Monday, December 03, 2007

Christmas is Here (almost)

Singapore is a great place to live: clean air, safe environment, convenient location for traveling in South East Asia and all the modern amenities you can think of. However, living in a tropical country where seasons blend into perpetual summer has its drawbacks. For one, you are always in shorts and T-shirts and the only way to wear your hair is up. The simple act of pulling on a pair of jeans turns into a major task of plotting out a route to ensure that you are never outside of air-conditioned buildings for more than 30 seconds at a time. Perhaps most disconcerting, however, is that you lose all sense of time. No more cherry blossoms in the spring, or changing foliages in the fall, and certainly no snow in the winter.

This past weekend, however, I stepped outside at 7am to let my dogs out and found myself home 15 minutes later without being covered in sweat. Later, when I walked them to the botanic garden I felt a definite chill when a gust of wind stirred up some fallen leaves on the ground. Could it BE? But yes! Winter is definitely upon us. This miniscule change in temperature somehow gets me in the mood for the holiday season like you wouldn’t believe. As if to help things along, everywhere I look there are huge snowflakes hanging off trees, Christmas lights strung across the streets, and 20-ft fake Christmas trees in every shopping center. Some department stores are even blasting Christmas carols! Yes, we are in the tropics, but damn it if we don’t try our best to make it feel like Christmas. And that is how I found myself making a 10” tall gingerbread Christmas tree a whole two months early.

The tedious part for this tree was cutting out the eleven snowflake shaped templates in decreasing sizes. The real challenge, however, was rolling out the dough, cutting the snowflakes with the help of the template, and transferring them to the baking sheet without distorting the shapes. All in all, there were 22 layers of snowflakes and I was cursing myself for embarking on such a stupid project right around layer ten. Once the cookies are baked though, the decorating part was easy, and a whole lot faster than a gingerbread house like this one. I think I just found the solution to an edible holiday centerpiece.

While I was on a roll, I decided to use the remaining dough to make gingerbread cookies and test some decorating ideas for the upcoming Christmas baking class at Palate Sensations on December 16th. Since it’s a hands-on class, I wanted to keep the decorations simple so that even people with minimal cookie decorating experience can go home with some beautiful cookies. At the same time they will learn useful tips and techniques so they can experiment and come up with more elaborate designs on their own. Without further ado, this is what I came up with, using white royal icing only, with the occasional help of a little sprinkles.

In the same class I will also be teaching miniature mince pies. Aren’t they just adorable? For class sign-ups, contact Palate Sensations.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Best of Tokyo, According to Lynn

Having lived in Tokyo for almost six years, I get approached a lot by friends and cyber-acquaintances for recommendations on sights to see and places to eat when they visit Japan. While I am by no means an expert on either subject, I do have a list of favorites. After typing out more or less the same responses at least half a dozen times in the past year, I finally got smart and decided to write it down in my blog so that the next time I’m asked I could easily attach a link instead of digging up all the information from the depth of my drawer and computer files all over again. So here it goes, in no particular order and highly subjective:

You will see kaminarimon when you get out of the Asakusa subway station. It is the gateway with the giant red lantern that’s on all the tourist information brochures and post cards. Walk through it to find yourself in a little covered street lined with souvenir stores selling everything from snacks to key chains to doggie outfits. Most of them are quite cheesy but there are a few gems tucked in between, such as the store selling antique hair ornaments and combs and a paper store with endless varieties of Japanese paper. At the end of this street, just before you reach the Kanon temple, you will probably see some people waiting in line on the right side of the street. This is a must-stop for me every time I go to Asakusa, a little store selling Age-manjus, which are little deep fried buns with different fillings. My favorites are sesame and pumpkins.

Take a stroll in the kanon temple after your snack of Age-manju. Work up an appetite by seeing how ravenous the pigeons are, and find your way back up the market street. On one of the side streets on your right is a famous tempura restaurant. I can’t remember which street it is, but a fail-proof way to find it is to take a short walk down any street and look for a line of people waiting outside. I’ve personally never tried it because I haven’t had much luck with that place, but if you must eat lunch in Asakusa I suggest you eat there. Otherwise you’re likely to end up in one of the many many tourist trap restaurants in the area and be hugely disappointed. After lunch you can walk across the red bridge and take a look at infamous “golden turd” perched on top of the Asahi building.

If you have even the slightest interest in cooking or kitchen appliances, you must not skip this stop. It is on the Tawaramachi stop on Ginza line, within walking distance to Asakusa. Most shops are closed on Sundays and Public holidays and are crowded on Saturdays so the best time to go is on a weekday, during the day. I can go on and on about the things you will find on this street, but suffice to say, if it has anything to do with food, you’ll find it here. For dessert enthusiasts who don’t have a lot of time to check out all the stores, go straight to Okashinomori (it’s on the second floor with a small street entrance). You’ll find most of everything here, although prices tend to be slightly higher.

Meiji Jingu aka Meiji Shrine
Subway station Jingumae on Chiyoda subway line or Harajuku on the JR Yamanote line.
Right smack in the middle of lively Harajuku, yet as soon as you step through the first gigantic torii only tranquility and utter peacefulness awaits you.

Place a 100yen coin in a slot and shake out a stick from a metal can. Find the drawer with the corresponding number on the stick and get your fortune (it’s in English too). If it’s good fortune, keep it with you so it can come true. If you don’t like it, tie it on a tree branch so it can be taken away with the wind. Or purchase a wooden plaque and write your wish on it, then tie it to the designated racks where thousands of others have done the same.

If you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of the Crown Prince or the Prime Minister at the shrine or a wedding procession all decked out in traditional kimonos, led by a priest under a big red umbrella.

Wear appropriate shoes because you’ll be walking on tiny pebbles the entire way in, no short cuts.

Harajuku – Omotesando
After visiting the shrine, take a left and walk towards Harajuku station. Walk past the first station entrance and at the next, smaller entrance cross the street at the traffic light. You are now at the entrance of Takeshita-dori, home to the mega 100yen shop and cos-play costume stores. Walk down this street and you’ll come out on Meiji-dori. Take a right and walk to the intersection marked by La Foret on your right and Gap on your left. Here you can eigher continue on Meiji-dori to go to Shibuya, or take a left and walk down Omotesando-dori, dubbed the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo, it is home to luxury brand boutiques and the super chic Omotesando Hills. You'll also love the unique architecture of some of the flagship stores. My favorite is the bubble-like Prada store on the other side of Aoyama-dori, the Japan Nurses Association HQ, which houses Burberry, and Dior, whose silvery curtain can change color.

