Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Song

Hello my darlings... I know, I know sugar paste flowers are yet to come~~~ I'll try to post tomorrow...

The first week of work has tuckered me out!! Not to mention all my housekeeping that has been neglected for weeks that had to be done today... I would really like to rise up to the point where I don't have to do my own laundry when it comes to my chef whites haha Yes, that is the reason why I would like to make it as a pastry chef, so I don't have to do my own laundry *shakes head at self* I'm delirious. There has been alot of eating today. ALOT. *ashamed*

I was told that you aren't really a true New Yorker, until you run out of clothing from the lack of time to do laundry and have to go buy new clothes. I can say then, that as of this week, I am officially a true New Yorker!  However, I finally got the time to do my laundry today, but of course, forgot to add dryer sheets and now I may own the world's biggest pile of static-y clothing. Its been awhile. Plus back in humid hot Singapore there ain't a reason to have to use em'~~~ So yeaahh... you may want to avoid coming close to me for the rest of the month in fear of getting zapped :( As if I need any more reasons for people to be far away from me *sobs*

Anyways just thought I would drop in and say hi real quick *hi* cos I would like to get back to posting more regularly~~~ Think my new year's resolution is to be more disciplined and to get fit. Lord knows the job requires it. I forgot what it feels to be working in the kitchen... which basically, is what I imagine being 90 feels like.

With the year coming to an end real fast, there has been lots of Christmas specials on tv. Just caught the latest episode of Glee and man, were they singing up a festive storm~ I love Christmas carols... and to take a break from all that baking, here's one of my favorite that I recorded~ Click on the link below to play the song~ Its not great, but sounds slightly better through headphones, and I hope you like it!

 Christmas Song - Tricia Lim

Happy Holidays everyone :)


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Macaron Tasting Day in NYC~~~

Morning my little macarons~ Guess where I am right now??

I'm coming to you live from a Starbucks in Soho right now~ How cool is that?? Today is one of those surreal days in NYC. One where I can hardly believe that I am here, let alone sipping on a Christmas blend Clover brewed Starbucks having a bagel with cream cheese and blogging. For some strange reason I always thought that one is not a true blogger until they sit in a cafe and blog. Today I can say that I have done it, and it is ever bit as glorious as I imagined.

Ok, I know that I promised Ron Ben Israel next, but I spent last evening having fun going around some of the top Macaron stores in NYC and thought I would give you all a review on them whilst its still fresh in my mind~~~

A little info about the macaron, it consists of 2 shells made essentially of almond meal and a meringue, sandwiched between are often ganache, buttercream or jam. There have been plenty of debate about which Macaron rules, but I believe that it is one of personal preference. Some critics say that the perfect Macaron should be like that of Laduree, flat on top, with a crispy shell that is chewy at the same time. Not too much filling, not too little filling. Everything in balance.

Confession: I'm biased. Up front, I'm gonna tell you all that I prefer the ones I make best, that are based on a recipe from chef Eric Perez of Macaron in Bangkok. I attended his 3 day pastry baking class and was not a fan of the macaron until I tasted the ones we made. They may not be my favorite go to dessert still, but it was he who showed me that a macaron could be tasty, not too sweet, and just the right amount of chew. But like I said. Macarons are sooo highly subjective. More about Chef Eric Perez and his macarons after the review of Manhattan's finest.

First up, Kee's Chocolates~

The selection and showcase available at Kee's Chocolates
on Spring Street

Blood Orange Macaron- Ganache Filled
Cassis Macaron- Ganache Filled

Here's what happened trying to just break the macaron in half. I know it should be bitten into, but come on. THIS shouldn't happen at anytime to a macaron.

I had a little more hope for the Blood Orange macaron, seeing that it is one of my favorite flavors, but alas~

Overall, I found the selection to be good, but the texture of the macarons to be a little off. Too crunchy of an outershell with a hollow void, not enough chew or a moist crumb that I enjoy. Also the ganache was a little overwhelming, such that the flavors of the fruit were not able to shine through enough. If you enjoy a crunchy macaron as opposed to a chewy one, then you will enjoy this, but perhaps stick to a chocolate flavour, something that Kee's specializes in. They also have a good selection of bon bons in store for those with chocolate on the brain. I was fortunate enough to bump into the owner Kee's herself in the store! She's a lovely lady and I'll be back one day to sample her hand made chocolates.

