Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Donut Battle Continues

Ever since leaving the US to live abroad donut has become a luxury. Gone are the days when we buy donuts by the dozen and munch on it whenever we liked (once you hit 30’s your metabolism just won’t take that kind of abuse). Having donuts for breakfast is also out, since donut bakeries in Asia don’t open at the crack of dawn, as Dunkin donuts do. This didn’t bother us too much. Although we love a good donut it’s not necessary to have it everyday for obvious waistline reasons.

In Japan there’s a chain called Mister Donut,which sells the cutest mini (by American standard) donuts in all sorts of pretty shapes and glazes. You’d need to eat three to get a full portion but you’d also look like a greedy pig, so I order one and savor it slowly. I used to go for a food styling class once a week at night and there’s a Mr. Donut in the JR station so every week I’d look forward to my treat. We weren’t in Hong Kong long enough, plus I was too busy sampling all the yummy dim sum places and trying the entire menu at Hang Fa Lau (杏花楼) to miss donuts.

In Singapore however, donut is the latest craze. I was in the basement Raffles Place shortly after arriving in Singapore and saw a long line of people. Curious to find out what’s so popular I followed the line to the beginning, only it wasn’t the beginning. The line was so long it had to be broken up into sections and what’s this all about?Donuts! I never even got to see what the donuts looked like because the shop display case was completely empty and those people seem to be waiting for the new batches coming up. I have never seen anything like this except for Japanese ladies waiting to buy a limited edition Louis Vuitton bag on the opening day of the flagship on Omotesando.

I thought, there goes my chance of getting a donut in Singpoare when I want it, but was promptly distracted by other things such as our stupid fridge to think too much about it. Then a couple of weeks later Lynette of Palate Sensations asked me if I wanted to teach a donut-making class because there seems to be a demand for it. Although I’d never made a donut in my life, I thought, how hard could it be and set off to test recipes.

The first recipe I did was a beignet-type donut filled with raspberry jam. That turned out beautifully, although I found out that in Singapore’s high humidity condition it’s not a good idea to coat the donuts in cinnamon sugar unless you plan to eat them on the same day.

I need at least two to three recipes for a three-hour class so the next recipe I tested was a traditional glazed donut. This proved to be more difficult than I thought. For practical reasons I first tried a recipe that require no yeast and rising time. The resulting donuts were so dense it was like eating fried cakes. Then I spent a whopping $1.50 and bought a recipe on the internet which promised to be the best secret donut recipe there is. Despite the hassle of cooking and mashing a potato, this was also disappointing. Next I tried the so-called Dunkin donut recipe. By this time I’m back in the US at my parents house where spring is slowly arriving and one cannot rely on room temperature to proof yeast dough. I let the dough rise for the first time in the fridge overnight and did the second rising in a warm oven. Except I forgot how dry the air is in the US compared to Hong Kong or Singapore and the dough dried out before it had a chance to rise. My fourth attempt was equally disastrous, but that was because I had left out one ingredient from the recipe: butter (not a very smart idea). I’m now on my fifth attempt, same recipe, but with the butter. It’s unseasonably warm in DC today at 80F so the cut-out donuts are rising covered under saran wrap and a wet towel in the second-floor bedroom, next to the window. If this still doesn’t work out, I have my fallback Cook’s Illustrated recipe, which should not disappoint. Then I still have the icing to work out because they tend to run off the next day. And when I get back to Singapore I need to test the recipe again to adjust for the humidity. Gosh it’s a lot of work for a decent donut!

Sunday, March 25, 2007


I present to you, Enchanté, my way of spreading the joy of whisking, piping, baking, and everything to do with French pastry.

When I enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu I vaguely had a plan to eventually have some sort of cake business. By the time I finished the basic level I had narrowed it down to a home-based cooking class with the occasional order-made cakes. Two years and three countries later, it has finally come true. Granted, the first actual lesson is not until the end of April but at least the website is up and I have typed up the recipes for the first lesson, in both English and Japanese!

For the first lesson, I’m doing something relatively easy but is yummy to taste and impressive to the eye too. The pineapple coconut cake is a tried and true favorite of mine, which I tend to make whenever I need to whip up a quick gift to give out. All the ingredients are pantry-ready so all I need to do is mix, bake, brush and wrap. The cake is super moist and tastes the best the next day: good for making ahead.

The recipe for the rosette chocolate cookie with ganache filling was discovered recently when we were staying in the serviced apartment before moving into our own place. With limited kitchen appliances, I needed a recipe that doesn’t involve any new purchases, and the rosette filled the bill. A bowl and a wire whisk to whip up the dough; a pastry bag with a star tip to pipe; and a baking sheet with some parchment paper plus a small saucepan to cook the cream for the ganache – Voila! You have yourself a batch of rich crumbly buttery cookies with a smooth chocolate ganache filling that's the perfect sweeness. I did modify the ganache recipe to suit Singapore’s hot climate. The original recipe for the ganache resulted in a runny mess that just would not set in the tropical temperature. Instead I made a Anglaise sauce and added gelatin to it before mixing in the chocolate. This way the ganache will hold its shape when piped so from the side you see three matching layers of pretty swirls. Minor details, I know, but then again, it’s all about the details, always.

Class schedule and reservation.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Bonbons and Truffles, Oh My!

