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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daring Bakers' Macarons

It has been said many times how difficult and unpredictable it is to bake macarons. The same recipe will produce different outcome when it is baked in different country, season, weather, room temperature, and especially different ovens. Some recipes call for baking temperature of 190 C, which I would never even think of trying considering my oven gives me best result at 150-155 C. Some specify cold egg whites, room-temperature egg whites, or even egg white powder. Some use French meringue technique, others Italian or even Spanish (last update from DB Challenge). Aren't we confused enough?

Besides knowing well how your oven works, successful baking of macarons also depends on many factors, some of which we are not aware of. One can simply bake great macaron on the first try and fail on the next. Or what I experienced before - baking successfully on 3 consecutive attempts and failing on the next 4. Everything is kept the same: ingredients, macaronage technique, baking temperature, and every single detail I could remember. Then I realized I baked in hot season before and now it is raining everyfay. Humidity counts! And humidity is different from country to country.

Tedious is the word when it comes to baking macaron since it takes time to dry up the surface before proceeding into baking. On different climate and room temperature the drying time is different. It could take as short as half an hour to as long as three and a half hours. Once I baked in Hong Kong and it took only about half an hour to dry up the surface while in Thailand it takes much much longer! So when recently I read through Daring Bakers’ October Challenge’s macaron recipe that doesn’t require drying time, I jumped in full of joy!

How about Macaron with Chestnut Filling? Have been waiting to bake this...

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe. Thanks to Amy S. of Baking Without Fear.


Preparation time: Not taking into account the amount of time it takes for you to bring your egg whites to room temperature, the whole baking process, including making the batter, piping and baking will probably take you about an hour to an hour and a half. How long it takes to make your filling is dependent on what you choose to make.
Actual baking time: 12 minutes total, plus a few minutes to get your oven from 200°F to 375°F.

Equipment required:
• Electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer with a whisk attachment
• Rubber spatula
• Baking sheets
• Parchment paper or nonstick liners
• Pastry bag (can be disposable)
• Plain half-inch pastry bag tip
• Sifter or sieve

• If you don’t have a pastry bag and/or tips, you can use a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off
• Oven
• Cooling rack
• Thin-bladed spatula for removing the macaroons from the baking sheets
• Food processor or nut grinder, if grinding your own nuts (ouch!)

Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.

3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.

5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Finally confirmed to take part in the Family Bazaar for last Sunday. As I had booked a space for selling cakes, I prepared myself to spend a hectic Saturday for the whole preparation to happen. T had his day off so he was totally up for helping me out with one extra pair of hands and a smile. And I was so touched he actually cancelled his plan with his friends and chose to be with me instead. I was glad as well that we for the first time had an opportunity to run a three-hour business together and establish a connection away from our routine.

Told T that no matter how busy the whole thing was, we were supposed to take it easy and have a bit of fun. Yeah sure….. but in reality??? Well, it was actually a bit chaotic at the end of Saturday evening because we were both busy with our tasks and due to miscommunication, T unintentionally cut the baked vanilla sponge cake which was supposed to be for Fruity Carousel Cake into something else.

While I found out about it, I freaked out but quickly calmed myself down and dealt with it. Apparently my butter cream was not sufficient to decorate 40 cupcakes and 3 whole cakes. It was late and I didn’t really want to make more butter cream nor another vanilla sponge cake. Therefore I concluded maybe the incident was a blessing in disguise and I should be content with 40 cupcakes and 2 whole cakes, instead of 3.

So those were all we got: 40 chocolate cashew nut cupcakes frosted with vanilla and coffee butter cream, 1 coffee cake covered with coffee butter cream, garnished with almond and kiwi fruit, and 1 chocolate cake covered with vanilla butter cream, topped with longans and pomegranate.

