Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Just my luck

“I should go to the morning practical session even though we’re only making jam and jelly candy today.”

“I’m so tired I just want to go home and sleep.”

“Ok, if I can make the 8am bus I’ll go to class. If I miss it, I’ll take the Narita express and go home.”

“But even if I go home I’ll only get two hours of sleep before I have to get up again and go to the afternoon lecture.”

These thoughts drifted in and out of my half-awake consciousness the entire six hours of red-eye flight from Singapore to Tokyo. In the end I barely convinced myself to go to class, mostly because I thought it was more trouble than it’s worth to go home for the morning.

When I got to school, with 25 minutes to spare, however, I was told that there would be no school today because there’s no electricity. We were asked to write down our phone number so the school could contact us later to let us know whether there’ll be school tomorrow. Nobody knew why the electricity went out because all the other buildings in the area had electricity.

I couldn’t believe my luck. Out of all the days, it had to be today, when I had to drag both my sleepwalking self and my luggage from the airport to school! To think that I could’ve saved myself the trouble had I decided not to come in! I knew I shouldn’t have been so diligent…

Monday, November 13, 2006

Macaron, Macaron, Macaron!!

The original plan for Saturday was to go to Mt. Takao to take photos of the autumn leaves and then have dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Ukai Toriyama, with my roommate Tanya. Of course the weather wasn’t cooperating and started to rain before we even got up. Looking at the gloomy and dreary weather, Tanya and I decided to stay in and have a lazy day instead. I was finishing up my cake and thought of trying to decorate it with macarons.

I was naturally a little nervous because it took me five tries to work out the gas oven in my Tokyo apartment the last time I made macarons at home. I never tried making them in my electric oven (yup, I brought my own oven to Tanya’s house…) so I wasn’t sure how many tries it’d take for them to turn out right. With the rain and higher humidity, I almost gave up before I even started. Then again, what else was I going to do besides watching LOST? Out came the frozen egg whites, almond powder and silpats. Instead of dissolving the colorants in water I mixed the color powder with the granule sugar but didn’t know exactly how much to use. That’s why the macarons are ten shades brighter than I wanted them to be, but the shapes all turned out perfect on the second try! I could hardly believe my luck.

I tried putting them around the cake but because of the bright colors, it didn’t look right, so I put some chocolate ganache in between and had them with Tanya over a cup of hot tea. What a perfect rainy Saturday.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Just can’t stop

Before Sunday my entire thoughts were occupied with how to improve my cake recipe, but when it’s finalized at last there’s suddenly nothing to do. Jason’s leaving also left an empty feeling, even though I knew I’d see him again in less two weeks in Singapore. So when I got home after seeing him off in Tokyo station, I felt like I had to do something to occupy myself, like cooking something, anything.

The only thing in the fridge that can be used conceivably for dessert is a carton of almost expired milk. Not even an egg left after the weekend cake project. What could I make with just milk? Then it hit me. Rice! Every household in Japan has rice! So rice pudding is the natural thing to do. I also remembered the yummy fig mousse cake Jason and I had over the weekend and I happened to have bought some dried figs and was getting a little tired of eating them as is. I think the cake we had was made with port-poached figs, but my roommate has two bottles of un-finished red wine sitting there waiting to get spoiled. Red wine plus sugar equals port, right? Well, sort of, anyway, so I used that.

The end result is a creamy rice pudding topped with red wine poached figs.

Rice pudding:
500ml full-fat milk
¼ rice
sugar to taste
nutmeg, cinnamon to taste

- bring milk to a boil and add rice and all the other ingredients
- keep on simmering and stirring until rice is soft
- stop cooking when it’s still a little runny (will thicken)
- store in fridge overnight

Red wine poached figs:
Dry figs
Red wine

- place dry figs into saucepan until bottom is ¾ covered (leave space for figs to expand)
- Pour enough wine over fig to cover
- Add sugar
- Bring to a boil and then turn down heat to simmer
- Make a paper lid with parchment paper and place directly on figs
- Keep on simmering, adding more wine as needed so it doesn’t dry out, until figs are soft

It's decided

I finally have a cake recipe. After giving the first four prototypes to virtually everyone I know in Tokyo and getting plenty of feedbacks, I completely revamped the recipe(a big thank you to Pei-ran and Yoko who gave really honest and constructive criticisms). The complaints people had for the first four versions are mostly about the grapefruit. The taste was too subtle, so unless told, most people couldn’t tell it’s in it. There was also a disconnect between the white color of the mousse and the image of grapefruit. So in the final recipe, I added paste made of grapefruit peel, got rid of the meringue and used egg yolks to further enhance the yellow color. I also increased the amount of champagne in the gelee layer to the same amount as grapefruit juice. I'm such an alcoholic when it comes to alcohol in cakes, so the more the merrier.

The end result is this. It’s 16cm instead of 18cm so I still need to make a full-sized one.

I also need to think of what to put on the cake as decoration. This cake was made over the weekend when Jason decided to surprise me by coming to Tokyo for a visit. As a result it was made in stages, mostly in the morning before we went out and at night after we came back. During the rush of things, I made a calculation error and ended up short on the strawberry/raspberry mousse. In an desperate effort to salvage the cake before the mousse starts to set, I forgot to sprinkle grapefruit peel on the cake surface. The decorations were thrown on the cake ten minutes before Jason was due to leave for the airport so he could take a look/taste and give me his honest opinion. Since he’s usually my toughest critic, I was glad that he liked both the taste and the texture of the cake. I am still not entirely happy with the white chocolate/feuilletine mixture I spread on the cake base to provide texture contrast. It wasn’t too hard to eat but it could be hard to cut through with a fork. That’s one thing I still need to work on, but it’s such a relief to come to an end of this cake saga, although I did have fun and learned a lot in the process.

Stay tuned for the final version (if there ever is one).