Saturday, October 20, 2012

Spaghetti Olio With Pancetta & Parmesan


I am off to Milan today for about 2 weeks! My daughter has been invited to teach at two leading Italian design institutes, Domus Academy and NABA, who are part of Universiti Laureate, and I am her chaporone/hairdresser.

We had to eat up the prosciutto she brought back a few weeks ago since we are bringing more in. I didn't know what to do with pancetta slices so I fried it in EV olive oil, garlic, tossed in some organic pasta, some dried chili flakes and copious amount of parmesan reggiano and it was awesome!

Strawberry Charlotte



                                                            Strawberry Charlotte

I have this old cookbook, from way back when I was a teenager, and in it was a picture of a strawberry charlotte that I've always wanted to make but never did. I think the right berries just didn't come along.

Until last week, that is, when, A and M took us to Kokol Hills, just 1/2 hour from KK city, to look at a strawberry patch that their friend V (gosh, all these mysterious people!) is experimenting with, with the help of a horticulturist from Japan.

The first time I went to Kokol Hills was when Ming was a toddler, so that was about 22 years ago. The first thing that struck me was how beautiful the place was, with blue mountains and green hill slopes, and how cool the weather was, especially in the afternoon when the hills were covered with rain clouds. Just imagine how amazing it is to be in 20 C weather in the afternoon, just 1/2 hour away from the city where the temperature is a melting 34 C. Kokol Hills are a part of the Crocker Range which is where you find the fifth highest mountain in South East Asia, Mt Kinabalu. In school, we were taught that Mt Kinabalu was the highest in SEA but that was before they found out about the other mountains.

I was told not to blog about the strawberry patch because the production of strawberries is too low for commercial supply, but I can't help telling you because it's so exciting to have strawberries grown right here in KK. And the most wonderful thing is, the strawberries from Kokol are sweet, juicy and flavorful! These small Japanese strawberries just put to shame all those strawberries from the US and Australia that we get in the supermarkets, especially the Driscoll brand strawberries which are big, distortedly huge, double-butted, pale and sour without much flavor, and also all those strawberries we picked in Canada or Australia.

If you ever come across the smaller Korean or Japanese strawberries, make a strawberry charlotte! The cake was so pretty we didn't cut it until the next day. I layered the cake, starting with a layer of genoise, then strawberry mousse made with strawberries and some strawberry jam because I needed to keep quite a lot of strawberries for decoration, and repeated the layers. I didn't have enough strawberry puree or I would've soaked the genoise more and piled the strawberries higher on the cake. But now that I've tasted strawberry charlotte, it is my favorite strawberry cake because it's so intense with flavor. Bliss.

The strawberries are grown above ground so that nutrients and pests can be controlled. They are picked only when fully ripe, so they don't last long and have to be handled tenderly.




A beautiful patio where the city can be seen in the background.

I am rushed for time. This cake is easy to make. I am bad at making genoise because they always turn out a bit too coarse but genoise are the right cake for making charlottes because they hold up better with the strawberry puree.

1. Make a 6 or 7 " round genoise. You can leave it whole or cut into layers. I prefer layers because that way you can have a bit of cake and a bit of mousse with every bite.
2. Puree the strawberries. You can use frozen strawberries or fresh. I used fresh, about 200 g and topped it up to one cup (230 g I think) with strawberry preserves--Dalfour's--because I wanted to decorate the cake with lots of strawberries but if you want to decorate the traditional way, with halved berries on the side of the cake instead of sponge fingers, you don't need so many strawberries.
3. Make the mousee with 10 g gelatine, dissolved in 2 T water, and melted over low heat. Add 2 T castor sugar if like. I did. When mousse is cool, whip 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream with 1 T castor sugar and mix into the gelatine.
4. Put one cake layer into a springform pan or ring, then pour half the mousse in, then another layer of cake and then the remaining mousse. Cover and chill at least 3 to 4 hours. Put a ring of sponge fingers around the cake, tie with a satin ribbon and you can wow the whole party with this simple but beautiful and yummy cake!

The design for this cake was inspired by those in Miette, an awesome bakery in San Francisco.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Near-Disaster Salted Caramel Cake

Salted Caramel Cake

For my son Wey's 18th birthday last week, I spent 6 hours struggling to make a salted caramel cake. It had seemed easy enough, a semi-dense chocolate cake layered with salted caramel sauce, covered with ganache. The only problem was I wasn't one to follow instructions and advice. Pickyin had warned that because of our hot weather, the caramel sauce would be too soft and a better way would be to mix the caramel sauce with butter cream. As usual, I thought I could find a way to overcome that problem.

The cake would have had a better chance of success if I had baked the cake and made the caramel sauce the day before. As it was, I started on the cake at 10 am and had to finish decorating it by 4 pm because it is the rainy season and there wouldn't be enough daylight to take good photos of the cake after 4. Six hours is not enough to cool a cake and set the caramel sauce in tropical weather. As if it wasn't bad enough having to struggle to stop the caramel sauce from oozing out from the cake layers, the cake layers started to slide off each other because they were not level and the sauce acted like lubricant, making the cake layers slide like they were on ice. I was about to throw everything into the thrash when I thought of using dowels to anchor the layers, much like how piles work for buildings. It took about 6 wooden skewers to keep the 9" round cake layers together, with me all the while doubting my cake-making skills.