If you get hungry while on Omotesando, there are a few places to grab a quick bite:
Jangara Ramen, 1-13-21 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Get the “all-in” (zenbu iri) or, if you don’t like mentaiko, ask for mentaiko-nuki. The ramen is Kyushu styled, with a very rich broth. Best to avoid in summer.

Harajuku Gyoza, Jingumae 6-2-4, Shibuya-ku, behind Kiddie Land toy store
They have four types of dumplings: boiled with chive, boiled without chive, fried with chive, fried without chive. Get one of each, it’s very cheap. The chili dipping oil in jars placed on the table is not to be missed. I also like to order their cucumber salad with a very nice peanut dressing.

Azabu Juban – Roppongi Hills
Take exit 5a (Shin-Ichinobashi intersection) of Azabujuban station on the Oedo line, turn left and walk towards Roppongi Hills, turn left again at Jomo gas station. On the left side of the street is a little store called Naniwaya selling nothing but taiyaki. Unlike other taiyaki’s spongy shell, theirs is crispy and thin. They only have one type of filling too: red bean paste. On most days you’ll have to wait for at least 20 minutes but if you are lucky and go on a rainy day you may not have to wait. It’s best to eat it right there on the stop when the skin is still crunchy and the filling piping hot.

Continue walking down the street and you will hit Azabu Juban’s main street. Turn right and shortly afterwards you’ll see a store on a street corner selling mostly snacks made of peanuts. The store is called Mamegen. My favorites are the umeshiso and green tea covered peanuts.

Follow the main street to the end to find yourself at TV Asahi’s new modern headquarter. Check out the Mori garden and explore Roppongi Hills. Don’t miss the spider sculpture and the observation deck in Mori Tower.

The restaurant that we visited the most was probably Teyandei, our neighborhood Izakaya. We’d show up on a Sunday night with no reservation and it would be ok. Weekdays are little more tricky so it’s best to call ahead. Our favorite dishes there are chirimen cabbage salad with jakko (ask the manager to make it for you if it’s not on the menu); unagi tamago atsuyaki; deep fried yamaimo (mountain yam); gomadofu (sesame tofu); buta-no-kakuni (braised pork); and ochatsuke (rice with dashi poured on top).

One word of warning, the restaurant’s entrance is not very conspicuous. From the outside it looks like someone’s house and the sign is a wooden board no bigger than a name card nailed to the wall. Walk upstairs, however, you’ll see an unmarked wooden door. This is the entrance to Teyandei.

While in Roppongi Hills area, there are two nice restaurants in the neighborhood:
L’Atelier de Joel Robouchon (5772-7500) and Aburiya Fudo Azabu-Juban 1-8-6 (3568-6224). It goes without saying that Robouchon needs no further intro, and the food is excellent. However, they only take reservation for the 6:30pm seating and the place only has counter seats. Aburiya Fudo is an Izakaya type of restaurant specializing in slow grilled food. From the freshest of mountain vegetables to the fattiest cut of meat, they do everything perfectly.

Daiwa Sushi in Tsukiji fish market is worth a visit if you don’t mind waiting. (there is ALWAYS a line) You can get up early, catch the tuna auction and head over to Daiwa before 6:30am or some sushi breakfast. The Omakase set contains the freshest catch and varies from day to day. We always order that plus a few pieces of uni and ootoro to finish. Hurry up and go before the entire Tsukiji market is torn down and moved to its new locations.
Tsukiji Market Central Building 65-2-1

If you are in the mood for some fine dining while in Tokyo, Sens & Seveurs atop the Marunochi Building will never disappoint. The food is always fantastic, the staff always attentive and the view is amazing too.

My favorite subject. First, let me just say that if you go to the basement of Mitsukoshi or Isetan or any major department store you will be spoiled for choices and most of them are really good. But if that’s not enough to satisfy your very discerning taste buds, I have the following recommendations. They are, in my opinion, crème de lacrème. I hope you enjoy them too.

3-6-17 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku 3538-6780
Get there early (before 9:30am) to avoid disappointment, as most items will be sold out by lunch hour. Many cakes cannot be taken out of the shop so be prepared to eat everything there.

Patisserie Paris S’eveille
2-14-5 Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 5731- 3230

Sadaharu Aoki
3-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Shin-Kokusai Bldg 1F 5293-2800

La Maison du Chocolat, next door to Sadaharu Aoki, so you might as well. Their chocolate tart is very good.

Patissier Chocolatier Frederic Scailteur
1-11-10 Azabudai, Minato-Ku

Pierre Hermé
La Porte Aoyama (5-51-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku) next to the UN building.

My “To-Visit” list:
Mont St. Clair
2-22-4 Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku, Tokyo

Toshi Yoroizuka
Midtown, Tokyo

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Halloween Bakes

Without a question, my favorite holiday is Christmas. Even though it’s becoming more and more over-commercialized, I still enjoy seeing all the Christmas decorations and hearing the carols, not to mention the sweet aroma of gingerbread cookies baking in the oven.

My second favorite holiday, also without a question, is Halloween. It is probably not a coincidence that it happens in the peak of autumn when all the leaves are the deepest shade of gold and the air is crisp with just the hint of the approaching winter. The fact that autumn is the season of harvest with no shortage of ciders, caramel apples, chestnuts and pumpkins among other yummy things, also does not hurt. The most fun part of Halloween, of course, is trick or treat. You never really outgrow it. Mind you, I’m not saying I want to dress up in silly costumes and go knocking on doors for candy, but buying candies and waiting anxiously by the door to see what/who turns up shouting “Trick or Treat” is something I never get tired of. Outside of the US, trick or treat is rare. While we were in Tokyo, the Americans in our neighborhood organized trick or treat for kids. Knowing exactly whose kids will turn up at your doorstep takes a little bit of fun out of it, but I still looked forward to seeing the kids in cute costumes. And if you know me, you’d know I must really love Halloween to want to see kids at my door!

This year, I decided to celebrate and introduce Halloween to Singaporeans by holding a Halloween baking class on Oct 14th from 11am to 2pm at Palate Sensations. We’ll be making chocolate spider web cupcakes and witch’s broomstick cookies. The cupcakes are soft and fluffy, topped with a chocolate sauce. It is NOT overly sweet but full of chocolate flavors. Although Jason teased me that the cookies don’t really look like broomsticks, I think they’re cute. They also taste great too, not to mention tons of fun to make. It was nice to let the kid inside me out to create something less perfect and more fun, instead of my usual elaborate cakes.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Long overdue

Yes, I know it’s been a VERY LONG time since my last post. Long story short, the minute I came back to Singapore from Provence I was swamped with work, both pastry and a big photo assignment, leaving me with little time to sleep, let alone blogging. I did manage to sift through the thousands of photos I took in Provence and sent them off to friends and family, but even that took almost a month to do, which misled some people into thinking that I was in Provence for a month! Ha! Don’t I wish.

