30 November 2008

Pull-Apart Lemon-Scented Coffee Cake

Pull-Apart Lemon-Scented Coffee Cake (with title)
I would make a terrible, terrible spy. And no, it's not because of the stealth issues involved, because I actually think I'd be good at it (hence, my enjoyment of the game Tenchu Z, despite what all the reviews say). But in real life when I think I have to do something that requires stealth, I get jittery and weird. Such as reading books in a bookstore. You see, for some books in some stores here, the staff wraps them in plastic. WHAAAT? Yeah, they do. The thing is, it is actually a pretty good deterrent against careless browsers. And you are free to rip them apart if you really want to know if a book is worth buying. But I don't, usually. I don't know why: maybe I feel like I'm making trash, or making the staff's efforts futile especially with books I know I can't afford.
Pull-Apart Lemon-Scented Coffee Cake (Preparation)
So, to paint a picture:
Me: (eyeing Tessa Kiros's Venezia, drooling at the cover and promise of beautiful pics of a fantastic city inside)
Staff: (walks to cashier for a little chat)
Me: (rips plastic apart, heart about to explode) Aaaah.
Staff: ... whatevs.
Me: Huh, George Kamper's pictures are much prettier.
Pull-Apart Lemon-Scented Coffee Cake
But knowing what's inside a book is really important. I recall one other time when a mother and daughter from the country/provinces were browsing local cookbooks, which for some reason were wrapped (though they aren't usually).
Mom: Gosh, why is this wrapped? I wonder if it's good.
Me (butting in when he wasn't asked): It's okay. Open it. Open it. Open it. Open it. Open it. Open it. Open it.
... Just kidding. I only said it once (Dwight Schrute says to say it seven times to hypnotize them into actually doing it). But I couldn't bear the thought of the two not finding the book they want, or worse, buying a book that turns out to be a dud because they bought the one with the best cover. Maybe I need someone like me (one of you guys?) to tell me to cut out the imagined moral dilemma and just open it, open it, open it.

I knew already from previous experience that Flo Braker's new book Baking for All Occasions would be good, but till I opened it I had no idea it would be incredible. The book is quite heavy, but barely has any photographs-- it's jam-packed with all-American recipes ready for any occasion, even if you have to make one up yourself. The recipes are detailed and imaginative, yet accessible to any home baker. And because it's from Flo Braker, you just know they will be delicious and work every single time. Pick it up. Pick it up. Pick it up. Pick it up. Pick it up. Pick it up. Pick it up.

By the way, I didn't rip a plastic wrapper apart to peek at the book-- I eventually lucked upon a bookstore that had an unwrapped copy. Pathetic, I know.

I'm also using this post to respond to Deeba's tagging me for the Worldwide Blogger Bake-Off Campaign, which I first learned of from Jeanne. I can't share this particular recipe because it's Braker's and not mine, but if you do bake some bread (or even if you don't), please do consider participating. Admittedly donations have been slow due in no small part to the global financial crisis, but I hope it will turn around soon.

Pull-Apart Lemon-Scented Coffee Cake from Baking for All Occasions
This recipe is simple enough, even for someone who constantly flops at bread like me. And it is also very addictive-- have friends over for tea so you can finish it in one go and don't have to keep picking at it by yourself till you've eaten the whole thing. After you've baked it, the butter may seep out of the dough and appear to flood it-- don't be alarmed and let it be as it cools. The dough will reabsorb the butter and be that much deadlier.

Sweet Yeast Dough

  • about 350g (2-1/4 cups) all-purpose flour

  • 50g (1/4 cup) granulated sugar

  • 2-1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) instant yeast

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 75g (5 tablespoons) whole milk

  • 55g (1/4 cup or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter

  • 60g (1/4 cup) water

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla

  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature

In the large bowl of a stand mixer (though you can also do this by hand as I did), stir together 255g (2 cups) of the flour, the sugar, and the yeast. In a small saucepan or microwaveable container, heat the milk with the butter on low heat/power until the butter is just melted. Set aside until warm (about 130°F/55°C or 1 minute), then add the vanilla. Pour this over the flour mixture and using a strong spatula or wooden spoon, stir together until the flour is evenly moistened. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or continue to use the spatula), and mix on low speed while adding the eggs one at a time, just until each is incorporated. Add 65g (1/2 cup) of the remaining flour and mix on low speed until smooth (about 45 seconds). Add 2 more tablespoons flour and mix at medium speed until smooth and slightly sticky, about another 45 seconds. If doing this by hand, you might prefer to knead it gently and squeeze the dough till it comes together.

Sprinkle a work surface with 1 tablespoon flour and place the dough on top. Knead gently until smooth and no longer sticky, about 1 minute, adding an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons flour only if necessary to lessen the stickiness. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with cling film, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 45-60 minutes. The indentation of a fingertip on the dough should remain.

Lemon Paste Filling
  • 100g (1/2 cup) sugar

  • 3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (3 lemons)

  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

  • 55g (1/4 cup or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

In a small bowl, mix the sugar and the citrus zests together, rubbing them between your fingers until it resembles wet sand. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and spray a 9x5" loaf pan with baking spray.