On Sunday morning, we arrived at the empty car park at 11:15 in the morning, set up our counter by combining 2 book shelves, and discovered hat we had to share not-so-big shelter with the neighboring shop. Some of my cake stands were obviously off the sheltered area and directly exposed to the sun. Didn’t really have time to do anything about it since customers started to order cakes and we had to slice them, put them into boxes, and then place the boxes into plastic bags. And on top of that collected money and gave the change. Only about 20 minutes later we realized that our cakes started to melt. We had to do something about it right away!! It was a critical situation. SOS! SOS!!!

I quickly approached one of the organizers and begged to relocate our counter to the shady area right underneath the building. She granted it and without any delay we moved all the things as quickly as we could. And that really helped because the melting stopped and I was hysterical noticing that some parts of the cake decoration were deformed and there was nothing fast enough to salvage that. “Oh God, we have cakes to sell here, help us please!”

Suggested to T that I should just take some of the cakes to the food store nearby and ask for a favor to use their refrigerator briefly. I was desperate, alright? When I was about to do just that, customers started to come non-stop. T stressed that my cakes should stay put right where they were because apparently people were buying regardless of the deformed butter cream frosting. I almost couldn’t believe it.

We were both amazed by it and kept reminding the customers to refrigerate the cake as soon as they arrived home and all! And while we did all that, we never for once forgot to give away name cards! And some people stayed to chat about their prospective needs of cakes for events and birthdays. They were pleased to know that I basically stay in their neighborhood and the delivery would be so convenient. I was glad too.

It ended about 2:30 in the afternoon. We sold 75% of our cakes in less than 3 hours. My coffee kiwi cake sold the fastest. We were happy about it and with a smile in our faces, we concluded that we should be doing this again, maybe somewhere else pretty soon when next opportunity knocked.And next thing in our mind was reaching home as soon as possible and having a nap. It was a good day!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Daring Cooks' Wonton

Creative wonton is the second challenge of October. Besides Pho, Jaden of Steamy Kitchen also presented an extra dessert challenge to set a complete meal. Need to squeeze out a lot of creative juice to make wontons interesting and presentable.

Well, wonton wrappers are conveniently available in supermarket near my house. So that takes away the hassles. All I need to do is to find fresh strawberries and make Creme Patissiere. For those of you who like to follow the creme recipe please refer to The Swan. But for those who are into fried chocolate wontons do feel free to apply the following recipe from Jaden.

This second challenge is particularly interesting for me because whatever that comes out from my wontons will be joining a Jaden's contest to win a copy of her new book The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. I have to come up with a nice shot that is presentable for the contest! Snap, snap, snap!


Recipe Source: Jaden of Steamy Kitchen from her new book The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

• Small bowl
• Pastry brush
• Plastic wrap and/or damp paper towels
• Wok or medium-sized pot
• Frying thermometer (if you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the oil temperature by dropping in a cube of bread … if it browns quickly, the oil is ready)

Preparation time: 15 minutes + 15 minutes cooking time (for 12 wontons
Servings: Makes 12 wontons.

1 large egg
1 tbsp. water
12 wonton wrappers, defrosted (keep wrappers covered with damp towel)
12 pieces or nuggets of chocolate (use any type of chocolate you like)
High-heat oil for frying (i.e., vegetable oil, corn oil)
Confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar) for sprinkling

- In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water to make an egg wash.
On a clean, dry surface lay 1 wonton wrapper down with a point toward you, like a diamond.
- Place 1 piece of chocolate near the top end of the wrapper.
- Brush a very thin layer of the egg wash on the edges of the wrapper.
- Fold the bottom corner of the wrapper up to create a triangle and gently press to remove all air from the middle. Press the edges to adhere the sides. Make sure the wrapper is sealed completely.

- Repeat with the remaining wrappers and chocolate pieces.
- Keep the folded chocolate wontons covered under plastic wrap or a damp paper towel to prevent them from drying.
- In a wok or medium pot, pour in 2 inches (5 cm.) of high-heat oil.
- Heat the oil to 350º F (180º C) and gently slide a few of the chocolate wontons into the hot oil. Make sure you don’t crowd the chocolate wontons.
- Fry the wontons for 1 ½ minutes, then flip over and fry another minute until both sides are golden brown and crisp.