Anyway, what brought me out of blogging hibernation is the strong desire to share with everyone the single most awe-inspiring experience out of my entire Provence trip. That one thing that inspired me. Ladies and gentlemen. (drum rolls) Is. Lavender.

Granted, I’ve always been a huge fan of lavenders. My body lotion and handwash are both lavender scented. I have sachets of lavender in my sock drawers. I have bought up just about every lavender product that Loccitane carries, including a linen water that I never use. To sum it up, as long as it’s lavender and purple, I want it. However, self-proclaimed lavender fan that I was, I was not prepared for the lavenders that I would encounter in Provence. Everywhere you turn, there are giant fuzzy purple balls greeting you. A single lavender stalk is pretty enough to look at but an entire field of rows upon rows of purple poof balls were simply mesmerizing. Not to mention they smelled heavenly too. I was falling in love with lavender all over again. I simply had to take a photo of every lavender field we encountered and went to villages for the sole reason of lavender viewing. No matter how many times I saw the same farm-house-in-the-middle-of-lavender-field view, I just would not get tired of it.

During our two-week stay in Provence we cooked more than half of the food that we ate. Our friends were in charge of food, since they are French and know more about French food, and I was in charge of desserts. Given the constraints of equipment in the kitchen, I mostly made tarts: strawberry, apple, apricot, cheese, cherry, etc. One night though, I made lavender ice cream, without an ice cream machine. Out of all the desserts I made in the little house in Murs, that ice cream was, in my mind, the one thing that summed up the essence of Provencal life the best. Granted, I used local fruits for all the tarts but I went into the garden and picked out the plumpest lavender blossom for the ice cream myself. Somehow that act of touching the blossoms and inhaling the fragrance amongst the bees busy collecting nectar made me feel like somewhat like a provencal farmer. Then there’s the hand churning of ice cream, which is the ultimate testament of my infatuation with lavender. I stayed up until midnight taking the custard out of the freezer every 15 minutes or so to give it a stir, at first with a wooden spoon and later on with a hand-held blender on low speed. We didn’t get to eat the ice cream until the next day but it was worth the wait. The freshly harvested flowers gave the ice cream a strong but not overwhelming lavender flavor that was so refreshing and intoxicating at the same time. All that churning made an old wrist injury flare up but there was no doubt in my mind that it was absolutely a necessary sacrifice.

Without further delay, here’s the recipe for the ice cream:

250ml milk
250ml cream
generous handful of lavender flower, plus extra for sprinkling
6 egg yolks
90g caster sugar

Friday, June 29, 2007

Provence, here I come

I never thought I’d be so depressed going to Provence. We’ve been talking going with our friends Albin and Agnes for years and finally made the booking in February. Both Albin and Agnes are food lovers and avid cooks so the idea is to go for two weeks, rent a villa, go to the market in the morning, lay by the pool during the day and cook and eat and be merry. Agnes is bringing all her food recipes and I am in charge of desserts. We have also talked our friends Gaurang and Christine into joining us for the first week. It promises to be a great vacation for all.

Then three days ago something happened at work and Jason had to cancel. My first reaction was to cancel my trip too, but we have two other couples expecting us there and it just wouldn’t be nice to not show up. So now I’m going solo. While poor Jason’s stuck at work, I have to figure out how to get myself from CDG airport to Gare Lyod, use the rail pass to catch the TGV to Avignon, find the rental car office and drive myself to our villa in a little village called Murs, which is 30km away. I feel like I’m in a nightmare where I’m a contestant in the Amazing Race, except I don’t have a partner to read the map while I drive. Albin and Agnes are nice enough to come and meet me at the train station so I can just follow their car back to Murs. I hope I can remember the roads because two days later I am going back to pick up Gaurang and Christine.

We are hoping that Jason can come and join me for the second week, but there’s a chance that he might not make it at all. So there I was, going to the supermarket before I leave to stock up for Jason, and somehow I found myself shopping for clothes. This is what I do when I get depressed, I shop. A shirt, a pair of pants, a skirt, a necklace and a pair of earrings later, I don’t feel any better. That’s the thing about depression shopping, it rarely makes you feel better but you just can’t help yourself. I’m hoping the beautiful scenery in Provence and the company of good friends will do the trick.

Provence, here I come, alone =o(

Monday, June 25, 2007

Aurum - Pure Gold

A while ago my friend Lisa asked me if I had ever heard of this restaurant in Spain where they do crazy stuff with food. She was referring to molecular gastronomy by Ferran Adrià at his restaurant El Bulli, which is only open half the year. Ferran Adrià spends the rest of the year in his “lab” developing new recipes. She said it sounded really interesting and wondered if there was any place in Singapore where they serve up food that way. To be perfectly honest, I go through some pretty elaborate steps sometimes to make my desserts look pretty but I’ve always preferred my food to look like food. That said, being the open-minded person that I am (tee-hee), I’m always up to trying new things, especially when it comes to food. As luck would have it, there is a restaurant in Singapore called in Aurum that does this type of avant-grade food and Palate Sensations has convinced the executive chef to do a demonstration class. I thought seeing how the food was made would be a perfect way to get to know what the big fuss is all about, and I can make up my mind about the food after actually tasting it. I promptly signed us up for the class, and even though it was a month in advance, the class was almost full!

A month flew by quickly and today was the day of the demonstration. Even though I didn’t know where Aurum was in Clark Quay, the place was hard to miss. The reception area downstairs looks like a morgue, with a secret passageway that leads upstairs hidden behind one of the panel of stainless steel “body drawers.” After making my way up the narrow spiral staircase, I find myself inside a dark room fitted to look like a disco bar, except one side of the wall is a stainless steel lined kitchen space. The bar tables and stools are shaped like scored medine pills and the overhead lamps in the kitchen resemble surgical lamps in OR’s.

Being Singapore, even though the class was supposed to start at 10am, some particpants arrived fashionably late and it wasn’t until 10:30am that the lesson finally got on its way. Executive chef Edward Voon introduced his whole team to us at the beginning of the class. A lot of them have represented Singapore in international competitions and most came from large hotels. The team is young and energetic and you get a sense that these guys are all really passionate about the food they make and there is good comraderee among the team members.