Gently deflate the dough. Referring to the nifty step-by-step I drew:
1. Happy dough on a lightly floured surface.
2. Roll out to a 20x12" rectangle.
3. Brush the surface with the melted butter.
4. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough crosswise into 5 strips (each about 12x4").
5. Sprinkle one of the rectangles with 1-1/2 tablespoon of the zest-sugar filling.
6. Place a second rectangle of dough on top and sprinkle with 1-1/2 tablespoons of the filling. Repeat using the rest of the dough rectangles, ending with a sprinkling of the filling.
7. Stack of 5 dough rectangles.
8. Cut the stack crosswise into 6 smaller stacks, each about 4x2".
9. Fit the layered strips into the loaf pan, cut edges (the 4" side) up. You'll end up with something like the photo above. Loosely cover with cling film and let it rise in a warm place until puffy and almost doubled in size, 30-50 minutes-- the indentation of a fingertip should remain. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 30-35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes.

Tangy Cream Cheese Icing
  • 85g (3 oz or 6 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened

  • 35g (1/4 cup) powdered sugar

  • 15g (1 tablespoon) whole milk

  • 15g (1 tablespoon) fresh lemon juice

In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the milk and lemon juice until the well-combined.

Unmold the coffee cake (all the butter will allow it to release quite easily) and place on a wire rack or serving platter. Using a pastry brush, coat the top with icing. Serve the coffee cake warm or at room temperature.

24 November 2008

Devil's Food Cheesecake

Devil's Food Cheesecake (with title)
I think it's a fair observation to say that hugging is most prevalent in American society. The (beloved and sadly breathing its last) show Pushing Daisies once described them as "emotional heimlichs" wherein "someone puts their arms around you and they give you a squeeze and all your fear and anxiety come shooting out of your mouth in a big wet wad and you can breath again." In recent years I've sensed a backlash against what might be considered excessive invasion of private space among Americans. I don't mind if it goes either way, I'm pretty flexible (and I certainly don't want to be caught in the middle of this debate-- settle it among yourselves!). I've been trying to understand how the emotional heimlich-- a gesture of welcoming and caring-- suddenly got such a bad reputation. I don't touch people on an emotional level very often but I have to admit, when it counts, it does feel good. Maybe the backlash is against devaluing the hug, or giving it away when there is no emotion behind it.

Warning: truly neurotic thinking coming up. Last October I met up with the awesome Todd and Diane. Because I was in total nerd-mode, my brain went through several hundred if:then iterations of how I should go about greeting them. When I saw Diane coming up from the curb, with her terrawatt smile, there was little doubt in my mind that a hug was the only way to go. Todd was coming up a few meters behind, though. Now, I doubt you will find many more guys more welcoming and just darn-nice than Todd, but not wanting to look like a space-invading fool, I shook his hand instead. Brain: WARNING: DIVISION BY ZERO. Trust me, this is not uncommon interaction between men. After all, we have complex algorithms for determining which urinal we stand in front of at the restroom. To be fair, Todd and Diane are not the kind of people to persecute me for any social faux pas, so: sorry, and thank you.
Devil's Food Cheesecake (Slice)
Now, though I'm in the potions and leeches business these days, I still consider myself a closet mathematician. What I have here is a poll. And before you (Jen) roll your eyes and say, "Good grief!" This is not a way to fish or to paint myself in a puppy-dog light. I really want to know the correct probability of doing the correct thing in (and I cannot stress this enough) a hypothetical meeting between me and another food blogger. Pretend we have had a reasonable amount of interaction via e-mail and through the blogs. As I said, I really don't care if all of you answer "No"-- I said I could go either way on the issue of hugging. But I do care about looking either too standoffish and cold, or invasive and inappropriate. Besides, this could be fun. You don't have to reveal or explain your answer, but if you feel like doing so, it should be an interesting read. I've stratified the poll into male/female (the answerer), in case there might be a difference.


What does hugging have to do with devil's food cheesecake? Absolutely no-thing, huh! But I saw this recipe from the ill-conceived Throwdown with Bobby Flay and I haven't been able to put it out of my head: it's from Junior's Cheesecakes, which I understand isn't even universally embraced. (Huh, see what I did there?) It works, for the most part. The cheesecake is as perfect as I've ever made a classic cheesecake-- not a crack in sight, the top lightly golden, perfectly smooth, rounded at the rim. The devil's food cake leaves a bit to be desired. Sure, I scaled it down, but the problem is just it's not chocolatey/bitter/dark enough. By the way, proper devil's food cake is made with buttermilk. It is better the next day, though. The icing is also a bit too sugary, but it does go well with the cake and cheesecake.

Devil's Food Cheesecake adapted from The Junior's Cheesecake Cookbook
This recipe is scaled down to fit a 6-inch pan. If you're eating cheesecake sandwiched between chocolate cake and butter frosting, that probably sounds like the right size to do it in anyway.

Cheesecake layer

  • 225g (1 8-ounce) package full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature

  • 88g (7 tablespoons) granulated sugar

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • 1 large egg

  • 53g (3-1/2 tablespoons) heavy cream

For this recipe, you may use a 6-inch cake pan, springform pan, or cake ring. If using a springform or ring, wrap the outside with plenty of aluminum foil, covering the bottom and seam especially, extending to the top edge. If using a cake pan, line the bottom with parchment and have on hand a piece of clean stiff circular cardboard 6 inches in diameter. In any case, spray the inside with baking spray. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).

