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Daring Bakers: Chocolate Pavlova

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Local fruit dress up this pavlova
I was actually quite surprise that the chocolate meringue discs I made for this three-tier pavlova turned out well and remained crisp even after a day in a large plastic box. I was afraid, this being a humidity-sensitive confection and all, that they would weep, bead and soften as most of my meringue attempts are prone to do. But  the Gods of the Weather heard my plea and I am grateful.

The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by François Payard.

You can get the full recipe here.

I've only been a DB member for a little while so I don't understand some of the requirements. I know we're allowed to substitute or change the recipe if any of the ingredients are unavailable or expensive but even though there are mandatory items where some or all of the components of a dish must be made according to the recipes provided, I have noticed that there are Daring Bakers in a particular challenge who don't always adhere to this ruling.

Well, it's not a competition, so there's nothing illegal about it. This time ­­– and it's only my third challenge ­­– I am taking some liberties. First of all, Mascarpone and heavy cream, used in the filling, are expensive items over here and the recipe calls for quite a lot of both ingredients. In addition, I think that pavlovas don't require such a rich filling since they're sweet on their own. So I decided to make it in three layers, fill it with coffee custard (recipe below), dust the top with cocoa powder and serve it with local fruit. 

Layers of crunch with a gooey centre
It's not the prettiest thing ­­– check out what other Daring Bakers have done; there's some fantastic stuff there! ­­– and I blame that on my slicing, but paired with mango, papaya and dragon fruit, it tasted really good. (I also got some custard apple, which I included in the picture, but with all the seeds, it is a fruit to eat on its own.)

This is a dessert that doesn't keep well, so fill it and eat it. I thought I could take the pavlova minus the one slice to work the next day for some colleagues, but it had turned to mush when I took it out of the fridge!

2 tablespoons custard powder
2 tablespoons caster sugar
250ml milk
1 tablespoon instant coffee dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
  • Combine custard powder and sugar in a small saucepan over low heat. Gradually stir in milk and cook, using a wooden spoon to stir, for 2 minutes or until the mixture thickens. Stir in coffee mixture. Transfer to a large heatproof bowl. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill. Stir custard until smooth before using.

Bread bulletin: Lye(!) on rye

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Knotty and nice... but needs more salt
After successfully making a six-strand braid and using bamboo charcoal in a single attempt, my baking juices are flowing again, if you'll pardon the rather crude imagery. If my name was Stella, that movie about how she got her groove back would have been about me.

Felicity Cloake, quoting Margaret Costa, says it all too well in her post in the Guardian's Word of Mouth blog:
Baking your own bread is apparently a dangerous pastime. "Beware of making that first loaf," cautions the late, great cookery writer, Margaret Costa. "Unless you are quite exceptionally lucky in your baker, and/or have a very easy-going family, you will find it difficult to go back to shop bread again."
For a while there, I had allowed my job to get in the way of living and being so tired every day, I actually stooped to buying shop bread. Fortunately, that phase is over.

So, sometime after braiding my blues away, I was raring to get on with a rye. Now, rye is a tricky bread to make because it's denser than other breads and my last attempt turned out far from successful, although I'm sure it would hold up a building in the event of an earthquake.

Pete Wells' rye pretzel, New York Times
Well, I've been holding Pete Wells' recipe for Rye Pretzels from the New York Times since February when it appeared and decided to give that a try. Perhaps individual servings would turn out better than a whole loaf.

The only thing I did differently was, instead of using a water bath with baking soda in it (to give the pretzels that soft chewy texture), I used lye, what we refer to here in Malaysia as air abu (Malay for "ash water").

Please, don't let the lye keep you from the rest of the experiment...

This was the first time I did the poaching this way. I was reading about bagels some time ago, and found out that they are often boiled in a weak lye bath. Lye, or Sodium Carbonate as the label on the bottle (left) states, while a corrosive alkaline substance, is used in miniscule amounts in cooking to help certain pastries and dough ­­– such as those for flat rice noodles and nyonya kuih (cakes) – gel. I decided to try the bath after reading the information on this site, which gave the ratio of lye to water as 1:64. By my calculations, that would be 1 tablespoon of lye for every four cups of water (since each cup contains 16 tablespoons of liquid).

