Thursday, January 29, 2009

Daring Bakers, January: Tuiles

Here it is-once again, we Daring Bakers were asked to cook a secret recipe at the beginning of the month, and then to share our results all on the same day.

This month's challenge is brought to us by Karen of Baking Soda and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux.

You can find the recipes behind the links I provided above to their Web sites. Me? I liked this month's project--I didn't have as much time as I would've liked to go wildly artistic (I was picturing dragonflies, flowers, dioramas, entire storyboards made out of tuile!!! Although that didn't happen, I was still able to have fun!

Daring Bakers January: Tuiles
We were allowed to bake savory and/or sweet tuiles, and I went for sweet. We were directed to put them on something "light," like mousse, sorbet, or a light soup, in observance of January's "eat light" directive that a lot of people follow as New Year's resolutions. My dessert wasn't all that light--panna cotta topped with apricot mousse: I dubbed it panna apricotta. Basically, I made it because I thought the name up, and it cracked me up whenever I thought about it. Heh!

Daring Bakers January: Tuiles
Most of my tuile batter went into butterflies, but I did make a few apricot shapes. Thought I defeated the purpose of it's big bottom dimple (minds out of gutters, please) by plunging them into the mousse.

Daring Bakers January: Tuiles
I served the first round as dessert for Sunday dinner, adding just a bit of food coloring here and there to have slight variants between the butterflies.

Daring Bakers January: Tuiles

Daring Bakers January: Tuiles

Daring Bakers January: Tuiles

Daring Bakers January: Tuiles
The next day, I was running around, but I took a few moments to play around with the same template and get used to working with the batter.

Daring Bakers January: Tuiles

Daring Bakers January: Tuiles

Daring Bakers January: Tuiles
And I made a few cornets. And perched butterflies on them because I had so many. Butterfly invasion!

Process notes:
Daring Bakers January: Tuiles
Chill your batter! I left mine in for over an hour, and it was a thick paste by the time I took it out. This thickness made spreading it within the template easy. I noticed that the batter would loosen up quickly, however, so I'd store it in the fridge between batches.

Daring Bakers January: Tuiles
For templates, I tried using the plastic lid off a cottage cheese container and the thick paperboard backing off a notepad, which was about twice as thick as the plastic, but still well under 1/16 inch. I first drew the templates on paper, cut them out, then stenciled the shapes onto my template material, and finally, slice them out with an x-acto blade.

Daring Bakers January: Tuiles
The lid was almost too thin, and I had to spread the batter across the shape very carefully so I wouldn't accidentally scrape too much away or have an uneven layer. The thinness led to quick browning. The paperboard was better, but it was after all paper, and was a bit mucky by the end-not deteriorated, really-just . . . moist. It obviously wasn't reusable.

Daring Bakers January: Tuiles
Piping the batter also worked fine, but it worked best with very cold batter, since as it sat out and warmed, its piped shape melted a bit. By the time the tray got into the oven, the shapes that had been piped first mostly all oozed together. In the photo, the butterfly to the right was piped first. Putting the tray in the fridge for a bit before baking helped, but I probably could've left it in there longer.

Daring Bakers January: Tuiles
I kept batches small when I wanted to work with the shapes, making three butterflies at a time, then dropping them into a propped-open manila folder where they could cool, holding their shape. Plus, I was able to vary how much or how little their wings were open.

All in all, it was a fun challenge, and pretty easy to put together! They'll be nice to keep on file for times I need a small touch of elegance. If you want to check out what the rest of my highly talented DB peers are up to, you can track them through the Daring Bakers Blogroll!

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

My holidays, delivered--with special guest star, macarons

Every year, I look forward to holiday baking. This is when I can go all out, revisiting old favorites and working on new ones, sending treats that people can't easily find.

Mailed menu
This year's highlights included Ken's wonderful not-so-hard biscotti and my version of cousin Julius' amazing Espresso White Chocolate Chunk Cookies. I decided to also work on my macarons.

holiday macarons
Macarons with chocolate ganache.

Over in one of the kitchn's posts, I suggested that the cupcake fad, if and when it ended, would be replaced with the macaron fad. Personally, while I enjoy cupcakes, I like macarons better; there's much less buttercream involved, and I just love almonds. And cookies. I think the one thing that might prevent the much-anticipated (by me) macaron fad is people's macaron-phobia. Many food blogs I visit show traumatizing attempts at homemade macarons, some never getting it quite right. I say: just go for it.