In a medium mixing bowl, place the cream cheese, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla, and beat until creamy and well-combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Blend in the egg until just incorporated. Beat in the cream just until it's completely blended-- no more. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place it in a shallow pan containing hot water that comes about 1 inch up the outside of the pan with the cheesecake. Bake until the edges are light golden brown and the top is slightly golden tan, about 1 hour. It will still jiggle in the middle when you shake it, but don't overdo the jiggling or you will crack it for sure. Cool in the water bath until the water is just warm and transfer to a wire rack. Cool in the pan for 2 hours, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze while still in the pan until it's completely cold, about 4 hours or up to 1 month. Leave in the freezer until ready to assemble the cake.

Devil's Food Cake layer
  • 100g (3/4 cup) sifted cake flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • pinch of salt

  • 56g (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 67g (1/3 cup) granulated sugar

  • 33g (2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) firmly packed dark brown sugar

  • 1 large egg, separated

  • 38g (1-1/3 ounce) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled

  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • 120g (1/2 cup) whole milk

  • pinch cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Spray the interior of 6-inch cake pan, springform pan, or cake ring with baking spray. Line the bottom only with parchment.

Sift the flour onto a small bowl and set aside. Stir the vanilla into the milk and set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter, both sugars, salt, and baking powder until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and beat until well-combined. Beat in the melted chocolate. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour alternately with the vanilla-milk, mixing well after each until blended.

Put the egg white and cream of tartar in a clean medium-size bowl and beat with clean, dry beaters on high until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Fold about one-third of the whites into the chocolate batter until they disappear, then gently fold in the remaining whites. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it, about 40 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and gently peel off the paper liners. Let cool completely, about 2 hours, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or freeze up to a month.

Dark fudge frosting
  • 300g (2-2/3 cups) sifted confectioners' sugar

  • 22g (3-1/2 tablespoons) unsweetened cocoa powder

  • pinch of salt

  • 75g (2/3 cup or 1-1/3 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 75g (2-2/3 ounces) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled

  • 1 tablespoon dark corn syrup

  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

  • 53g (3-1/2 tablespoons) heavy cream

In a large bowl, cream the butter, salt, and cocoa with a mixer on high until paler and slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. With the mixer still running, beat in the chocolate, corn syrup, and vanilla. Sift the confectioners' sugar into the butter, then beat it in completely. Blend in the cream until the frosting is a spreading consistency, adding a little more cream if needed. Whip the frosting on high until light and creamy, about 2 minutes more.

Remove the cheesecake and cake from the freezer. Run a thin knife around the edge of the cheesecake. If you've used a cake pan to bake the cheesecake, flip it upside-down to unmold, using the cardboard circle to prevent the cheesecake from breaking as it comes out of the pan. If you've used a springform or cake ring, simply release the rings.

Using a serrated knife, remove the dome from the chocolate cake (if desired) and split the cake into two even layers. Place the bottom cake layer on a cake plate and spread with some of the frosting. Place the frozen cheesecake on top and spread with some more frosting. Place the top layer of cake on top. Brush away any crumbs from the sides and top of the fudge cake layers. Frost the sides and top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Use a long metal spatula that has been warmed under hot running water to smooth out the frosting on the sides and top of the cake (I used a cake comb to achieve the effect above). With a small spatula or table knife, swirl the frosting on top into a decorative design.

Refrigerate the cake for at least 2 hours to allow the cheesecake to thaw enough to easily slice. Use a sharp straight-edge knife, not a serrated one, to cut it.

17 November 2008

Tartine's Soft Glazed Gingerbread

Soft Glazed Gingerbread
No, you haven't descended into a time-warp. You see, here in the Philippines, we don't have Thanksgiving, so after the whole Halloween-All Saints' Day-All Souls' Day trifecta we can already prepare for Christmas. I think you'll be surprised at the speed with which workers at the mall prepare the giant Christmas trees-- all ready to be gawked at by the morning of November 3. It personally feels a little strange, given the latest onslaught of bad news surrounding me and my friends, but we'll power through. Each year the broken records that are television and radio news boast the Filipinos' knack for being able to celebrate through poverty and inflation, and family members struggling to provide for the family by working overseas. Perhaps the Thanksgiving sentiment of gratitude for one's blessings is combined with our Christmas celebrations (maybe we're thankful that we only have to really prepare two feasts a year-- Christmas and New Year).
Teddy bear on the tree
But whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it's never a bad time to be with family (some might even say that it's during the bad times that time spent with family and friends is more appreciated). And it's never a bad time to enjoy gingerbread, either. This recipe is my entry (hopefully the first of many) to Susan's Eat Christmas Cookies blog event from now till December 21. There's a running round-up here.
Springerle Mold
This is the springerle mold I got from Sur La Table when I went to San Francisco-- produced by House on the Hill (an Illinois company), which makes beautiful springerle molds from antique designs, but it was a bit expensive (the price on the springerle rolling pin is insane-- but I can't deny its gorgeousness). You can get springerle rolling pins from Amazon that are even cheaper than single molds at House on the Hill, but I haven't been able to look at the designs up close.