The first item on the menu was Sicilian Green Olives, but of course there is a twist. The olives are blended to a thick emulsion with olive oils and calcium chloride. This is left to settle overnight and scooped up in rounded tablespoonfuls and dropped into a solution of sodium alginate, which is a seaweed extract and helps the liquid olive emulsion to solidify into spheres resembling olives. The “olives” are given a final rinse in clear water before being placed in a spoon to serve. Chef Edward warned us not to bite it open but to eat the whole thing and sure enough, as soon as you bite into one, the entire “olive” bursts open to release the intensely flavored olive emulsion inside. The experience was quite awe inspiring, especially after seeing how it was made right in front of our eyes.

The next item was Parmesan cheese on toast, except parmesan was parmesan water (paremesan cheese with the oily part taken out, cooked and piped out in a siphon). It was light as air in texture and had all the cheesy flavors without the heaviness.

The third item was carrot cotton candy. Carrots were blended in a thermomixer (which blends and heats up the mixture at the time, allowing some water to evaporate) into a thick paste. It was then rolled into a thin piece (think fruit roll-ups) between parchment paper and let out to dry over night. The carrot “paper” is then torn into small pieces, and threaded onto skewers. It was then to the cotton candy machine where they were coated in cotton candy. It brought back memories of carnivals and summer fairs and the carrot flavor combined surprisinly well with the sweet candy taste.

We moved onto the appetizer of Confit and Cured Atlantic Salmon, Broccoli Couscous Salad, Verjus Apple Emulsions and Mango Relish after the snacks. This was the dish that won Chef Edward a gold metal at an international competition and let me tell you it was well deserved. The salmon was cured in sugar and salt for two hours before being sealed in a vaccum bag with lemon peel, peppercorn, bay leaf, lemon thyme and olive oil. It was then poached in a 60C waterbath for 20 minutes. After tasting this, I’ve decided that this is how I am going to cook my salmon from now on. The texture was amazingly smooth and the flesh maintains the vibrant deep red color without ever turning into the yucky milky pink color that you normally associate with cooked salmon. This beautiful piece of fish is plated with Broccoli Couscous Salad, Verjus Apple Emulsions and Mango Relish.

The soup course followed and I have to admit that at this point all I could think about was how hungry I was getting watching all that cooking so I wasn’t paying as much attention to the cooking method. Luckily, the Pea Soup with lemon compote, spinach and nutty langoustine was pretty straight forward. The pea soup consists of peas only with only a little bit of water added to assist blending. The taste was pure and refreshing and played off so well with the slightly tart citrusy lemon compote and the fragrant langoustine. Another course that can be done at home, yay!

The main dish came next, which was a Crackling Suckling Pig with Citrus Puree, Ratte Potato Terrine, Gin & Juniper Sauce. The pig was cured in salt and juniper berries for one hour, poached in a vaccum bag for 14 hours, baked at 180C for half and hour, and then deep fried! Definitely not doing this at home! The surprise of this dish for me was the citrus puree. The pith part of the lemon peel was used, but because of the blanching process, which was repeated six times, and the overnight soaking in syrup, the resulting puree had none of the bitterness but all the fragrant citrus taste. I just might try this at home one of these days when I make lemonade and don’t want to waste all that lemon skin, maybe.

We finally make to the dessert dish: Vanilla Ice cream served with Nitro Green Tea & Olive Oil and raspberry petals. What’s raspberry petals you say? They are the individual segments of a raspberry. To separate them, liquid nitrogen was poured over raspberries in a tray. This has a similar effect of freeze drying the fruits, allowing the berries to be smashed into individual components withouth crushing them. The other topping was made by blending green tea powder into olive oil and whisking into a pool of liquid nitrogen. This process makes the mixture into little millet-sized particles. I first had my doubts about how a green tea olive oil concoction would go with vanilla ice cream but the resulting combo was surprisingly good.

I had to rush out at this point because I have scheduled a macaron class at home, but Chef Edward had one more surprise in store for us. It’s called “where’s my cappuccino.” The technique involved was apparently top secret as Chef Edward kept on blocking my field of version so I couldn’t see how it was made. The little cup was served upside down on a saucer. When you pick it up, you think there’s nothing inside, and you only see the foamy mixture after you flip over the cup. Whimsical? Yes! Creative? Definitely! Yummilicious? You bet!

Needless to say, Lisa and I are now converts and we are plotting to bring our husbands back for a degustation dinner.

Aurum, Block 3C, The Cannery, Clark Quay
** Aurum is moving at the end of July to another location within the Cannery, at which time it will be closed for two weeks.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Cherry Millefeuille

Just a very short post to report that I finally found a way to use up the bad griottes. Following some blogger’s suggestions, I removed the griottes from the alcohol syrup and soaked them in syrup instead, hoping the strong alcohol taste would leech out. That didn’t work.

Along came Cherry, who virtually put me on house arrest because I had to watch her constantly, sneaking to a different room only when she’s taking a nap. During one such long day at home I found a recipe for cherry millefeuille using both fresh American cherry and alcohol soaked griotte. The griotte is chopped and cooked and reduced to a semi-confit. This is then made into a griotte cream for the bottom layer. The top layer is standard pastry cream with cut fresh cherry halves embedded inside. I thought it was fitting to make a dessert with cherries, to honor Cherry’s arrival into our family, plus I had a whole day to kill.

The feuilletage inverse came out pretty well, after I turned the AC way down and used a tray of ice water to cool the marble counter. I was worried about shrinkage during baking since I needed the entire surface of my 30x40cm baking sheet to get three slices large enough to fill my long rectangular mold. Luckily the shrinkage was minimal and I managed to cut out three pieces with only a few slivers of cut-offs left. Cooking the griottes turned out to be the magic trick as it mellowed the harsh alcohol taste, allowing all the layers to pull together harmoniously. Unfortunately, since it took me the whole day to make it, we didn’t get to eat it until the next day. By that time, the feuilletage layers have soaked up some moisture and were a little soggy. If cherries are still decent when we come back from France I’m going to make this again, and this time we’ll eat it right away.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Meet Cherry Garcia!

We spent the last five or six years wanting a second dog to keep Princess Libby company. She indicated earlier on that she’s partial to golden retrievers and border collies. Since border collies usually require plenty of outdoor space for exercise we decided that a golden retriever is more suitable for our city lifestyle. The plan was to get a golden retriever puppy after we come back from France at the end of July. Her name was to start with the letter “J”, after Jason, since Libby has my initials. Well, so much for planning.

Last week, when I was browsing through photos on flickr, I saw a cute puppy in one of my contacts’ photo stream. It’s a four-month old mongrel puppy waiting to be adopted. I fell in love instantly, not only because she’s cute, but also because she reminds me of Libby when she was a pup. We drove out to meet her the very next day with Libby in tow. She seems to be a happy and healthy puppy so we decided to take her home for a one-week trial, mainly to see if Libby would accept her as a second dog.