Next up, Dominique Ansel Bakery~

Store front~ Inside is a quaint little place with accents of white and wood. Reminiscent of a cozy little Parisian cafe.
The Salted Caramel Eclair~ The man worked as one of the head chefs in Fouchon Bakery in Paris, needless to say the eclairs he makes are delightful. If you're wondering what it is filled with, it was a fluid vanilla creme patissiere I believe

Lemon Macaron- Good crunch to the outer shell, bit of chew, with a lemon curd filling I believe~ It was nice to have a little tart to cut through the sweet

Canele du Bordeaux- A little custard dessert baked in a mold till dark and caramelized on the outside~ Not many places out of Paris makes good ones as I've been told. This was the very first one I have ever had and it reminded me of the Ambon of back home. A Nonya dessert that has a honeycomb crumb and a caramelized outter crust.

Last but not least for the evening, La Maison du Maracon~

Walking in, you have a very homey comforting feel to the store~

A great variety of unique and interesting macaron flavours~ That range from the seasonal Apple Cider and Cranberry to the boozy such as Baileys and Jack Daniels. They also have the traditional fruits and sea salt caramel which came highly recommended, as well as flavors such as Nutella and Tarte Tartin but there's only so many macarons a girl can have without developing Type II Diabetes. Portion control is key.

So, final pick were the Baileys and the White Russian

Who doesn't need a night cap am I right? And quite honestly, I prefer mine in macaron form rather than liquid. Its how I intend to have all my booze in future.

By now, you can imagine the sugar high. A cuppa tea is necessary. In hindsight, any kind of pastry tasting day should be accompanied with a flask of hot lemon water just to prevent keeling over after the third location

See that folks? That's a nice crumb right there. Neither was the filling too sweet. Plus it really did taste boozy and strongly of Baileys~ Win.

The White Russian was slightly sweeter and tasted a little similar to the Baileys, if you were to pick one, go for the Baileys :)

Overall, La Maison du Macaron lives up to their hype~ Their precision of shell and filling presentation could be better, I like my macarons with a little more frill (feet), but I'm just anal that way. Texture and taste wise though, it was pretty damn good! I'll be back to try more of their flavors for sure. I met a guy in there completely lost amongst the sea of flavors, trying to pick a box for his girlfriend. Now isn't that sweet? But then found out they were for an apology. Guys, do yourselves a favor and buy your girl a box for no reason once in awhile won't you? It'll get you into their good books for quite some time I can assure you that.

Afterall, quoting the NY Times article, "Your slacker boyfriend gives you cupcakes, your lover gives you Macarons."

Back to chef Eric Perez, he specialized in sugar and chocolate work, having even taught in the reknown Ewald Notter School. He was pastry chef of the French Embassy in Washington DC and competed in the World Pastry Cup where he won Silver and Bronze. Pastry Arts and Design magazine even named him top 10 pastry chefs in the United States in 1996. I never knew all this about him when I first attended his class. He was and still is the sweet French man in Bangkok that really got me hooked on baking after the 3 days. We still keep in touch and every time I'm in Bangkok I drop by his school to say hi and pick up a box or 3 of macarons~
Here are some of my favourite macarons made using Chef Perez's recipe~ Merci Chef!

As if macarons need to be any cuter. But here's proof that they can be.

The above heart macaron and these brown delights are sea salt caramel macarons topped with a light sprinkling of feuilletine~ So good and not too sweet! The buttercream filling was made by making a caramel then adding boiling water to bring it back to soft ball stage then adding the butter. Sugar tastes less sweet the longer it's cooked or the more it caramelizes so these don't come out that sweet despite being a caramel. Did that make sense? Hope so.

Here I made some Matcha macarons. Simply colored green with a dusting of matcha (green tea powder) before going into the oven~ Oh I have such a feet fetish.

I leave the macaron shells on the silpat on the holed baking sheet it was on to cool completely before removing them to prevent them from sticking. This also ensures the bottoms of the macarons do not become soggy or sticky upon removal. For those of you who have made macarons before, you know what I mean by this.