Instead of keeping the pretzels in the bath for a total of one minute as Wells' recipe called for if using a baking soda bath, I put them – one at a time – in the lye bath, knot side down, for just a second, turned them over with a slotted spoon and straight out onto a kitchen towel-lined tray to drain.

I ate the rolls (they didn't come out as pretzels, but more on that shortly) after they were baked and since you're reading this, the lye did me no harm. Just remember the 1:64 ratio and extremely short poaching time – basically a dunk – and it should be okay. But, of course, if you're not convinced about lye, the baking soda method works fine.

Right, here's the thing about not following recipes. Instead of making 12 pretzels from the dough, I only made eight so that they would fit on just one baking tray. That meant the portions were larger and so when they rose, during proofing and then in the oven, the holes closed up and the pretzels turned into rolls, albeit with a pretty knot pattern on the top as they appear here after being baked:
The holes have gone missing!

A few days later, it was another round of making rye pretzels but using only half of Peter Wells' recipe. The picture at the top of the post is the result. They came out of the oven crusty, but softened somewhat on the cooling rack. I need to find a way to keep the crunch. The inside remained chewy though, so there's that.

I like this recipe and the taste and texture of the pretzels. There's not a lot of rye, but you still get the nutrients of the grain and the bread isn't stodgy. Definitely a keeper.

Stock clearance

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The fat-free part of eggs
I was reading up about egg white and found information about treating acne and common recipes for using leftover whites in meringues, pavlovas and icings etc, but I chanced upon this bit of information about using it to help women conceive that made my face scrunch up in complete wonderment at some of the things people believe.

Another thing that egg white does is clarify broth, something I saw a chef do at a press event some time ago. Her spoken and written instructions were not very clear so I did some research online and found more helpful advice. 

This is apparently something trainee chefs learn in cooking school, but the process seemed easy enough to do at home – stir beaten egg whites into simmering broth and after a while, they rise to the surface forming a "raft" and attracting all the other floating food particles like meat and vegetables. After a while, you remove the egg whte raft that's now loaded with all the "impurities" and you're left with a clear broth or consommé.

I had made some good stock from the carcass of a roasted free-range organic chicken. The bones still had bits of meat on it and all the richness in the marrow, skin and what would normally be considered the "nasty" bits, so of course the stock was delicious.

But who can resist an experiment, and so I set out to clarify the stock. I followed the recipe below and documented the process along the way:
From left: (top) Bring stock to a simmer; and add beaten egg, which will clump together on the surface to form a 'raft'; (bottom) the broth is strained (ugh, not a pretty sight!); and the final broth (not completely clear, but more clarified than when it started)
So, what did I find out from the experiment? No doubt, the process works. But here's the thing... so what?

In restaurants, chefs do it so that their soups and sauces look pretty without any floating bits in it. With homemade stock, those little bits of meat and vegetables still left in it won't make a difference. If your dish had been flavoured well, it would be delicious even if it didn't look cheffy.

The egg white raft that was left after the clarifying process didn't look appetising, and I certainly didn't want to taste it, but I don't think it would have tasted horrible. Conclusion: I'm leaving the clarifying to restaurant kitchens; I'm not wasting a single bit of well-made stock.

Makes just over a litre

1.5 litres of  stock
2-3 egg whites
  • Whisk the egg whites until foamy. Heat the stock and when it is simmering, add the eggs whites. Stir frequently until the egg white starts to clump together on the surface of the soup. DO NOT ALLOW THE STOCK TO BOIL. Once the egg white mass starts to form, stop stirring and reduce the heat to a slow simmer.
  • Allow the egg white raft to slowly form. For this amount of stock, it should take 30-40 minutes for the raft to "clean" the stock. It might sink but don't allow it to break up.
  • Strain the consommé through a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth. Allow to cool and refrigerate; this will allow the last bits of fat to float to the surface and congeal and you can easily remove it.

Bread bulletin: Charcoal braid

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ebony and ivory, live together in perfect harmony... everybody sing along now!
It's a Saturday and normally, I would be making a whole lot of bread rolls for Crazy Juliet sandwiches that Veggie Chick and I sell on Mondays at the office.