One week later, things are looking good for the puppy. Libby has been, for the most part, tolerant of the new addition to her pack. Wrinkled lips and growling does occur every now and then, but it’s all in the necessary education of the new pup. For a pup that was paper-trained, she’s only had three accidents in the house in the past week.(update, she had two more accidents on the day I wrote this post, sigh) I’ve been taking her out every time she wakes up from a nap and every time she eats, which amounts to every 2-3 hours. The aim was to not give her any chance to do her business inside. Today, she came up with a way to tell me that she wants to go out by going to the hallway door and wait. What a smart little girl! We changed her name from Cherish to Cherry, short for Cherry Garcia. And she is here to stay!

On the non-toilet related fronts however, she’s not such a good girl. When she first arrived she had the bad habit of mouthing people when she plays. I am a firm believer that under no circumstances are a dog’s teeth ever to touch human flesh, except during teeth brushing so I have my work cut out for me. She still chews things that she shouldn’t (just today her sharp puppy teeth cut through the power cord to our cordless phone in 2 seconds) but she’s getting much better with people. She needs constant supervision and either doesn’t understand the meaning of “NO” or is too stubborn to listen. She tests her limits constantly and is not discouraged if her attempt fails the first time. We have to remind ourselves constantly that she’s only four months old and can’t be compared to Libby, who’s just about the most perfect dog one can hope for. It is frustrating training a puppy but I do know that if we are strict at the beginning our lives and hers will be much easier later on. We can always spoil her later, when she’s grown up to be a well-mannered adult, but for now I’m sounding like a broken record: “NO Cherry!” “Ouch Cherry!” “Off Cherry!” “BAD DOG, Cherry!”

See more of Cherry's photos here.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

BBBB, aka, Beer Braised Beef Brisket

When I saw the one off event Cook and Eat Meat hosted by Home Mades to raise awareness of iron deficient anemia, and to get more women to eat meat, I thought, why not? I haven’t been anemic since adolescence, but I’m a woman, and I do crave a big hunk of nicely cooked meat once in a while. Although I enjoy a nicely grilled medium-rare wagyu steak, I usually leave Jason to order that and take a few slices from his plate. Don’t get me wrong, I normally like dishes where you can actually taste the food, and nothing epitomize this better than a well executed steak, but somehow when I think of meat, more hearty dishes such as cassoulet, braised pig trotters, oxtail soup and beef briskets come to mind. I could almost never pass them up whenever they’re on the menu, especially beef briskets, be it a steamy bowl of beef brisket noodles or a beef brisket clay pot. I like the gelatinous tendons cooked to soft, melt in your mouth perfection, and the multitude of flavors soaked up in the meat.

While I was in Shanghai recently I stumbled upon a food magazine called Betty’s Kitchen. It is just a normal glossy filled with recipes and cooking tips, but the magazine also runs a website which updates regularly with more recipes and feedbacks from readers. When I finally got around to type in the url, the first page that popped up contained a beef brisket recipe cooked in beer. I’ve always stayed away from Chinese dishes with complex flavors because the recipes never really tell you how much of the ingredients to add, but Betty’s recipe was very detailed and contained none of the cryptic descriptions so common to Chinese recipes. The addition of beer to the cooking stock also piqued my interest, for I really enjoy the taste of alcohol in my food.

Chinese braised meat dishes usually involve hours of slow simmering and watching the pot to make sure it doesn’t boil over. I usually circumvent this by using my slow cooker, but now that we’ve moved to Singapore where the voltage is 220V, my Cuisinart 110-volt slow cooker had been put into storage. Not wanting to be tied to the stove for half a day I decided use my Le Creuset dutch oven. I did the prep work before noon, place it everything in the Le Creuset and brought it to a simmer. I then slid everything in the oven set to 80 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, the stock is barely bubbling, just below the boiling point, and it’s heated from all the directions, much like a slow cooker. Cooking it this way allowed me to go out for lunch and tea with friends and come home to a kitchen smelling of wonderful braised beef brisket, just in time for dinner.

That night we ate the beef with a bowl of white rice and some roasted baby carrots. The next day, I boiled some eggs, cut a few slits into the surface and cooked them in the meat stock until the eggs turned brown. We then had beef brisket noodle soup with the eggs. The flavors were so robust and multifaceted that it was quite possibly the best beef brisket I’ve ever had.

Here is the recipe with some modifications: (I increased the amount of rock sugar because I like some sweetness in my braised meat)

1.2kg Beef brisket
8 dried red chili pepper
80g ginger, minced
3 carrots, roughly chopped
15 white button mushrooms
10 cloves garlic
3 whole star anise
3 bay leaves
15 whole Sichuan peppercorn
1 tsp anise seed
3 tbsp rock sugar
250ml light soy sauce (Sheng Chou)
18 oz beer
1 tbsp vegetable oil

1. Cut brisket into large pieces
2. Heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Add rock sugar and stir fry until golden
3. Add Sichuan peppercorn, chili pepper, ginger and garlic
4. Turn heat on high, add beef brisket and stir fry until most of the liquid is gone
5. Add beer and the same amount of warm water. Bring to a boil and skim top
6. Add light soy sauce, star anise, bay leaves, and anis seed. Bring to a boil
7. Cover and simmer for 2.5 hours, until meat is tender
8. Add carrots and mushrooms. Cover and simmer for another half an hour

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Spreading the bad words about Gaggenau

Last week, my fickle Gaggenau fridge that refused to be fixed finally died a sudden, yet not completely unexpected death. It’s been months in the works. First too warm, then too cold, and when it finally reached the right temperature, it kept on tripping the circuit.

I am convinced that the repairmen who made at least ten trips in the doomed attempt to repair the fridge had somehow caused this. When they couldn’t find a way to keep the temperature in the fridge compartment above zero they blocked off more than half the airway between the freezer and fridge, stopping the cold air from flowing into the fridge. This had to have caused the refrigerator to overwork itself, adding load to the circuit. But let’s not put all the blames on the repair guys. They did dutifully show up at my house every time I called them in, even though it often takes three days and twice as many phone calls.