I like David Lebovitz's no nonsense approach to macarons. When I saw his recipe for French Chocolate Macarons last year, linked over from Serious Eats' "how to make macarons" article, I decided to make that recipe the one to try. No coddling, no disclaimers--just get-up-and-go instructions. As Julia Child once said, "As long as you know what you’re trying to do, there’s no reason to be scared of doing it." Aside from my incredibly overzealous piping and the resulting ball-shaped macarons, the taste and texture were just like the macarons I'd had in Vegas (as dramatically told in that same post). I decided that the next time I made macarons, I'd "pipe better." I ended up making macarons one of the treats I sent out to friends and family as holiday gifts.

holiday macarons
Smooth top, frilly feet!

If you try to make these, I recommend you just dive in with gusto. If you can beat egg whites and make a meringue, then you can do this. Just make sure all your beating equipment is grease-free, or your egg whites won't whip up, and don't overwhip your egg whites or your batter will be tought to pipe and your shells will be too dry. You want the batter to be somewhat stiff, but fluid enough to pipe easily and flow gently into a round shape. To pipe, just put your pastry tip down and squeeze until you have a shallow 1-inch circle; if you pipe too tall, you'll end up with what I did my first time out--macaron golf balls! Anyway, this really is the simplest recipe I've found. If you can nail this, then you can feel more at ease when you start experimenting with aged egg whites and fancy flavors.

Almond flour might be hard to find. I just threw some blanched almonds into a food processor with a light sprinkling of AP flour to prevent it from turning into almond paste. I've also had success following Lebovitz's suggestion and grinding the almonds with the powdered sugar in the recipe. If you want to avoid the little bumplies from larger pieces of almond (though in my opinion, they're not large enough to affect the texture), you can run the almond flour through a sifter, then reprocess the large chunks to squeeze a few more grains out of them.

My version of David Lebovitz's macaron shells
Makes about fifteen cookies

Macaron Batter
1 cup (3.5 oz) powdered sugar
½ cup almonds flour (2 oz)
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons (2 1/4 oz) granulated sugar

1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat oven to 375.
2. Get together a pastry bag with a plain 1/2-inch tip.
3. Combine the powdered sugar and almond flour.
4. Beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and firm. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until very stiff and firm, about 2 minutes.
5. Fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the egg whites until the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white.
6. Scrape the batter into the pastry bag (standing the bag in a tall glass helps if you're alone).
6. Pipe the batter onto the parchment-lined baking sheets in flat, 1-inch circles, evenly spaced one-inch apart.
7. Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten the macarons, then bake them for 15-18 minutes.
8. Let cool completely then remove from baking sheet.

I used his Chocolate filling, too:

Chocolate Filling
½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

To make the chocolate filling:
Heat the cream in a small saucepan with the corn syrup. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool completely before using.

I stirred the ganache a lot to thicken it up a bit so it wouldn't be too runny.

The next time I make these (maybe sooner than later because I'm gearing up to make some citrus curds, and I'll have some egg whites left over), I'm going to try some flavored buttercreams. Or heck, maybe use some curds as fillings!
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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Eating out and Yelping about it

For us, food is a celebration, and eating out is a privilege, a sort of special occasion, and we try not to take it for granted. We eat out only once a week—sometimes twice if we have a weekend breakfast out—and we mix it up between old favorites and new tastes. For a Google addict and OCDer like me, choosing a place takes careful research and deliberation. I search for new places, looking at reviews, menus, prices, driving directions—trying to learn as much as I can about a place and the food I’ll have there. Sometimes, I’ll be inspired by something I’ll catch online or on TV. Serious Eats’ hot dog review and nod to the elusive Sonoran hot dog had me combing the streets for hot dog street vendors—not common in the blazing Arizona heat, and it figured that the one I eventually found and came to love—a van that comes out and parks in the lot of a keyboard/synthesizer store after it closes for the day, serving these savory bacon-wrapped, bean-adorned dogs late into the night). Anthony Bourdain’s Columbia episode had me scrambling, trying to find a place (alas, the only place I could find in the Valley had closed down several years ago). Someday, I’ll find one, and there will be meaty, cheesy, potatoey empanadas with the thin, crispy shells!

While eating out is a big deal, I rarely write about it. I’ve never aspired to be a restaurant critic (or even a food writer—just a food writing editor!). Still, just like an oenophile takes notes (I took copious ones when I was still a big wine drinker), I’ve decided to start trying to do so, too, as someone who loves and appreciates good restaurants.

Thus, you can read my often verbose and somewhat scatterbrained reviews on Yelp at I’m "retro reviewing" now, so time willing, might be adding a lot of reviews over the next week or two. It’s been a good way to remember places I want to revisit, like the Lumpia Factory!