Making a cake for an occasion (we were a party of 11, celebrating at a new fine food restaurant) from a blog that I'm not familiar with is a big risk. When I got to the flour, there was a discrepancy of a whole cup of flour between Pickyin's recipe and the original recipe from which she had adapted her recipe and I was really torn between which recipe to use. In the end, I chose to believe in Pickyin and when the batter turned out watery, I was cussing myself but the cake baked into a semi-dense but soft and intensely chocolaty cake, so thumbs up for Pickyin!

Despite the disaster, I think that one day I will attempt this cake again, only this time I will make the cake and sauce the day before to give the sauce plenty of time to firm up and to give me time to frost, chill and frost the cake. Don't let my cake disaster daunt you from attempting this cake. In fact, you should find it easy to make if you heed my advice to make the sauce and cake the day before frosting it. Everyone said the cake was excellent (except my Hub and Wey who were not sure about the sweet and salty taste) and that made me so happy that I gave the rest of the cake to the other tables in the restaurant.

Do check Pickyin's recipe here for a recipe that works for hot weather. I used the choc cake recipe and the salted caramel sauce Pickyin had adapted from here because I had downloaded them on my iPad. For the frosting on the cake, I just made a ganache with a milk chocolate although a dark chocolate would've made the cake more elegant.

Beautiful silky rich caramel sauce.

Disaster rearing its head. I had leftover choc frosting and used that too. More disaster.

I had to stick about 6 wooden skewers to keep the cake layers from sliding off. It was really messy, and I had to claw away the choc and sauce that were pooling around the cake.

The caramel sauce oozed out, bringing the choc filling out too. I had the cake in the freezer while working on it, with the fridge door open. Could this cake be saved?

Not  a pretty cake but in the dim light of the restaurant, all flaws were unnoticed.

Meet Chowder, our 5-week-old chow chow who does fine dining. He was so well-behaved that nobody knew we brought a dog in!


Double Chocolate Cake

3 oz quality semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
2 1/4 cups (original was 3) caster sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (as adapted by Pickyin)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (I used van Houten)
2 t baking soda
3/4 t baking powder
1/2 t salt (reduced from 1 1/4 t)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup veg oil (I used canola oil)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (I used fresh milk + 1 1/2 T white rice vinegar)
3/4 t pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 160 C. Grease pans and line with parchment paper three 9" round pans for a regular height cake or 8" round pan for a tall cake (I think there's a typo mistake in Pickyin's recipe because her cake turned out very tall and although she had said to use 9" cake pans, at some point she mentioned 8" cakes).
2. Mix the boiling hot coffee with the chopped choc and mix well until smooth.
3. In a large bowl, sift in the sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cocoa. In an electric mixer bowl, beat eggs until thickened slightly (3 minutes on a stand mixer) and slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla and melted choc mixture. Add the sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined, scarping down sides of bowl once or twice. The batter will be watery.
4. Divide batter among the pans and bake 1 hour, adding 10 more minutes if necessary.
5. Let cakes cool completely in pans on wire racks.

Salted Caramel Sauce

2 cups granulated sugar
1/8 cup (2 T) light corn syrup
1/8 cup (2 T) water
1 cup heavy cream
1 t sea salt
110 g unsalted butter

1. Put the sugar, corn syrup and water in a small heavy-based pot over high heat and cook without stirring (to prevent crystallization) until the syrup is dark golden amber in color.
2. Remove from heat and carefully pour in the cream (it will sputter violently!). Return to heat, and cook 2 minutes, stirring.
3. Remove from heat, add the salt and the butter a tablespoon at a time. Let cool completely and chill in the fridge overnight. Should the sauce have a layer of oil on top, use a small hand whisk and whisk briskly to combine.

To assemble, put a layer of cake on a cake board or plate, spread the top with a layer of caramel sauce, and repeat for remaining layers except do not spread the sauce on the top layer of cake. Completely frost the cake with ganache or use the fudge frosting below and set cake in fridge to chill at least 3 hours or more. You may have to put the cake into the fridge several times in between frosting if you are in hot weather.
Sprinkle salt sea salt flakes (I used Maldon's ) on top.

Choc Fudge Frosting (from The Bitten Word)
1/4 cup + 2 T Dutch-processed cocoa powder
230 g unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup icing sugar
generous pinch of coarse salt
450 g semi-sweet choc, chopped, melted & cooled
Garnish: flaked sea salt (I used Maldon)

Whisk the cocoa powder and 1/4 cup plus 2 T warm water in a bowl until the cocoa powder is dissolved. In another bowl, beat butter, icing sugar and the salt on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the melted choc and then the cocoa mixture until well-combined. Let stand for 30 minutes before using.
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