For next week, VC is making chicken loaf and my sandwich is broccoli-cheese (pic, right). However, I didn't get many orders (maybe the vegetarians are all on leave ­­– it's the school holidays, after all) so I don't have to make as many buns as usual. That gives me time to concentrate on some other kind of bread for myself.

There are a few items in my current docket of breads-I-want-to-try-making, but I've been too tired to attempt any (I've been nodding off at the unusually early hour of 9pm every night this past week! Last night it was 8.25pm!). There's charcoal bread, basically a challah which I want to braid with a plain dough for a two-toned effect; a rye (the last one I made had the look and, err... "firmness" of a brick!); something with malt flour, which I just discovered; a sourdough using the starter that I have neglected and should start feeding again; and bagels that are steamed instead of poached. Ambitious, right? (I highlighted the items just to see for myself.)

I'd better get to it...
* * *
As you can see from the picture at the top of this post, I decided to start off my pursuits with the charcoal bread. I had not only never used charcoal powder before, this was also the first time I would be making a six-strand braid. By 11.02am, the dough for the sandwich rolls was proofing and I was pulling out a challah recipe for the braid. I had to halve the amounts for two portions as I needed to add the charcoal powder to one part.

At around noon, the sandwich rolls were already in the oven and both the plain and charcoal doughs were proofing. I started braiding an hour later and the loaf was out of the oven at 2.25pm.

The activity was pleasant and effortless; I enjoyed it tremendously. I was rather pleased with myself when the braid turned out perfectly although I ruined it slightly when I was loosening the loaf from the baking tin with a butter knife and accidently stabbed the side. I finally feel worthy of submitting this recipe to YeastSpotting.

For those who are wondering, I got the charcoal powder from Chang Tung in Taman Megah, PJ. I read a blog from someone in the US who got real bamboo charcoal from Chinatown and ground it down to a powder herself.

I had to have a slice, but I'm keeping the rest for my family ­­– we're having a barbecue tomorrow. The powder is tasteless but it does add that lovely ebony colour and is said to be good for health. Here's some information about it.

Makes one large braided loaf

Plain dough
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
½ cup lukewarm water
1 teaspoon sugar (or ½ teaspoon sugar and ½ teaspoon malt powder)
½ tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons olive/vegetable oil
1 egg
½ teaspoon salt
1½ to 2 cups bread flour

Charcoal dough
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
½ cup lukewarm water
1 teaspoon sugar (or ½ teaspoon sugar and ½ teaspoon malt powder)
½ tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons olive/vegetable oil
1 egg
2 tablespoons charcoal powder
½ teaspoon salt
1½ to 2 cups bread flour

2 tablespoons warm water + ¼ teaspoon salt
Sesame or poppy seeds (optional)

  1. Each portion of dough is not a large amount, so they can be kneaded by hand or in an electric mixer. 
  2. Measure out all the components for both doughs before you start mixing and kneading. You want to prepare the doughs one after the other immediately so that they can proof almost simultaneously. If you can get two mixers going on at the same time, or do the mixing of each portion with someone's help, that would be ideal! 
And now on to the method.

    • Prepare the plain dough first. Place yeast, sugar (or sugar and malt powder) and water in a large bowl. Whisk to mix, cover and set aside about 10 minutes until mixture is foamy.
    • Whisk in the molasses, oil and egg. Add salt and start adding the flour a half cup at a time, mixing it in until the mixture starts coming together. If dough is wet, add flour a tablespoon at a time. Mix until a soft but still sticky dough forms. Cover and set aside for five minutes.
    • Knead dough for 10-12 minutes until smooth and elastic. If kneading by hand, do so on a surface lightly dusted with flour. (Even when I use an electric mixer, I like to knead the dough in the last few minutes by hand.)
    • Form into a ball, place in a greased bowl and cover with a tea towel. Set aside to proof until doubled in size, 40-50 minutes (it doesn't take very long when you live in warm climes).
    • Prepare the charcoal dough in the same way as the plain dough, adding the charcoal powder with the egg. 
    • When both doughs have doubled in size, knock them down gently and form each one into a ball again. Leave to rise a second time for just 20 minutes.
    Meteoric risers
    Once the dough has finished the second rise, place on a lightly floured surface and gently press out the air. Cut each portion into three equal pieces and roll each piece into a 25cm rope. Arrange the six strands, alternating colours, next to each other in a row and pinch the ends together. 
    Start off with strands; and the finished braid
    Now, the braiding. I learned how to do it from this video at Chai Time. It's well presented and much easier to follow than just written or pictorial instructions. I documented my own braiding in pictures and if you'd like to see the presentation with instructions, here's the tutorial. I'm afraid I might forget how to do the braiding, so this document is more for my own benefit.