Patricia, I didn't know you made guest appearances! KIDDING!
And now (drumroll)... MEMES! I've led these two memes out into a deserted grassy field and am describing our dreams of owning our own land. The first one is Jeanne's Commenter's Meme.
My last ten commenters are:
1. Greasemonkey of The Cobbler Confederate
2. Susan of Food Blogga (singsong he-ey)
3. Kevin of Closet Cooking
4. Holly of Phe/Mom/Enon
5. Mandy of Fresh from the Oven
6. Pea of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody
7. Sunita of Sunita's World
8. Jen of Use Real Butter
9. Zen Chef of Chefs Gone Wild
10. Dr. Em of Pulse
1. What is your favourite post from number 3's blog? There's a LOT (Kev works REALLY hard!), but some of my more recent faves are the Apple Pie Pizza and the Roasted Butternut Squash Pizza.
2. Has number 10 taken any pictures that have moved you? Dr. Em has a photo blog, and I like her picture of the Nihon Teien-- my exact word was "breathtaking."
3. Does number 6 reply to comments on their blog? Yes, though sometimes I get e-mails instead :)
4. Which part of blogland is number 2 from? San Diego! (Surf-)Rock on!
5. If you could give one piece of advice to number 7 what would it be? Oh, that's embarrassing! Unsolicited advice, heh :) Er, keep up the good work... And don't feed strange cats. They will slash you.
6. Have you every tried something from number 9's blog? No... I will when I come across a shitload of truffles, though. Kidding! My aspiration has always been the clam risotto, though. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING in that blog is beyond decadent.
7. Has number 1 blogged something that inspired you? No, but I don't think he'll take it against me... (Heh)
8. How often do you comment on number 4's blog? Uh, very :)
9. Do you wait for number 8 to post excitedly? Good God yes
10. How did number 5's blog change your life? Well, Mandy's changed my baking life for sure... She's one of the first blogs I discovered and I learned not to be afraid in the kitchen ;)
11. Do you know any of the 10 bloggers in person? No, not even Dr. Em! And I missed a phone call with Jen :(
12. Do any of your 10 bloggers know each other in person? Ah, I don't think so.
13. Out of the 10, which updates more frequently? It's a toss-up between Kevin and Dr. Em ;)
14. Which of the 10 keep you laughing? Pea, Jen, and Holly do turn on the funny a lot-- But Zen-Man does the comedy song and dance to full effect! Dude, the guy makes comic strips.
15. Which of the 10 has made you cry (good or bad tears)? Without a doubt, Jen.

Whew! And now we're, uh, done with that meme, it's time for Kid Diva's simple seven-things meme.
1. Last things I ordered from overseas (via HMV.co.uk)-- Keane: Perfect Symmetry deluxe set and Peep Show DVD boxed set (Series 1-5! w00t!). Sooo horrifically funny.
2. Whuzzat? You want a list of all the sitcoms I've ever seen? Here it is.
3. CD at the top of the stack next to me: More Friends: Music from Final Fantasy.
4. Off to New Jersey at the start of next year for my interviews-- if I pass my Step 2 CS exam (from El Segundo).
5. Got rid of the 3 pounds I gained, but got a little back from all the cookies below. Oh well, as long as I exercise...
6. I used to spend quite a bit of time making Keane signatures for rabid fangirls at the official forum. Here's a link. Some of those Photoshop files have 60 layers!
7. I distinctly remember this moment from elementary school: Every year we had to do a set of physical tests, one of them being the 50-meter sprint. At the end of mine, the gym teacher told me (in loosely translated Tagalog): "What the hell was that?!"

This recipe is again from one of my favorite cookbooks, Tartine. I recently reviewed it over at The Gastronomer's Bookshelf, finally!

Soft Glazed Gingerbread adapted from Tartine
The original recipe says to roll the dough out to 1/3 inch thick and apply only enough pressure with the mold to make a clear impression. However, in doing so I found that I squished the dough to only about 1/4 inch thick. I still baked them for 7 minutes without compromising the softness of the cookie. Also, because it's so warm in the kitchen and I needed a lot of pressure to make a clear print, pressing next to an existing impression distorts the one beside it. For this reason, instead of press-press-press-cut-cut-cut, I had to press-cut-press-cut-press-cut. A little more work but at least the designs emerged as intended. The recipe says this makes 12-20 cookies, but because of the above adjustments, I ended up making 40 delicious cookies-- you can press the dough scraps together and re-roll as needed. You can also check out my previous, and just as good, recipe for gingerbread here-- it's also thick and soft but has no egg (it has milk, though).

  • 225g (2 sticks or 1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 170g (3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 155g (1/2 cup) blackstrap or other dark molasses
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 525g (3-3/4 cups) all-purpose flour

In a large mixing bowl, add the butter, then sprinkle the cocoa, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, bakind soda, salt, and pepper evenly over it. Beat the mixture until creamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar and mix on medium speed until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the egg and beat until well-combined. Add the molasses and corn syrup and beat until well-combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Sift all the flour over the mixture and stir in with a strong spoon or rubber spatula until well-combined and no traces of flour remain. You could also use the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, beating on low speed until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and no traces of flour remain. Place the dough on a large piece of plastic wrap and press it into a rectangle about an inch thick, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a sheet pan with parchment.

If using a single springerle mold: Unwrap the dough and place on a floured work surface. Roll out the dough to 1/3 inch thickness, lightly dust the top with flour, and press the mold(s) all over the dough. Cut out the shapes with a small knife and transfer to the baking sheet, about 1 inch apart.