Living so close to the equator, humidity is almost always at 80-90% as such, macarons need to sit in air conditioned comfort for about 2-3 hours to form their signature shells before baking. Baking time on a holed baking sheet then takes 12 mins at 150 degrees centigrade in a convection oven. In a conventional deck oven, increase the temp by 10 degrees! By the way, chocolate macarons need to be baked 2 minutes more in general!

The last above point attests to the fact that baking is a precise science and any change in ingredient or element in a recipe changes the chemical makeup of the product and how it behaves and reacts. Fascinating! I have been absolutely hooked recently on the Modernist Cuisine books of late. I don't have them, cos I would have to sell a kidney to buy them. But the FCI library has 2 sets so I've been camping out there reading up and watching the Harvard lectures on Science and Cooking at night before bedtime. They make for wonderful grownup bed time stories :) Yes. I am a pastry geek. I admit it. But go check it out, the channel is on youtube~ Trust me it's amazing.

Ok my lovelies~ That's all for me for now but more to come so stay tuned!!


Thursday, December 1, 2011

First 3 tiered Wedding Cake~

Hello dolls~ I'm back as promised~~~ Whilst waiting for my chef instructors to send me their letters or recommendation I am taking it easy. A well deserved break after the non stop past 7 months. But. 2 days in and I am so restless and itching to get back out there. I know it's going to be exhausting the moment I start though!

So. I did promise more of what went down the past few months, one of which was my very first 3 tiered wedding cake!! Oh yes. Without any practice or much guidance, we were thrown into projects and asked to make these towering creations to be graded and judged by teachers and in this case, students alike. Oh man was this stressful. We were given 2 and a half days to make the cake but what we didn't account for was the fact the first day was going to be purely spend making and assembling the layers of the cake. That only leaves us about a day to stack and decorate the thing! I know what you're thinking. One full day, that's plenty of time~~~ But that's the kicker right there! A day in school is only from 8.30am-2.30pm with an hour of lunch in the middle. Not to mention our equipment doesn't usually arrive until about 9am if we're lucky, and we have to stop and clean up the kitchen by 2pm so that essentially only gives us 5 hours each day.

I have to also stress that whilst we are in the middle of doing this, there are also other projects lined up behind this one which needs to be planned and plotted once we have the time. This equated to very very late nights and very very long days. Thus the absence till now~~~

What I also found out, was that trying to be creative when you're running on reserve power is next to impossible~ So coming up with unique and beautiful designs for all the projects soon became the most challenging part of the last month of the program. Don't get me wrong, the tight timeline for production and what we already had to do was in itself challenging. Just saying that- for me, coming up with the designs damn nearly killed me with frustration. It was like trying to fry an egg on a semi-warm sidewalk.

Pleasantries aside, here's what I came up with in the end~~~

The theme for this project was given by the junior class below us and it was- Winter Forest with colours of blue and silver primarily. I didn't want to go the route most of my class was taking and using branches on the cake so I did a design based on the color theme and kept it as simple and clean looking as possible. I remember not wanting to do any flowers in the beginning, but like I said, I was conflicted from here on out and in the end had an abundance of flowers! Of which my chef asked me to keep aside for her to use for another project, which I took to be a compliment

 It was my very first time really stacking a cake! We used straws as support, cutting each one to just the height of the cake so that it would sit nicely without showing through the layers. You may also see a rubber stamp there on my table. That's cos if you look closely, I used the rubber stamp to imprint some texture to the cardboard base that I wrapped in fondant. I decided to give this a try since embossing tools for fondant as so expensive and hard to get a hold of. What did I think of it? Well, I felt it did a really good job for projects where you want a subtle print, perhaps something that you can highlight with lustre dust, or something that you intend to look at close up

I wish that I had more time to take pictures of the entire process but alas, it was a huge time crunch~ But in the corner, you can see the flowers before they went on the cake. They were made by mixing fondant with a little CMC till it gets more pliable and elastic. I then used flower cutters in 4 different sizes to cut out the flower shapes, being careful to keep them air tight to prevent them from drying out. Each of the flowers were then shaped using a ball tool to make them come alive, by thinning out the edges of each petal and giving it a curve. They were each allowed to dry on undulating foam till they set and put aside for assembly on the last day

 Why was the base textured you ask~ Well, the junior class included this tit bit of information about the bride in our bridal package before we made the cake. The bride designs textiles~ So I thought it would be a good addition to add in some textile design and texture at the same time. 