The one I blame for this ordeal is Gaggenau. Have you ever heard of a refrigerator (a damned expensive one at that) breaking in less than three years (only two of which in use)? For three months I lived like an obsessed maniac who kept three thermometers in one fridge. I checked them in the morning when I had my breakfast, I checked them at night before I went to bed, and countless times in between whenever I opened the fridge to get something out. Does that sound like a normal life to you? Yet the Gaggenau distributor in Singapore did nothing to help. The problem is that Gaggenau switched local representation some time after our condo was built so the company that originally imported the fridge no longer wants anything to do with me while the new importer claimed that since they did not sell the fridge to the developer, it’s not their problem either. They might be able to get away with it had their product kept on going like the energizer bunny, but what was I supposed to do when I won the Gaggenau piece of crap award and ended up with apparently the only fridge that had malfunctioned in the entire condo? So you see why when the fridge finally broke it was as if a heavy load had been taken off my shoulders. No more constant monitoring of the temperature, no more opening and closing the fridge door at the speed of lightening to avoid overheating, and no more worrying about eggs getting frozen or ice melting into a lump in the ice dispenser. Sure, we’re a couple of thousand dollars poorer, but you can’t put a price tag on your mental health, can you?

Of course, this is not the end of the losing battle with Gaggenau. The entire kitchen is outfitted with their products, from oven to microwave to stove. Recently I tried to change the filter in the exhaust fan but was told that Gaggenau no longer imports it. I guess I’ll have to live with a smelly filter and pray that no other appliances will break while we live here. The lack of follow-up service really amazes me. Does Gaggenau not realize that people are actually going to live here and use their appliances for at least the next thirty years? Did they think their appliances wouldn’t need any kind of maintenance during that time? Or maybe the real explanation is that Gaggenau only cares about getting the big fat paycheck that comes with big contracts with developers and couldn’t care less about little people like us who are the actual end consumers. One thing I do know is that I am never buying any Gaggenau products, ever, by choice or otherwise. So there!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Black Forest and Hidemi Sugino’s Charme – Searching for the Perfect Griotte

If you asked me what my all time favorite cake is, I’ll probably say black forest. Growing up in Shanghai, it was one of the few western desserts available, and mom used to buy me a piece from the bakery as a treat on special occasions. Ask Jason what his favorite cake is, he’d definitely say black forest. Maybe he had the same childhood memory or maybe it’s just a testament to black forest’s universal appeal.

I used to make a killer black forest when we lived in Tokyo. Jason and a friend who came for a visit had it for breakfast, tea and after dinner dessert, finishing it in 24 hours! I haven’t been able to make one as good since leaving Tokyo, because I haven’t been able to find the perfect kirsch soaked griotte. Sure, the chocolate mousse must be just-so and the chocolate cake must be moist, and there’s also the balance of whipped cream and chocolate mousse, but the perfect griotte is what sets a fantastic black forest apart from the ordinary bakery bought type (yes, my taste buds have become more discerning over the years). The perfect griotte has to be sufficiently boozy to give the cake its characteristic flavor, but it must not taste overly alcoholic that it overpowers the chocolate components. Just my two cents anyway.

Since moving to Singapore I’ve made three black forest cakes. The first two were made when we were still in the service apartment and without knowing any suppliers I used cherries in syrup and soaked them in kirsch myself. The result was less than satisfying. The kirsch flavor did not take, despite soaking the cherries for almost 2 whole days. Combined with the inhibitive alcohol prices in Singapore, the DIY griotte idea was axed.

I made the third black forest after finding griottes from a local fine food supplier. An entire liter of griottes soaked in brandy arrived in a glass jar, all uniform in size and looking promising. After trying one, however, my enthusiasm was checked as I felt the brandy taste was too sharp and unrefined. Mind you, I’m no brandy connoisseur. In fact my extent of alcohol consumption is sipping the occasional glass of wine through an entire four-course dinner, but that doesn’t mean one can’t tell good booze from not-so-good booze. So why did I make it into a black forest even though I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the initial taste test? Because, besides my personal obsession with the black forest, I had a customer inquiry to answer to.

There is really nothing new making the black forest, except I shrunk it this time and made a 14cm mini version. It turned out really cute, but as suspected, the griotte tasted too harsh. Rather than enhancing flavors, it was distracting. Jason and I each had a slice the day I made it and another slice the next day, just to make sure that we gave it a second chance. Unfortunately, it was a no-go on both tries.

Now I have a problem. Specifically, a huge-jar-of-useless-griotte problem. So what do I do? I make them into a Hidemi Sugino version of black forest, the Charme. I don’t know what I was thinking. Was I expecting that the Idemi magic would miraculously mellow the harsh alcohol tone of the griottes? Or did I think that they would taste better in a different recipe? I have no idea. The only saving grace is that I had fun making it. I had to double the milk chocolate mousse to fill my tall mold but still came a little short so the top surface was not as smooth as I would’ve liked it to be. My chocolate plaques are not nearly as thin as Mr. Sugino’s version but my excuse was that I was making another thicker plaques on the other half of the same sheet so I couldn’t spread the chocolate too thin. The honest truth, however, is that I probably would’ve never achieved the same paper-thin effects, not without a couple of failed attempts anyway. I also still don’t own a pistolet so I dusted the top with coco powder, which looked almost half decent. Overall I can’t say I have any problems with how it turned out visually, but when I tasted it, the griottes disappointed again.

This is a recap of our reaction when we ate it:
Mmmm, yummy milk chocolate mousse!
Yummy chocolate joconde biscuit!
Yummy dark chocolate mousse!
Oooooh, bad griotte!

So there you have it: a still more than half full 1L bottle of untouchable griottes. I wonder if the pungent cheap alcohol taste would evaporate if I baked it, because bad as they are they did not come cheap and I who never waste food now have a mission to find a use for them. Oh goodie, more bad desserts to look forward to!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Not Your Ordinary Pound Cake

I’m a girl of simple tastes. It doesn’t always have to take pan fried foie gras or melt-in-your-mouth millefeuille to wow me, although I have nothing against the finer things in life either. The point is, I’ve always been a fan of pound cakes. I know, I know, they’re loaded with sugar and butter and cholesterol from all those eggs, but what can I say? At three o’clock in the afternoon a slice of pound cake with a cup of good tea hits the spot for me every time.

I have some favorites, such as the incredibly moist and eye-pleasing pineapple-coconut cake that I make on a regular basis, the traditional pain d’epices, the citron cake, and any cake with figs in it (see above). I’m also always on the lookout for new recipes to add to the repertoire to keep Jason the self-pronounced pound-cake-hater on his toes.

I finally got around to trying out a pound cake recipe in a Le Cordon Bleu book that I’ve wanted to make for the longest time. It’s a ginger cake with mango, apricot, gingko, walnut, ginger compote and ginger confit in it. I am a great fan of ginger so the minute I saw this recipe I knew it was going to be the ultimate pound cake for me. I didn’t make it until now because of the amount of work involved was rather daunting.