If using a springerle rolling pin: Lightly dust the lined sheet pan with flour and place the dough on top. Roll into a rectangle about 1/3 inch thick with a regular rolling pin, then roll over it again with the patterned pin, applying enough pressure to ensure a clear impression. Trim the sides of the entire slab with a small knife, but there's no need to cut out the individual cookies at this point.

Bake the cookies until lightly golden (er... okay) along the sides but still soft to touch in the center, about 7 minutes for already-cut cookies or 15 minutes if you used a patterned rolling pin and are baking a giant slab of cookies. When done, let the cookies cool in the pan for about 10 minutes (they will set further as they cool). While waiting, prepare the glaze:
  • 115g (1 cup) confectioners' sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons water

Sift the confectioners' sugar into a small mixing bowl. Add 2 tablespoons water and whisk until smooth. While the cookies are warm, evenly brush a light coat of glaze on top. If the details are obscured too much, whisk in the remaining tablespoon of water to the glaze and continue. If you've used a patterned pin to make a large slab of cookies, when the glaze has hardened, use a small, very sharp knife to cut it into the individual cookies.

12 November 2008

Almond Tofu and Fresh Fruit Cocktail

Almond Tofu and Fresh Fruit Cocktail (white, with title)
I am currently in the midst of one of those thoroughly enjoyable e-mail conversations that, thanks to the magic of GMail, is smartly compressed into a single space in my inbox instead of filling up pages of Re: Re: ad nauseam. My friend Duncan asked me if I suffered from "a question-started-must-answer-fully-OCD type of thing, or an irrepressible-helper-syndrome-OCD type thing." Which I'm not sure are really things, but leave it to him to make up the names :) The truth is, I don't consider it very much of a big deal to answer some of the day-to-day questions and favors I encounter, and usually gratitude is forthcoming. Rarely it isn't, and if they're strangers I quickly file those people under "dead to me."
Origami Anemone Flower
I have to admit, though, that people (me included) usually sneer at the "people pleaser" which is the actual thing you might call me, probably because it can be so easily equated with negative things like "doormat," "kiss-ass," "ass-whipped," "spineless," etc. If you'll excuse me for going unnecessarily (?) on the defensive, I have a spine, thank you very much. Maybe I just want others to keep believing that there are still good samaritans out there, though I will say that the things I usually do for other people are nowhere in the league of some amazingly kind souls out there. Anyway, it reminds me of that episode of Ed where he was sued for breaking a man's thumb while he was pulling him out of a burning car. In Ed's defense, his counsel Frankie said that if they punished him for stopping to commit an act of kindness, he might "stop stopping."

What does this have to do with almond tofu, or the Beatles? Nothing at all. In any case, most food bloggers don't come up short in the generosity and gratitude departments anyway, I just wanted to put my thoughts out there (again). Here's hoping that those kind souls out there never stop stopping to help.
Almond Tofu and Fresh Fruit Cocktail (red, with title)
Experimenting with another background. Even if the white one was easier to do, I still liked it better.
The sad fact is, though, that I am really one of those people who can't sleep when he's not in good terms with someone, unless they have joined said "dead to me" list. Oh well, I hope that doesn't detract from my message, heh :)

When Graeme told me he was thinking of photographing Origami figures for his project, it reminded me of a few models I was hoping to finish, and maybe photograph myself. The one above is an Anemone flower-- I have a few more, but I'm saving them for a future post.

I also decided to compile all the digital piano recordings I was making onto a single auxiliary site. Click here to access my music files. The newest ones are Carole King's "Home Again" and The Beatles' "For You Blue" (written by George Harrison for the Let It Be album). I'm particularly proud of "Home Again" because just yesterday I heard it while relistening to my Tapestry album when I thought it sounded nice and a little appropriate for the upcoming chapters of my life. So today I listened to it while deciphering it by ear to the piano. I'm not advanced yet to pick up the bluesy improvisations of King or Harrison but it's not bad for a few minutes' work, I think. I am also quite proud of myself for figuring out how to make an RSS feed for the music site using Feed43.com-- that was a lot of fun.

I made this a few weeks back, and it was a really good, light dessert. I might use the almond tofu base for something else in the near future. It's from The Sweet Spot, which was given to me by my irrepressible friend Allen. I wish I'd used a real peach or pineapple instead of a nectarine-- I found the nectarine too soft and sweet, when I was looking for something a little more acidic.

EDIT: The name "Tofu" is a misnomer (Pichet Ong said as much)-- this dessert contains no soybean mass, only the gelled soymilk, or tau-hu. Sorry for the confusion!

Almond Tofu and Fresh Fruit Cocktail adapted from The Sweet Spot by Pichet Ong
For a dairy-free version of this dessert, use almond milk in place of the milk, or soy milk throughout. In the wintertime, kiwi fruit or pineapple may be a more acceptable substitute for stone fruit (peaches). You may also use an appropriate substitution of agar (for 3 cups liquid) in place of the gelatin if you want this to be a vegan dessert.