 As for the wedding couple topper, this was not exactly my original design but I only started them 30 mins before judging! Without a plan, I had to wing it and this was the final cake topper I came up with. Once again, the bride's dress is textured with the same rubber stamp used so as to match the base and add continuity to the piece, along with the tiny flower in her hair. The color of their eyes and hair were based on the information the junior class provided us about the couple

Based on the kitschy nature of the pair, I gave her a little side pony tail~~~ Also, every girl dreams of a train on her wedding day~ So I gave her one!

 Here's the back of the cake. I kept it very simple and just went with a large textured bow. It was my first time making a bow, let alone this big~~~ People often think that making something small is harder than making something large, but I find the opposite to be true.

 Here, I made the loops in advance and let them dry with paper towel inside to keep their shape, then on the day of assembly, I tied them together with a puffy center piece and placed them on the ribbon tails that I draped over the cake. 

You may not be able to see it clearly because the camera really doesn't pick up shine very well, but the pearls, the base 

 As well as the bow and the bride's dress are all dusted with a light coating of silver lustre dust to add some sparkle

 Here's the side view, and my classmates Fabrina on the left and Mickie on the right in the background~

 The flowers were all glued on individually with royal icing in a cornet. I intended this cascade effect down the cake in a wave with gradation of flower sizes from the middle out. I had tons of extra flowers and added double layers to the larger flowers to give them more detail. Due to the lack of time, I couldn't pipe in the little dots within each flower, which I really did want to do. But it came out well none the less!


 So, what are all these people doing standing around our cakes you wonder? Remember the class that gave us our lovely theme? Well, they were the judges that day too, along with our chefs! That's Chef Jeanne in the background with the tall hat~ She was our level 1 chef instructor for tarts and cookies!

 Chef Chris~~~ You may recognize him from other posts from level 2. He came up too cos its his class that is now going around judging our cakes

 Here are all our cakes all lined up ready for judgement *shivers* We all had to stand aside so none of the students knew which cake belonged to which student. Each student then casts their vote for the best cake via the number written on the table next to the cake

 Tallying the numbers!

 Love these girls from class~~ Miss them sooo much, left to right Sarah, Gretchen, Nopy, Adeli, Ayelet, Laura, Jesse then I have no clue who that is... Hard to imagine that we will probably never be in a room together all of us, ever again. That just breaks my heart.

Vote is out! I am number 3! Yay!!!

So what have I learned from the whole wedding cake experience? I walked away knowing that I am able to come up with something that I may not necessarily like, but that the bride might like and enjoy. Also learned how to integrate ideas and information about the couple into the design. I was sincerely uncertain if the cake would come out at all, but in the end, its all about trusting your abilities in the kitchen, trusting that your gut and your hands won't fail you if you keep a calm head on your shoulders.

Tip of The Day!!!
 Wedding cake building... Always take in consideration how many people you are going to feed and work backwards to determine how big and high the cake should be. Another thing to take into consideration, is how much time you have and how much you are willing to put into a project before you design the piece. 

I say this because, if you have a day like I did and want to do flowers, like me, then take the shortcut and use cutters and make simple flowers, then create other elements of design based on a simple but elegant look. If on the other hand, you have a client who is paying much more or wants a much more elaborate cake with full sugar paste roses for example, then you will need to set aside weeks if not months to make those flowers in advance and have the rest of the cake match. 

For those of you reading that love baking, why not come up with an imaginary theme or party and design a cake for the occasion! Better still, throw a party and make it.

All this talk about sugar paste reminds me that I have yet to tell you all about my experience in class learning from legendary cake designer extraordinaire Ron Ben Israel. That will be coming up soon so stay tuned if you want to find out how those realistic roses, lilies and leaves are made out of sugar paste!