To prepare the ingredients that go into the cake, you first need to poach the ginger roots in a spicy syrup and let it sit for one day. You then use the ginger poaching syrup to poach the mango, apricot and gingko nuts. While they are poaching, you make the ginger confit. Only when everything is properly prepared can you start making the cake, so that’s three days’ work by my calculation. With all the moving pains accompanied by the myriad of things that one needs to take care when moving to a new country, I simply didn’t have that kind of time to invest in a pound cake. But the lure of the ginger was just too strong that I finally penned it into my diary and forced myself to make time for it.

The aroma while the cake was in the oven was incredible, but when I bit into the cake it was rather disappointing. Maybe the deliciousness was jut not proportional to the amount of work that went into it, or maybe my expectations were too high, but it was just so-so. I was so discouraged that I shoved the cake into the back of the fridge and didn’t eat another slice for two days. When I did give it a second chance I was able to make a more objective assessment. The overall flavor was quite pleasant, but the ginger flavor was not as pronounced as I would’ve liked it to be. I think the one major thing that was wrong with this cake was the gingko nut. It should’ve never been in the cake in the first place. The texture of the nut remained firm and the flavor bland despite the poaching so that when you bit into one it created an anomaly. I didn’t know whether to chew it or to spit it out. In the end, Libby got most of the gingko nuts so she’s going to be one smart dog, or at least not go senile.

Without further delay, here’s the recipe. I’ve left the gingko nuts in place but decide for yourself if you want to include it. I’ll probably leave it out the next time, or boil the heck out of it first to ensure it’s soft before poaching it.

For two 8x18x6cm cake pans:

Ginger Compote:
150g fresh peeled ginger
1L water
400g granule sugar
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
5-6 peppercorn, cracked
150g granule sugar

Ginger flavored mango:
1 mango, cut into pieces
syrup from ginger compote

Ginger flavored apricot:
50g dried apricot
syrup from ginger compote

Ginger flavored gingko nuts:
80g gingko nuts
syrup from ginger compote

Ginger Confit:
50g freshly grated ginger
40g granule sugar
15g glucose

100g ginger compote
100g ginger flavored mango
100g ginger flavored apricot
80g ginger flavored gingko nuts
100g walnut, chopped
210g unsalted butter, let soften at room temperature
170g granule sugar
180g eggs
50g ginger confit
180g light flour
5g baking powder

Ginger Compote:
1. Boil water and sugar to make syrup
2. Place everything except 150g sugar into a large heavy-duty zip-loc bag, push out the air and seal
3. Bake at 80C oven for 40 minutes
4. Open bag and take out ginger. Place 600ml syrup into a saucepan with 150g sugar, cook for 30min without boiling. Remove from heat and add ginger, let stand for at least a day.
5. Save remaining syrup

Ginger flavored mango, apricot and gingko nuts:
1. Place mango, apricot and gingko nuts into separate Ziploc bags.
2. Add syrup from making ginger compote to bags until completely covering fruits
3. Push out air and seal bags
4. Heat in 80C oven for 40 minutes

Ginger confit:
1. Place grated ginger, sugar and glucose in saucepan and bring to a boil
2. Simmer while stirring with a wooden spoon constantly until most of the water is evaporated

1. Prepare pound cake pans by brushing with butter and coating with flour
2. Sift together flour and baking powder
3. Cut ginger, mango and apricot to 1cm cubes
4. Mix some honey into walnut until coated
5. Whisk softened butter until color lightens
6. Add granule sugar and egg alternately to butter while whisking
7. Whisk in ginger confit gently
8. Add all the sifted flour and baking powder, whisk in without introducing air
9. Fold in ginger compote, apricot, mango, walnut and gingko nuts
10. Pour into cake pans and bake at 160C for 40 minutes

Friday, May 11, 2007

Honey I can’t park the car!

We finally got our act together and bought a car. No more standing in the sun waving down taxis or calling four cab companies on a rainy day and not getting through to even one. All our troubles are over!

But not so fast. Here’s the thing. We didn’t stay long enough in Hong Kong to get a car and when we lived in Tokyo our car had a great navigation system that included a back camera with parking guidance. It allows you to program up to four parking spots so that you can park into those spots following voice guidance. Although I never had the patience to read through the thick operational manual (in Japanese) to figure out how to program it that way, I made full use of the back camera. The navigator screen turned into a viewfinder for the camera whenever the car was in reverse. The best thing about the camera was that it not only showed you what was behind the car, it had two sets of lines on the screen. The green lines showed where the car was at the moment, and the red lines showed where the car was going based on the position of your steering wheel. At first it took a little getting used to, but once you learned how to decipher those lines, parking was a breeze.

I only realized now that I should’ve never become a slave of the camera. What’s wrong with parking the old-fashioned way, without the aid of any high tech devices? I was pretty good at it before we ever had the aid of the camera. I backed our SUV into small Tokyo parking spots with no difficulties, and squeezing into tight parallel spaces was my specialty. Three years with the back camera, I don’t even know which mirror to look at when backing up. It took me four or five tries to wiggle into our own parking spot in the basement the other day and when I parallel parked on a street I was so far from the curb that I was worried about getting hit by passing cars. I am so glad we bought a sedan instead of a big-assed SUV, or would that have been easier to park because of the raised vantage point? God help me the next time I have to park the car!

Oh, did I mention I also seemed to have lost the ability to read maps?

Friday, May 04, 2007

So You Think You Can Make Macarons?

There must be a macaron goddess watching over all of us mortals who try to perfect the art of macaron making. She is the one who decides which worthy bakers are to be bestowed with the gift of the perfect macarons, and which ones must keep on whisking egg whites and sifting almond powder until the end of time. I thought I was the few lucky ones to have received the gift. Yesterday I learned that the gift can just as easily be taken away, without warning or explanations.

I taught a macaron lesson yesterday. It was a private lesson and everything turned out more or less according to plan. After the lesson I thought, as long as I have the egg whites all thawed out, I might as well experiment with some new flavors. I had gotten some pandan paste and Nonya kaya the other day because I wanted to make a macaron with some local flare. I did everything as I always do and slid the tray into the oven after it had reached 150C. Five minutes later when I went to rotate the tray I couldn’t believe my eyes. Cracked! Every single one of them, and no feet what so ever! What could’ve gone wrong? The batter didn’t look weird and the oven was working. Then it dawned on me that the air-conditioner in my kitchen had been turned off and the humidity was way up. It was more than 80% as compared to the 55% when the A/C is running. (Yes, I keep a hygrometer in my kitchen.) Usually in the amount of time that takes the oven to preheat the macarons will have formed a skin, but under 80% humidity it probably takes a lot longer than 10 minutes. Of course it was entirely my fault that I didn’t check for skin before baking them, and the goddess did not let that slip. I figure that’s probably her warning to me that “just because you can teach a class doesn’t mean you can get lazy and skip steps.” Ok, my bad. Got it!