  • 335g (1-1/2 cups) milk (can use whole, 2%, or skim milk, or almond milk)

  • 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin

  • 335g (1-1/2 cups) unsweetened, unflavored soy milk

  • 100g (1/2 cup) sugar

  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

In a medium bowl, Sprinkle the gelatin over the milk and set aside for 10 minutes. Put the soy milk, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan and place over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved and bubbles form on the edges of the pan. Remove from heat and stir in the milk-gelatin mixture until completely dissolved. Divide between 8 serving bowls or glasses and refrigerate until set, about 3 hours. You may refrigerate them at an angle using an egg carton or rack, securing the glasses so they don't tip over.
  • 210g (1 cup + 2 tablespoons) sugar

  • 240g (1 cup) water

  • 1/4 Asian pear, cut into 1/4-inch dice

  • 8 4-inch long strips orange zest

  • 16 seedless red grapes, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices (thinner if you can manage)

  • 2 small peaches, pitted and cut into 1/4-inch wedges

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring constantly, until the syrup is clear, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add the pear and orange zest. Cool to room temperature. Add the grapes and peaches, then refrigerate until ready to serve. Divide among the serving bowls.

P.S. Jeanne, I will get to the meme someday. This post was just too long already, hee hee :)

06 November 2008

Panna Cotta Tart with Cocoa Glaze

Panna Cotta Tart (with title)
I wanted to get this done just in time for Holly's You Want Pies With That? blog event so I hauled ass and made this tart yesterday. I know I'd JUST promised during my last post to put the socio-political discourse on hold but I have a little bit here, if you're interested.
I don't know why I tuned to it from day one but Project Runway is a show that I make a point not to miss. I don't think the time will ever come when I'm able to actually make clothes (or even sew-- never done it before), but I like seeing creative people fly by the seat of their pants and actually come up with interesting, fantastic designs. Somehow my artistic spirit, which every now and then I believe I've killed for good with all my studying, gets a little inspired. A few months ago I even came up with a dessert (Temptation Tower) that was inspired by an avant-garde challenge on Project Runway (click here to see the dress). Granted it's a poor comparison but why don't you buy me the Benriner Turning Slicer, huh?
Panna Cotta Tart (Slice)
Ahem. Anyway, the fact that I even pay attention to clothes (well... Men's clothes) at all surprises quite a few of my friends because on a day-to-day basis I like to put on teh frump and just wear a white T-shirt (souvenirs from various places and events) and jeans (track pants if it's the gym) and my old, old sneakers. I credit being awakened to actual good taste by the now-defunct show Queer Eye, around 2004. Admittedly near the end of the series I didn't want to watch any more because I felt like I've already taken everything I could learn from them and I didn't need to be turned on to trends. I want my clothes to last a while! So, allow me to share my more characteristic pieces of clothing (deliberately shown in ugly light here) and a few tips, in case you're buying for a guy or something. Bleeagh.
Black and gray stripes
I have what you call a "signature pattern." It's Susan's (of SGCC) most hated pattern, but I think it suits me well. My friends know that I love the gray and black "rugby stripes." Here I have a hoody, long-sleeved tee, and a variation on a theme.
T-shirts: the hem has to sit on the hip or maybe slightly lower or higher. Much lower than that and you have stumpy, higher and you have a good forecast for a full moon. We already know the horrible "clever" shirts like Federal Bikini Inspector, so save your money for designs you really, really like. (Here: Megaman shirt- a gift from my brother, Monopoly, Switchfoot, Gas, Yerba Buena ice skating rink souvenir.)
Polo Shirts
Same rule goes for polo shirts. Notice that the first one is yet another rugby stripe. It's from Spanish company Springfield, one of my favorite places.
Regular shirts. The two heavily striped ones are from Springfield and the checkered Oxford shirt is from United Colors of Benetton. Don't buy shirts that are bigger in case you gain weight, or smaller in the hope of losing weight. Chances are they will be sitting in the closet for a long time, until the design becomes stale. Weirdly, Marks & Spencer designs shirts that are too blousy (large on the body and sleeves) even at the smallest size for me, but really tight on the neck. It's flattering because I consider my neck too skinny, but maybe it's just all my oxygen being cut off.
Brown shirts
Two more shirts, the fore from Polo Garage and the back from Springfield. Military-style seems a tad too embellished for me, but it looks and feels good, so I gave it a pass.
Jacket from Zara
Coat with detachable polyester vest inside from Spanish company Zara, at half-price. So it came down to $73-- two pieces for the price of one. I'd only buy things that are on sale if I would still buy them full-priced.
Pinstripe suit
Two suits, one charcoal gray and one navy pinstripe. Latter is essential for a shorter guy like me. They fit snugly on the waist, because otherwise, what's the point?
Long sleeved t-shirts
Long-sleeved tees. From fore to back: Buffalo (Canadian Company), Penshoppe (local), Nike, souvenir shop in Brussels.
Leather Jacket
Leather jacket from Florence. Somehow it stretched a little so it's a little large on me, but with appropriate layering maybe I can make it look on-size.
Cheap Shirts
Shirts that are only $4, from a local company (American Blvd.).
Sweater I bought in El Segundo on sale, for $16. Now that you've seen two of my shirts that have video game references AND this, it should be very clear that you're talking to a more-or-less enlightened nerd. I don't care.
Tie w/ arabesque pattern
I have a few ties but this is the only one with character, from British company Topman.