Lumpia Factory
Hun and I have dinner at the Lumpia Factory

I'm going to work on not being verbose. I don't often write for other people, just letting whatever's in my head spill out, so this will be an interesting challenge. And most likely, a good one!

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Saturday, January 10, 2009


I didn't take enough photos while I was in Oklahoma City. I captured Hun's family's Christmas Tree, a shot out the airport window of the state's jaw-dropping flatness, and a photo of the "tornado shelter" sign under the women's bathroom sign. I guess my photographer's muse took her own vacation. I did, however, capture waffles:

OKC waffle

I wish I'd captured the traditional Chinese breakfast Hun's mom would serve--a very bland rice porridge served with some of the besterestest and flavorful pairings, from "furry pork" (dried and finely shredded pork), to cubed tofu topped with bonito flakes (dried and finely shaved bonito), to seaweed salad (My favorite ... it's basically salad. Made from seaweed. Or wakame salad.) There was a whole spread, and you'd put little bites of this and that in your porridge, one at a time or all together. It's like bread and butter.

In lieu of that, I present: my dad makes an awesome breakfast.

Dad inspects the pan. Is it ready yet, Dad?
Dad cooks breakfast

Just about!
Dad cooks breakfast

Eggs, sausage, and rice--traditional weekend breakfast fare when I was growing up.

Garlic and onion eggs with big sausage and rice.

Pancakes and low-carb syrup?! The new breakfast at my parents' house--it's tastier than you might think!

Pancakes and tuna omelet--another old-school breakfast, though I'm more appreciative now of tuna omelets.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Food and Cooking Resolutions for the New Year

Happy New Year! I know, I’m a week late, but between resettling myself back home and at work after the long vacation with my Hun’s family in OKC and recovering from a chest cold that’s just finally starting to move on, life has been a bit hectic, and all my down time has been spent resting (mostly).

We rang the New Year in with Hun’s delicious sautéed salmon and my big pot of black-eyed peas and collard greens, followed by a lemon curd trifle with almond cake. Since then, we’ve relished in baked spaghetti squash with sausage ragout, some of Mark Bittman’s famous “no-knead bread,” and a big pot of cassoulet. We’re definitely off to a yummy start, though not necessarily as “light” as many of my other food bloggers’.

A lot of food blog-a-zine editors are asking their readers if they have any food- and cooking-related New Year’s resolutions. I always have a few swimming around in the back of my brain, but the ones I want to focus on most include:

Broadening my palate. I want to taste new flavors and learn new flavor combinations. I get the basic salt and pepper, and understand the whys of mirepoix and sofrito, and I’ve gotten to touch on tadkas from Indian cuisine (though I may have used the term incorrectly in that context—basically, I mean a basic series of spices and how to handle them, mostly by heating them or frying them in oil before grinding them down), and all the combinations I learned from last semester’s Pacific Rim’s class, playing with different spices, curries, vinegars, spices, chilis, and on and on and on. I’d like to learn more about the chemistry of taste—how to combine flavors so that they “make sense” to the tongue, not necessarily to shock and surprise the tongue (I’m not that avant garde). (To read: A Platter of Figs by David Tanis)

Cooking with more produce. I want to introduce both a greater quantity and a greater variety of produce into my cooking. If I learned anything from last semester’s nutrition class, it’s that a diet high in produce is a diet high in good nutrition. The Downtown Phoenix Public Market played a big role, and I’d like to start going to local farmers’ markets again every week, both for the variety, but because it was nice to once again have vegetables that tasted like what they are. I also want to make use of Hun's love for fruit and incorporate it more as dessert options, since it can't all be baked and bready goodness! I learned a wonderful lesson, eating the Chinese pears, kiwi fruit, and oranges that his mom would slice up and serve to us after dinner--what a treat! (To read: The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters)

Learning new techniques. I’m comfortable with the old-school stuff—if someone tells me to brown some meat, then braise it, I can hack it without a recipe. Thicken with a roux? No problem. But my resolution is broader than that. How, for example, would I cook game so that it didn’t taste gamy? What’s the best way to flambé? How does my mom keep her arroz caldo so white? Stuff like that! (To read: The Elements of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman)

Learning more classical recipes. I love knowing about those tried-and-tested dishes, from the Philippines’ adobo recipes to French coq au vin, and I want to know more—schnitzel, salmon lomi, jerk chicken, etc. I've already started, cooking the traditional black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Year's Day! Tasty! (To read: How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman)

Reading more in general. All of those things above will come from my pursuit of knowledge. Luckily, my library is filled with cooking DVDs and books on food.

Overall, I’m looking forward to a more healthful, creative, and educational year in the kitchen!
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