    Remember not to braid too tightly or the dough will tear as it rises.

    Preheat the oven to 190°C half an hour before you're ready to bake the braid.
    Blue poppy seeds on the light dough, white sesame seeds on the dark
    Once the oven is ready, brush the loaf with salt solution and sprinkle with the seeds if using. Place in the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes or until the top is glossy and golden brown. Cool on a rack. 


    Pop culture

    Monday, June 7, 2010

    After styling and taking this photograph (tilt your head to the left to see what's spelled out), no one else would eat the popcorn but me! Hee hee, my plan all along...
    Trust the Chinese to take a simply made snack and turn it into an amusing attraction.

    On the streets of Chinese cities, popcorn vendors can cause all manner of havoc with the way they ply their trade, setting off car alarms and making unsuspecting tourists jump out of their skins. Here's the Wikipedia entry on it:
    The corn is poured into a large cast-iron canister ­­– sometimes called a "popcorn hammer" ­­– that is then sealed with a heavy lid and slowly turned over a curbside fire in rotisserie fashion. When a pressure gauge on the canister reaches a certain level, it is removed from the fire, a large canvas sack is put over the lid, and the seal is released. With a huge boom, all of the popcorn explodes at once and is poured into the sack.

    I've embedded a video (above) of this activity filmed by an amused visitor to China but if it does not appear on your screen, click here to see it. How's that for roadside entertainment?

    Popcorn recipes were what I chose for the June issue of Don't Call Me Chef on snacks to eat while watching the FIFA World Cup which begins soon.

    I tried the microwave and stove-top method, and used three types of corn kernels in a low, mid and high price range.
    Three types of popcorn in different price ranges from (clockwise from top left) the most expensive to the least. The only one actually made for popping, or so it says on the packaging, is Jolly Time.
    Well, the type of corn kernels, I found, didn't make a difference. Recipes tell you to use kernels made specifically for popping, but in this case, all of them popped whatever the price.

    Jolly Time comes in white and yellow popcorn ­­– I tried the white here. The colour of the popped corn may be the result of a colouring added to the kernels and not the colour of the kernels themselves because the Organic multicolour whole corn I used came out white when popped, and so did the Tesco house brand kernels.

    Now, the popping method. The microwave, which many people rave about ­­– particularly about how fast it happens and that you don't need to toss the kernels with butter or oil beforehand ­­– was a letdown. I used an 800W oven and put unbuttered popcorn into a brown paper bag in one layer, folded the top over twice and laid the bag flat as well as standing up in the oven. With both ways and using each of the different brands of kernels, only a couple popped and it took about 5 minutes even for that to happen. In addition, those that popped were very small compared to the ones popped on the stove-top.

    It was even worse when I used a microwaveble bowl. None of the kernels popped!
    Paper bag in the microwave (left) and in a pot with a domed lid on the stove
    Needless to say, I preferred the stove-top method, although even this one had initial problems.

    I used a medium-sized stainless steel saucepot first, but the kernels burnt very quickly. The popping took too long and the result was burnt and small flakes. Then I switched to a large but shallower glass skillet with a domed glass lid. I heated three tablespoons of vegetable oil over high heat, and then dropped in a couple of corn kernels, covered the pan and waited for them to pop. When they did, I poured in about ¼ cup of kernels, put the lid back on, turned the heat down to medium and started gently shaking the pan backwards and forwards without lifting it off the flame (this pan, together with the lid, is very heavy anyway). The popping went like crazy and after 45-60 seconds, the sound of popping slowed down and most of the kernels had popped. That ¼ cup of kernels produced four cups of popcorn.

    Watching the kernels pop through the glass lid was quite exciting and I think its dome shape also played a part in the popping success. To get your kernels to pop bigger, some people advise keeping them in the fridge as this helps build up more moisture/steam in the kernel, the reason that corn pops.