... And now I can't believe I just showed you all that. But I wanted to keep in theme. Anyway, the important points are:
1. It's not quantity, it's quality
2. It's not price, it's quality
3. It's not the embellishments, it's quality
4. If it doesn't fit well NOW, it's as good as garbage.
Happy Holiday shopping!

Panna Cotta Tart
When I saw a similar tart as I peeked in Martha Stewart's Cooking School at the bookstore, of course I marveled at the styling (it is Martha Stewart after all). But more than anything I felt inspired to make patterns on the smooth white surface. Unfortunately, I fucked it up so I coated the whole thing with glacage I had in the freezer, then I fucked it up AGAIN. Argh. Almost did not post from the ugliness. But here it is after a harrowing recovery. And I'm glad I did because it was such a rich, delicious dessert. Inspiration is from Project Runway season 3: Black and White challenge, and this dress by Laura Bennett in particular. Since I also pieced this together from my head, I'm submitting it to Culinarty's Original Recipe Roundup.

Tart Shell

  • 100g (7 tablespoons) unsalted butter

  • generous pinch of salt

  • 38g (5 tablespoons) confectioner's sugar

  • 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten

  • 160g (1 cup + 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour

  • 60g (2oz) dark chocolate, melted

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the butter with the salt until pale and creamy. Sift in the confectioner's sugar and continue beating until well-combined. Add the egg yolk and beat until combined. Sift in the flour and stir until there are no longer traces of unmoistened flour, and no more than that. Press into an 8-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Cover with a greased piece of foil, grease side against the tart shell, and freeze for at least 30 minutes or overnight. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) and bake the shell for 25 minutes, still with the foil on. Remove the foil and bake for a further 8 minutes. Set aside to cool. When cool, brush the bottom surface with the melted chocolate and place in the fridge to set.

Yogurt Honey Panna Cotta
  • 1 tablespoon powdered unflavored gelatin

  • 1 tablespoon water

  • 300g (1-1/4 cup) cream (you can use single, heavy, or even milk or any combination thereof, depending on how creamy you want the dessert)

  • 125g (1/2 cup) unsweetened plain yogurt or Greek yogurt

  • 80g (1/4 cup) flower honey

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and set aside. Bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan (if desired, you can steep vanilla or cardamom pods in the cream as it cools, just strain it afterwards). Take off the heat and whisk in the yogurt and the honey. Dissolve the gelatin by heating in the microwave at LOW for 15 seconds or over a double boiler. Stir into the cream. Let it cool at room temperature and pour it into the tart shell, leaving a few mm space for the cocoa glaze. Place in the fridge to set for at least 2 hours.

Cocoa Mirror Glaze
Follow the recipe as directed here (I simply used my excess-- it can be thawed from the freezer with little loss of quality). Pour over the set panna cotta and leave in the fridge to set for at least 30 minutes.

White Chocolate Ganache
  • 30g (1 oz) white chocolate, finely chopped

  • 30g (2 tablespoons) heavy cream

Bring the cream to a boil in a small bowl in the microwave. Pour over the chocolate and stir gently to melt the chocolate. Let it thicken slightly as it cools at room temperature, then load it into a piping bag, parchment cone, or small plastic bag with the corner snipped off and pipe a design over the glaze.

Page from the Springfield catalog, Fall/Winter 04/05 Collection, which was so freaking excellent I kept it for ideas. The model's hair is quite fantastic, but each time I get one of those from the barber's, it only takes 2 days before my hair becomes annoying again.

02 November 2008

Trio of Chocolate Mousse Cake

Les Trois Soeurs
Trio of Chocolate Mousse Cake (with title)
I've noticed that it's become kind of tense lately and I'm somewhat contributing to the problem, if you can call it that. Factor in my usual tendency to overshare (which has gotten me screwed before, dunno why I never learn), and you've got kind of nervous/icked-out readers. Sorry about that. The last two weeks have not been typical in the slightest. As proof of that, I just gained 3 pounds over my average in the span of a week. Damn you, chocolate!!

Actually, I'm glad I'm shaking it off because I was originally going to talk about sex based on my association of it with chocolate. Really dodged a bullet there! (Believe me, you don't want to hear me talking about that-- though I have one friend who says she gets the tingles when she hears me say the F-bomb.) Instead, I'm going to have Kylie sing about it in a very beautiful French-style music video for "Chocolate." Thanks, Kylie.

Trio of Chocolate Mousse Cake (slice)
Those of you who skip straight to the funnies in the papers probably know of the existence of the comic strip Cathy. It's quite a polarizing strip, in that it's kind of the chick flick of the comic strip world. Currently there seems to be a series of strips where Cathy makes the connection between tough times and eating.

Art imitating art; Liz Lemon plagiarizing Cathy.
While I don't necessarily have any cravings, I find that I have a (fatal) mouth-stomach disconnect wherein I compulsively eat food just because it's there, even if I'm not really hungry. Last night I told my dad I could barely eat and dragged my feet into the dining room, only to be stuffing myself later with leftover jambalaya, fried spring rolls, pancit (stir-fried noodles), peas, corn, and carrots, grape juice, and finishing it off with a huge sweet roll stuffed with cream cheese. I have no idea where that "hunger" came from, but at least I know what the hell to stop doing so I don't explode.

