baker stuff popping up on various blogs. And another month later, yet more of the same. By the time Martha’s darkest chocolate crepe cake came around, I found myself reading all the DB entries, which made for some very amusing reading. After that, I found myself keeping an eye on the DB blogroll and eagerly anticipating what they would make the next month. The Gateau St Honoré sounded rather scary, what with the puff pastry and pate à choux and all, but I thought it would be a nice challenge and encourage me to make things outside my comfort zone, so I asked them if they would have me (pretty please) and luckily enough, they had a little place for me available.

And so, this month, I prepared for my first challenge: strawberry mirror cake, chosen by Peabody's culinary concoctions. I printed the recipe, read it again and again and again and planned when to make the whole thing. It would be a challenge for me to follow the recipe to the letter (that’s a DB rule) but I was looking forward to trying something I’d never made before. Normally, when I make an American recipe, the first thing I do is reduce the sugar, as I usually find American recipes too sweet for me. Also I don’t really liked the idea of using red food colouring (I like my food all natural) and I can’t say I’m fond of gelatin - I’ve only used it a few times in the past, usually with disastrous results, and I don’t particularly like the way texture feels in my mouth. Plus I once did an evening course in conservation and restoration of paintings, where we would often use animal glue, which smells exactly the same as gelatin. But, as a true Daring Baker, I would fearlessly give it a go.

I have to admit though, I’m not that much of a cake eater, never have been and never will be - at birthdays and other occasions I always skip the cake part. Making and assembling the whole thing took ages and was a lot of bother (partly because I didn’t have all the required equipment), and I wasn’t really impressed when I tasted it (but that’s because I’m not a cake eater). It must have been good though, because S took the finished cake to work and his colleagues absolutely loved it.

To me, this cake ended up being one of those things that sound good on paper, but somehow don’t work. Like clothes in a shop that look fabulous on the hanger, but are not a good fit when you try them on. But I am glad I did try this recipe on; at least now I know it’s not a good fit for me. I would try something similar again, maybe with a pound cake or a less sweet sponge and a mousse that doesn’t need gelatin. The mirror bit I think is something would look quite pretty on any cake, so I will try that again as well.

Here’s how my weekend of cake making went down.

Friday night I made the sponge - I don’t have a jelly roll pan, so I used a 24cm round spring form and baked two separate sponges. The first one was a disaster, which I blame on my oven. I’m sure that in new and well-behaved ovens, baking a sponge for 7 minutes at 230˚C works just fine, but in my oven that resulted in a burnt top and liquid centre. Attempt number two, baked for 20 minutes at 150˚C was somewhat more successful, but the bottom of the sponge remained rather sticky. I confess I did substitute the vanilla essence with vanilla bean paste, because I had a whole bottle of the latter and none of the former. Hope that doesn’t mean I broke the rules.

Saturday I went grocery shopping for eggs, strawberries, sugar and cream. Being half space out on antibiotics must have messed up my intellectual capacities (such as adding up and reading) though, because I ended up buying way too many strawberries. And instead of 1 1/2 cup’s worth of cream, I bought 1 1/2 pints worth of cream. Also I was feeling quite sick, so I didn’t get around to making the cake that day.

Sunday I was feeling a bit better, so I started the day full of hope and good intentions to get the whole cake together. First thing was making a new sponge, as the one I’d made on Friday had gone stale. The strawberry juice and Bavarian cream were fairly easy to make, only I misread the recipe (damn those antibiotics) and found out afterwards I hadn’t added enough gelatine to the Bavarian cream. And I only have a tiny sieve with fine mesh, so it took me ages to strain the strawberry purée, so now a proper-sized is very high up on my wishlist. The red food colouring did make the Bavarian cream a bit more pink rather than the original - but natural! - muddied pink colour. Around 7pm I was quite fed up but finally ready to assemble the cake. I used an 18cm round spring form (I didn’t buy any new equipment for this recipe, but just used the things I already have), with a cardboard circle covered in aluminium foil at the bottom (very handy tip!) and a ‘collar’ of baking paper all around. I thought I had some vanilla vodka left, but I didn’t, so I didn’t put any liqueur in the soaking syrup at all. The four layers of the cake already came higher than the spring form - luckily I had added a collar to it.

Monday I finally added the mirror (I didn’t add any food colouring to it, because I thought it had an all natural beautiful intense red colour already). By then I was so fed up with it all, I couldn’t be bothered to do something about the bubbles in the mirror. Nor did I feel like adding any decoration to the cake at all. I snapped a few quick piccies (maybe I should have cut the top of my sponge, because the browned top made a dark line in my cake), ate a piece and was not impressed.

Tuesday I made S take the whole shebang into work and told him I didn’t want to see a single crumb of it ever again. And I threw the recipe printout in my paper recycling bin, feeling strangely satisfied while doing that.

Check out the other Daring Bakers' cakes here.

Sunday, 29 July 2007


I was going to skip this month’s Tropical Paradise Sugar High Friday, organised by Mary of Alpine Berry, not only because it’s been a busy month for me, but also because I didn’t have any inspiration for something tropical. The word tropical speaks to me of luscious and juicy fruits, white sandy beaches, gorgeous and lazy sunny days, refreshing dips in the ocean, exotic birds and the like. Last month, I really tried very hard to get into a summer mood, with my coconut and passionfruit sorbets, but it’s simply not working. Must be the continuing total and utter lack of summer here in the UK. I find myself craving comfort winter food, such as soup and mash, rather than ice creams and sorbets. So I decided to skip SHF this time.

But then a few things happened simultaneously. Mary extended the deadline by a week (I hope your back gets better soon, Mary); due to some serious miscalculation on my part, I had 2 punnets of strawberries left from another project; there was an overripe mango in my fruit basket that I didn’t know what to do with; and I had a few unexpected days at home - not sick enough to lay in bed all day, and feeling just about good enough to potter around in the kitchen a bit.

So I decided to try my hand at jam making. Something I’d never done before, but it was the only thing I could think of to use up all the fruit before it went really bad. I had a look at a few different recipes and kind of made it up as I went along. I added vanilla, star anise and black peppercorns to the strawberries and mango, and I also used pectin, just to make sure my jam would set. I also used way too much sugar (same amount as the fruit), because my jam turned out to be really sweet. Equal amounts of sugar and fruit is a fairly standard jam thing though, so maybe it’s just my personal preference, or maybe the mango was super sweet. I admit, strawberry jam is not very tropical, but the addition of mango and star anise makes it little bit more so - just good enough for a tropical SHF, methinks.

Oh, and the pV=nRT? That’s the reason a vacuum is created in the jam jars - something scientific with pressure and volume, particles and temperature. Just ask S. Me, I’m convinced it’s magic.


500g strawberries
250g mango
750g sugar
2tbsp lemon juice
1tbsp vanilla bean paste
3 star anise
7 black pepper corns
pectin (use as per manufacturer’s instructions)

clean and hull strawberries; peel and cube mango. Put in large pot with sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, anise and pepper. Bring to boil and simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes. Take off heat, stir in pectin and put in sterilised jam jars (I reused Bonne Maman jars).