    Here's another recipe to add to the three that I featured in the June issue of Don't Call Me Chef (see tab above; the link will be up shortly is up but I could only upload one page of the whole article. My story is entitled "What a flake"). The popcorn will be slightly oily due to the kerisik, but if you like coconut, this might appeal to you.

    Popcorn with a local flavour
    8 cups of popcorn (from ½ cup of kernels)
    1 tbsp dried chilli flakes
    1 cup toasted peanuts
    3 tablespoons kerisik (toasted grated coconut, with oil)
    3 tablespoons palm sugar
    Salt, to taste
    • Mix chilli flakes and peanuts through popcorn; place in a large bowl.
    • Place kerisik, sugar and salt in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved; bring to a boil. Turn down heat and let the mixture simmer gently until it thickens and is reduced slightly, about 5 minutes. Take off heat; pour over popcorn mixture and toss well.

    Truly finger lickin' good

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    Poulet grillé with frites
    You didn't think I was done with Morocco, now did you?

    Spit-roasted or rotisserie chicken must be one of the greatest inventions in history. Clean a chicken, season it, impale it on an iron rod and in the old days, keep turning the spit by hand over an open flame or embers until its juices run clear, the skin is golden and the flesh tender and succulent. Tear off and eat with fingers.

    With the advent of the electric rotisserie which roasts several chickens at once, there may be less smoke but the distinctive taste of meat cooked over fire remains.
    Roasting chicken on an electric rotisserie at Cafe Snack Majorelle, Casablanca, in a lovely French Art Deco building
    Pardon the use of the tagline from a certain fast food chicken chain, but this here is the real deal.

    For those going to Morocco and Casablanca in particular, here's a word of advice: If you go to a restaurant that serves this kind of grilled chicken (it will have a rotisserie out front), then order the chicken. It will be the restaurant's speciality and the best dish in the house. You can order a quarter piece with French fries, or the meat sliced and with a crusty baguette or thin flat bread for you to fill yourself. The reason I say that is, we went to Cafe Majorelle twice; the first time, I ordered the chicken (the picture at the top) and on the second time, I got the beef tagine, which was delicious but not as good as the chicken.

    (Not looking like the locals, we were remembered by the staff at the restaurant and when we came by the second time, we were greeted with great affection as if we were regular patrons. Truly lovely people, these Moroccans. The restaurant is manned by elderly gentlemen and one of them, I swear, was the dopplegänger of that suave, debonair David Niven! So handsome.)
     Tangy tomato relish, and lentils to eat with rice. Salad niçoise with a mountain of vegetable
    At Cafe Majorelle, the side dishes are just as good. There's braised lentil that you eat with rice as a starter and a tangy tomato dip that goes well with the chicken.

    And take a look at that salad niçoise. It's huge ­­– dinner plate size ­­– and comes with a hard-boiled egg and eight types of vegetables: shredded cabbage and carrots, corn kernels, cubes of beetroot, olives, potato, and cucumber on a bed of lettuce. You can have it with or without mayonnaise.

    I couldn't get the recipe out of the chef, but here is one version of the roasted chicken using a mixture of spices that I bought. The blend only had a few spices compared with some with over 30! It's good for chicken or fish. The vendor kindly told me what was in it along with a rough and easy recipe. I haven't actually tried it yet, but I don't see why it wouldn't work.

    1 whole free-range organic chicken 
    ½ cup olive oil  
    2 tablespoons lemon juice  
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    Salt and pepper to taste 

    Dry spice mix 
    1½ teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted 
    1½ teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted 
    ¼ teaspoon turmeric 
    ½ teaspoon cinnamon
    Pinch of chilli powder
    ¼ teaspoon paprika
    • Grind cumin and coriander seeds in a mortar or spice grinder. Combine with the remaining spices. This makes about 3 tablespoons. Store in an airtight jar.
    • Combine 1 tablespoon of dry spice mix with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. 
    • Butterfly the chicken and place inside a large resealable plastic bag. Rub the skin and the inside with the marinade. Seal the bag and and place in refrigerator for at least one hour. 
    • Preheat oven or barbecue grill. Grill chicken for about 20 minutes or until done. Set aside covered with foil for 15 minutes before serving.