By the way, what would you consider proper comfort food? I hope to fall on the side of Irving someday-- yum, fresh apple.

My body seems to be telling me to slow down in other ways: I was working on raw chocolate for another dessert a few days ago and I ate the scraps so they wouldn't go to "waste." For some reason the caffeine, tyramine, or whatever food cooties reared their ugly heads and gave me a headache. I suppose I should be thankful for small favors. But really, the best way to avoid these pitfalls especially this holiday season is to plan ahead, make only as much as you need, and of course, share it with others!

Case in point: I made this scaled-down version of a cake (that originally serves 12, and too generously in my opinion) from famed New York patissier Francois Payard, and served it to Genie, Vany, and Genie's mom after they helped me in preparing for my exam. Not only does it look elegant in my opinion, but I was also quite impressed on how distinct the flavors of the chocolates are in each layer. Despite the long instructions, it's really not that hard to make when you have the ingredients all ready. Now all that needs to be done is to get rid of the three pounds...

Trio of Chocolate Mousse Cake adapted from Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard
This is more accurately a bavarois cake. For this recipe you'll need a 6" cake ring 2.5" high, or a cake pan of the same dimensions, but it's easy to make it in a 9" cake ring, springform, or cake pan: simply double the quantities listed here. If using a cake ring, a strip of acetate at least 2.5" wide and at least 19" long is recommended to make a clean side. If you don't have acetate, just freeze the cake for longer and unmold when very firm. It will be difficult to add the cocoa mirror glaze if using a cake pan without destroying the pristine sides, but you can build the layers any order you want, and decorate some other way, such as with white/dark chocolate shavings or peaks of whipped cream.

Creme Anglaise Base

  • 120g (1/2 cup) whole milk

  • 2 large egg yolks

  • 15g (1-1/2 tablespoons) sugar

  • 25g (1-1/2 tablespoons) light corn syrup

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to a boil. In a separate small bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and corn syrup. Slowly pour the milk into the yolks in a thin stream while whisking madly. Return the mixture to the saucepan and reduce the heat to low. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and leave a trail when you run your finger through it (it will take a little more than a minute). Remove from heat and strain into a bowl. You will need the creme anglaise to be hot enough to melt the chocolate in the next step, so work quickly.

Chocolate Mousses
  • 55g (1-3/4 oz) white chocolate, chopped

  • 55g (1-3/4 oz) milk chocolate, chopped

  • 63g (2 oz) 72% chocolate, chopped

  • 375g (1-1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) heavy cream, chilled

  • and for each chocolate mousse:
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered unflavored gelatin

  • 15g (1 tablespoon) cold water

Prepare 3 medium bowls each containing one type of chocolate and 3 small cups, one for each type of chocolate. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand for 2 minutes. Microwave on low power for 15 seconds, or until the gelatin is fully dissolved. Dump 1/4 cup (60g) of the hot creme anglaise over each type of chocolate and give each a gentle stir to melt the chocolate. Stir in the dissolved gelatin into each chocolate sauce and stir until well-combined. Set aside.

In a well-chilled bowl and using well-chilled beaters, whip the cream until it holds medium peaks, about 5 minutes. When not using the whipped cream, keep it in the fridge.

Line the sides of a 6" cake ring with acetate and place on a piece of plastic wrap large enough to cover the bottom of the ring on a rimless baking sheet or removable bottom of a tart pan. If using a cake pan, spray with vegetable cooking spray and line with a large piece of plastic wrap, pressing it against the sides.

Take a third of the whipped cream (125g) and fold it into the dark chocolate sauce until well-combined. Pour it into the center of the ring and give it a gentle bang to level the mousse. Place in the freezer for about 20 minutes or until halfway firm. Take half of the remaining whipped cream (125g) and fold it into the milk chocolate sauce until well-combined. Pour it into the center of the firm dark chocolate mousse and give it a gentle bang to level the mousse. Return to the freezer for 20 more minutes. Fold the white chocolate sauce into the remaining whipped cream until well-combined. Pour it into the center of the firm milk chocolate mousse, taking care to leave a few mm space to pour in the cocoa glaze (eat the remaining white chocolate mousse if there is any as a treat). Leave in the freezer overnight, or until completely firm.

Cocoa Mirror Glaze
  • 60g (1/4 cup) whole milk or heavy cream

  • 75g (5 tablespoons) water

  • 90g (7 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon) granulated sugar

  • 33g (5 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon) Dutch-processed cocoa powder, preferably Valrhona

  • 3g (1/2 packet) gelatin granules

  • 15g (1 tablespoons) water

Prepare the glaze according to the instructions for glacage here. You will have enough for two cakes. Pour the glaze into the remaining space of the cake ring and place in the freezer for 20 minutes, or until set.

To unmold the mousse, place a 6" cake board (you could just use a 6" circle of stiff cardboard coated with aluminum foil) under the dessert and ease the plastic wrap away. Push from the bottom to release the mousse from the ring. Peel away the acetate and place on a serving platter. If you've used a cake ring, simply invert it into a serving platter and peel away the plastic wrap. Let it thaw in the fridge for a few hours before serving. I decorated the top with melted white chocolate.

Variation: you can add another layer of cake at the bottom: simply bake one sheet of chocolate genoise and use the cake ring to punch out a 6" round of genoise and use it to line the bottom.