Daring Cooks' Pho

Thanks to Jaden of Steamy Kitchen for hosting October challenge with her delicious Pho. The real punch of the challenge is cooking chicken broth takes one and a half hours! But believe me, the whole effort is worth it! The soup is clear and rich in taste, perfectly fits my taste buds for Vietnamese food. It has been a while since the last time I had Pho so now I could actually have it anytime at home, provided I have one and a half hours to spare.

Make it on time for the posting. Hundreds of pictures to select from, that is time consuming and plus a lot of subjectivity involved in judging which photos to be included in the post. And oh yes, I need to pick 2 photos for joining the contest to win a copy of Jaden's new book: The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. I have to dig for the best photo of Pho and an extra picture for Creative Wonton and send them to DB Forum. Jaden will pick her eight favourite photos and post them to her blog on November 15th. Daring Kitchen members and Jaden’s blog readers will then vote on the winners. Voting will end at midnight (Eastern Standard Time) on November 21st. Winners will be announced on Jaden’s Steamy Kitchen blog on November 26th. Wouldn't that be wonderful to learn how to cook Pho, eat it and get a free book?

The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. Have made some adjustment to suit my own convenience. If you like to view original recipe, please click here.


Recipe Source: Jaden of Steamy Kitchen from her new book The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.
Makes 4 servings

General Ingredients:
- Chicken carcasses > 2
- Boneless Chicken breasts > 2
- Unpeeled big onion - cut in half > 1/2
- Unpeeled ginger > 3 inch

Broth Spices Ingredients:
- Whole coriander seeds > 2 tablespoons
- Whole cloves > 4
- Whole star anise > 2
- Granulated sugar > 3 tablespoons
- Fish sauce - choose light in color, anything darker is inferior quality > 9 tablespoons
- Coriander/cilantro - cut from lower stem to root > 4-5 bunches

Accompaniment Ingredients:
- Dried rice noodles > 300 grams
- Bean sprouts - wash and pinch off tails > 2 cups
- Coriander/cilantro leaves and stems > as desired
- Shallots - shave > 1/2 cup
- Lime - cut into 4 wedges > 1
- Chili - slice > 4

- Place ginger and onion on a baking tray. Place onion about 4" from the oven's top heating element. Set temperature to 175 C and bake for 30 minutes. Turn onion and ginger occasionally to get an even char. The skin should get dark and the flesh should get soft. Meanwhile, whack hard the chicken carcasses through the bones to get sections about 3" big. The more bone that is exposed, the more marrow that gets in the broth which will make it richer and more flavorful. Whack several places along the bone just to expose more marrow. Leave aside.
- When the onion and ginger are charred enough, remove from oven and cool. After cooling, rub to get the charred skin off the onion. Peel ginger and slice into thick slices. Set aside.

- Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add coriander seeds, cloves, and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Stir to avoid burning. Set aside.
- In a large pot, fill with water and bring to boil. Add chicken carcass sections and boil for 5 minutes. Lots of foam and fats will float on the surface. Remove from stove, drain and rinse chicken carcass sections of the scum and wash the pot thoroughly too. Refill pot with 2 liters of clean, cold water.

- Add chicken carcass, chicken breasts, big onion, ginger slices, and all broth spices in a pot. Turn heat up - let it boil, then immediately turn heat to low. Prop the lid up to let steam escape. After 15 minutes, remove chicken breasts for later use. With a large spoon, skim the surface of any impurities in the broth. Skimming every 20 minutes ensures a clear broth. Optional: add half a liter of water. Simmer a total of 1.5 hours. Check the taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Strain the broth.
- Shred chicken breast meat with your fingers.
- Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package.

- Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl.
- Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients.

To view Jaden's original long version of chicken broth recipe check out, and for beef broth click

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Out of My Comfort Zone

My two weeks following the Daring Cooks’ Challenge: Vols-au-Vent have been all about puff. Amazed that suddenly I became so into puff pastry. Flipping through my pastry books became desirable and my niece’s wish to have my sister cook Clam Chowder with Puff Crust abruptedly put me on alarm. Seemed like everything that I ever wanted to bake and wasn’t possible in the past had opened its gateway to enter and explore. The only factor left that matter in making it happen: time.