Hey y’all, many of you already know that I have recently started my little business – Enchanté, but some of you may not know that I’m also going to be teaching some classes at a cooking school in Singapore called Palate Sensations. It’s a really cool place set up like a large home-kitchen in a historical black and white house (you’ll need to have visited Singapore to know it). Owner Lynette is an amazing lady who’s so friendly that you’ll feel right at home the minute you step inside the kitchen studio.

After a “practice run”of cooking a sushi dinner for some of Palate Sensations’ sponsors and friends, my firsts lessons at the school are going to be on chocolates! Chocolates are tricky, even under the best of circumstances, so needless to say, I’m a little nervous to be teaching in unfamiliar territory, but hey, people want to learn how to make chocolate candies and somebody’s gotta teach it.

To introduce the novice student to the art of artisan chocolates, my début workshop will consist three easy to make yet delicious chocolates:

- Pictured in the photo are easy orange flavored bonbons in three different coatings for flavor variations. They are your fail-proof recipes whenever you need to whip up a quick batch to give out as gifts.

- Now that you’ve gained some confidence making the bonbons, you will then tackle the classic ganache truffle. After seeing how easy it is to add flavors to the ganache, the only limitation to the variety of truffles you’ll be churning out is your imagination.

- Finally, tempered milk chocolate will be used to make a delightful little candy called “mendiant”: a chocolate disc studded with dried fruits and nuts. Not only is it pleasing to the eye, with Amedei’s rich milky chocolate, you will have a hard time stopping yourself from eating another one of these little treats.

I hope your interest is piqued. I assure you that chocolate-making is addictive and once you start, you simply won’t want to stop. So what are you waiting for? Give Lynette a call and sign up for the class!

Classes are held on May 12th and 16th, from 11am to 2pm. See schedule.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Be Afraid, be Very Afraid

I was at my bank yesterday, closing up one of two accounts I have and transferring all the money into the other account. Then I changed the address on that other account to our Singapore address.

The whole thing was taken care of in less than 15 minutes and not once was I asked to show my ID! I brought my two checkbooks so I knew what the account numbers were, but is that proof that I was the rightful owner of the accounts? I couldn’t believe how trusting the bank manager was. I waited and waited for him to say, “Could I see a proof of ID please?” but nothing. Are ID’s obsolete in America? It must be, because today I successfully cancelled the electricity and water service to my parents’ house without so much as offering my name.

Contrast this with the interrogation and the slew of proofs I have to present every time I make any changes concerning any kind of accounts in Asia (gas, water, electricity, you name it), the difference is quite astounding. Are we Americans too naïve or are Asians too paranoid to the point of being anal? I’m still bitter over an incident with our internet service provider in Hong Kong. When we were leaving the country, they wouldn’t even fax me a cancellation form without speaking to Jason because the account was under his name. So that was way too extreme, but maybe a little bit of vigilance could do some good for the Americans? After all, I doubt any terrorists would’ve been successful enrolling in a flight school in Hong Kong or Singapore.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Moving Pains

It's been more than a month since we moved into our new place and I have yet to go to the pool or the gym just once. It seems that all of a sudden I had a million things to take care of everyday and there never seems to be enough hours in a day. All I did, all day long was opening up boxes and putting away stuff for the first week. When that’s done and taken care of and I thought I could take a breather, other issues started to present themselves.

Among the things to be taken care of was the air conditioner that wasn’t working in the kitchen. There are two, and according to the previous owner, one AC unit was “cooling the kitchen just fine” (her words). Well, not if you are doing pastry work. Fortunately, fixing the AC turned out to be quite fast and painless and along the way I sign a maintenance contract to have our nine AC units checked and cleaned and pampered every three months.

The next item that broke turned out to be a lot more stubborn and more resistant to repairs. Before I go on, I must say that I have never really trusted German products. They have all the high-tech design features and perform like a dream when they do work, but once they break down, it’s down right impossible to fix them, and they often do break down, quite unpredictably. Jason and I go through the same debate every time we move to a new country and try to buy a car. He’s all for design and performance whereas I value reliability above all else. So far I have always been able to steer him to buy a Japanese car, but this time I finally gave in and agreed to a German car.

Anyway, back to the piece of #@$% appliance that broke down. It was the less than three year old Gaggenau refrigerator that came with the apartment. Top of the line, with a price tag that allows you to buy a decent car in some countries, it all of a sudden decided to turn itself into a wine fridge. It would take six repairs, spanning almost six weeks to get it to work. First it was too warm in the fridge compartment that there was almost no point in using it, then it was too cold and everything got frozen, including eggs and milk. The repairmen could never seem to get the temperature just so. Actually, the verdict is still out on the result of the sixth repair, since it always takes a few days to show its true colors after each repair. It has gotten to the point where I don’t even know if I should blame Gaggenau for making such a crappy product (I mean, who’s ever heard of a fridge breaking down after only three years?) or the incompetence of the repairmen. After the third visit, it would take me an average of a week and at least five phone calls to get the guys to come again. When they do come, they look so grumpy as if it’s my fault that they weren’t doing their jobs properly. Well, now that I’m back in the US, if the fridge breaks down again, Jason will have to deal with them.

Needless to say, after this saga, Jason’s agreed to buy a Lexus. I am glad he could finally see things my way, but I just wish the convincing process didn’t have to be such a nightmare.