Having eaten my slice of the humble pie, I tucked in my tail and managed to churn out two good batches: kaya and Dulce de Leche. I sprinkled some fleur de sel on the Dulce de Leche macarons to counter some of the sweetness and I must say the effect is quite nice. The kaya macaron is more subtle but not everything has to be loud and obvious, does it?

Getting back on the goddess’ good side I’m emboldened to try something radical. Having successfully substituted some of the almond powder with ground black sesame to make a black sesame macaron confirmed my belief that a nut is a nut is a nut. Although, sesames are techinically seeds and not nuts. Anyway, I ground up some peanuts and replaced the almond powder completely. As I soon found out, nuts are not all created equal in the eyes of the macaron goddess. I’ll have to look this one up to confirm but I think peanuts have higher fat contents than almonds. Makes sense because you see peanut oil all the time but almond oil are harder to find. To put a long story short, the peanut macaron batter was so thin that my first batch all became conjoined triplets, quadruplets, and quintuplets. I spaced them out on the second try and they managed to stay their independent selves but they spread so thin that there was nary a dome to speak of and the each macaron was baked to a hard and crispy wafer. No moist chewyness, no crispy thin crust, just a dry hard disk.

All is not lost however, because the flavor was intensely peanuty and I sandwiched them with some peanut butter. Over a cup of tea I almost forgot what they were supposed to be and just enjoyed the pure goodness of the peanut. I’ll give it a crack again next week though. I can’t accept defeat so easily from the goddess. This is not the end…

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Ambroisie

Ever since my visit to Hidemi Sugino’s Tokyo patisserie, Idemi, and bought his book, I’ve been flipping through it at least once a week, usually before bed, and mainly to drool over all the pretty pictures and relive the cake extravaganza I had with my Le Cordon Bleu classmates. Although I did pinch a few ideas from the book here and there I had never mustered up the courage to try any of the recipes in full. For one thing, even though the recipes are very clearly written with loads of photos to illustrate his points, they are quite involved and require a lot of ingredients. Then there is the fear factor. What if they don't taste or look anything like his creations? Finally, even if they turn out exactly like they're supposed to, the recipes need to be scaled down because unless you have 20 hungry dessert fanatics at your beck and call, what would you do with all that cake, delicious beyond belief as they may be.

Last week, my chocolate supplier was nice enough to let me try some of the pistachio paste that they carry. It was only a little tub of about 40g and I wanted to make something special with it. My eyes fell onto the cover of Mr. Sugino’s book, which migrates between the coffee table and my bedside table on a regular basis. On it is his signature dessert and one of my all time favorites, the Ambroisie.

I had it once at Idemi and never forgot the taste. I don’t often order chocolate mousse desserts because most of the times the chocolate is so heavy and sweet that half way through I find myself wishing I’d picked something lighter instead. Not Mr. Sugino’s Ambroisie. It was the perfect lightness and sweetness to allow the pistachio flavors to shine through. So it was decided. That’s how I will do with the pistachio paste.

The Ambroisie is made up of chocolate joconde biscuit, pistachio joconde biscuit, pistachio mousse and raspberry jam encased in chocolate mousse, with a layer of chocolate glaze covering it all up. It took me two days to scale down the recipe and figure out the logistics (making sure which flat trays will go horizontally into the freezer and measuring out the various ring molds I own to calculate the correct amount of ingredients took a while, and overcoming my procrastination/performance anxiety took its own fair share of time too). I didn’t want to rush myself and fail because I knew that would just completely crush me and it would take me forever to regain confidence to try another of his recipes. So I gave myself plenty of time. On day one I baked the two different kinds of joconde and made the chocolate petals that would go around the cake. Day two saw me making the mousses, assembling the cakes and putting them into the freezer to harden overnight. Day three was the day that we were due at a friend’s house for afternoon tea and chocolate fondue so that morning I made the glaze, poured it over the cakes, stuck the chocolate petals around and dotted the center of cake with a tiny piece of gold leaf. The only step I skipped was making my own raspberry jam and I followed Mr. Sugino’s recipe to a T.

I had a momentary insanity attack when I was making the chocolate glaze. I measured out 11g of gelatin and somehow felt that it was too much and decided to use only half. The resulting glaze was runny despite cooling it to a dangerously low temperature, but I poured it onto the cakes anyway. Instead of clinging onto the sides, most of it ran right off. Seeing two days of hard work going down the drain, I gathered up my wits and poured the pool of ran-off glaze into a bowl, reconstituted the gelatin leaves that I left out, melted it in a water bath, added them into the glaze and re-poured it over the cakes. This time, it stuck. I don’t know what I was thinking doubting the glaze recipe in the first place. If the master of use-almost-no-gelatin-so-the-texture-stays-so-light-that-they-are-not-fit-for-travel says 11g of gelatin is needed for the glaze, then 11g it is. Not one gram less! Geeze!

Disaster averted, now I had time to sit back and admire the Ambroisie. They turned out almost identical in appearance to the ones at Idemi, except not all of my chocolate petals turned out well so I had only three petals per cake vs. Idemi’s four. Flavor-wise, the chocolate mousse was light as a cloud, due to the pâte a bombe and the absence of gelatin (it was held up purely on the strength of the chocolate and the power of my praying/finger-crossing/will power). I did add 50% more gelatin in the pistachio mousse, which resulted in a somewhat denser texture by Idemi standard. The pistachio paste I got from the supplier was not the brown pure ground-up pistachio that I favor. Instead it was a pistachio praline paste, made from caramelized pistachio and had a distinct alcohol/almond aroma. I had doubts about it because of the strong smell but after baking it into the joconde and cooking it into a crème Anglaise, the smell was not detectable. I did have a problem with the flavor, however. I should’ve used more pistachio than the recipe called for to counter the fact that the paste was not 100% pure pistachio. At Idemi I remember the pistachio flavor was quite distinct, but in my recreation with the pistachio praline paste, it was more subtle. You could tell it was there, but it could barely hold its own against the chocolate. Next time I think I’ll double the pistachio quantity.

With the Ambroise under my belt I now feel more confident tackling his other recipes. Maybe I’ll try Everest, or the pineapple coconut number that prompted me to buy a dewdrop shaped cake mold that had been sitting in my kitchen for the last six months. So many recipes to try and I’m sure each experience will be as rewarding as the Ambroisie.