Then the opportunity arose. While I was reading Sue of Munchkin Munchies’s Vols-au-Vent’s post recently, I discovered that she had been thinking about baking croissant right after she successfully baked puff pastry. Oh, yes… you should see her beautiful puff pastry by clicking here.

So I, being out of my curious mode and happily sharing the same interest, invited her to join our own croissant challenge in the following week. She replied through an email saying she accepted it. Apparently we both had agreed that it was about time to kick ourselves out of our unsure-therefore-afraid-to-try comfort zone and this challenge would just do that effectively. The baking date was set on 7th October and the post would be up in a couple of days right after.

Only on the second badge, my croissants came through. I and Sue continuously updated each other about the baking and all. She has gone through two consecutive days of overnight dough refrigeration and is still making the effort to blog about it as soon as possible. As I had followed a local recipe that didn’t require such an extensive refrigeration and happened to be very straight forward, I became very curious about her time-consuming recipe. Maybe my simple recipe was the reason why my croissants didn’t grow big enough and weren’t flaky enough. Either way, I look forward to seeing Sue’s post and hoping to bake from a better recipe next time.

Meanwhile, the coordinator of next week's family bazaar confirmed that no table would be provided for my booth, no games or other attracting activities to drive in the crowds would go concurrently with the event, and selling time would be only from 11am to 2pm. I was left to think about where would I find a table – a presentable one, what to bake, and should I be printing name cards any sooner. On the other hand, T and I were invited by his friends for a camping trip on that particular weekend. I suggested T to go along with them without me but he confirmed he would stick with me and the bazaar thing. I was touched!

Regardless how much I want to find prospective customers in my neighborhood through this bazaar, which will meet my objective of convenient cake delivery in the future, my mind is still trying to justify whether the whole effort would be worthwhile at the end of the day. Or should we just go for camping?

Makes 10

- All purpose flour > 250 grams
- Milk powder > 25 grams
- Granulated sugar > ½ tablespoon
- Salt > ¼ teaspoon
- Dry instant yeast > 6 grams
- Water > 75 ml
- Milk > 75 ml
- Cold butter block > 120 grams
- Egg wash > 1 egg yolk with 1 teaspoon of water

- Combine all purpose flour, milk powder, granulated sugar, salt and yeast in a mixing bowl.
- Run the mixer fitted with a hook at medium speed and gradually pour in water and milk.
- Stop the mixer as soon as the dough comes away from the bowl.
- Shape dough into a ball, cover with cling film, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Dough would rise.
- Remove from refrigerator and knock back the dough by flipping it over with your hand to release the carbon gas, but do not overwork it.

- Place dough on a lightly floured work surface and roll out the four sides to make flaps.
- Place butter block in the center. Fold the flaps over the butter to envelop it entirely.
- Lightly flour the dough surface, roll the dough into a 8x18 inches rectangle. Fold in three – bottom to the center and top to the center. This is the first turn. Chill for 30 minutes.

- Give the chilled dough a 90 degree turn, roll out into a rectangle, fold and chill again. This is the second turn.
- Repeat the step for the third turn.
- Wrap dough in cling film and chill for 30 minutes. Meanwhile do a cardboard template: 9cm on the base and 18cm high.
- Lightly flour the work surface and roll out the chilled dough into 12x15 inches rectangle with a thickness of 3mm.
- Use the template as a guide, cut the dough into triangles.
- Lay the triangular dough with the base towards you. Roll up the base to the top tip. Do until all is done.

- Lightly brush croissants with egg wash. Stay away from the thickness area cause it will prevent rising properly.
- Place croissants on a baking tray and leave it in a warm place (around 24 C) for 2 hours until they have almost doubled in size.
- Preheat oven to 170 C.
- Lightly brush croissants with egg wash one more time. Stay away from the thickness area cause it will prevent rising.
- Bake for 15 minutes.