Thursday, January 27, 2011

DB: A matcha green tea and raspberry mousse cake

The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprimé to wrap around an Entremets dessert.

Since I knew I had a long journey ahead of me, I had no choice but to be organized and get a head start on this month's challenge. Quite the change from my usual last minute mad dash to get my Daring Dessert together! I'm glad I got a head start on this challenge, and I managed to squeeze it in before I left for Asia. Of course, I did not get the post written in advance. Surprise, surprise.... I'm writing to you from an airport. It's a good thing that a Daring Baker can find Wi-Fi in all sorts of places! Plus, all the airport shops are closed because it's the middle of the night so, sadly, no late night airport shopping for me, and therefore no distractions!

We Daring Bakers went all fancy this month as we dressed up our cakes with pretty cake wraps of biscuit joconde imprimé. The joconde is an almond-based, light cake that is very pliable, and therefore is useful for rolled cakes; it can be wrapped around desserts to form a border of cake around ice cream and mousse.

The only criteria we had was that our dessert had to include the joconde cake in it. I had played with joconde recipes before, so this wasn't a new technique for me. Instead, I dared myself to fill my joconde cake with gelatin-based mousses since I had never experimented with gelatin before. I adore mousse cakes because they are so light and yet so flavorful. I went for a traditional raspberry mousse for my first layer (brought to you by Nick Malgieri). And, inspired by my pending trip to South East Asia, I decided to make a matcha (green tea) mousse for the top of the cake. I'm pretty sure matcha powder is from Japan (far from South East Asia), but let's pretend...

I came up with the following recipe for the matcha mousse. I based my techniques on Nick Malgieri's raspberry mousse.

Matcha mousse

  • 150 mL 1% milk
  • 70 grams granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp matcha powder
  • 1 packet Knox gelatin
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 250 mL whipping cream
  1. In a small saucepan, heat the milk, sugar, and matcha powder over medium heat for about 5 minutes until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is heated through, stirring constantly. Don't allow it to boil, just gentlly heat it until it's steamy. Then, set the pan aside, off the heat.
  2. Strain any undissolved matcha and collec the matcha milk in a separate bowl. Set aside.
  3. In a small, stainless steel bowl, pour the Knox powdered gelatin over the cold water. Let stand for 5 minutes to bloom.
  4. While the gelatin is blooming, heat a saucepan of water to a gentle simmer, then place the bowl of bloomed gelatin over the simmering water to gently melt the gelatin, stirring constantly. The solution will go from cloudy to clear.
  5. Take the bowl of gelatin off the heat and whisk it into the milk mixture. Set aside to cool slighlty.
  6. Whip the cream to stiff peaks, but not granular (don't make butter!).
  7. Carefully pour the tepid matcha milk into the whipped cream, and fold to incorporate it. (Don't be afraid to really mix it well and get out all the lumps.)
  8. Your mousse is ready to be poured over a cake base and chilled overnight (remember to prepare the cake base before making the mousse!).
Both mousse recipes (mine and Nick Malgieri's) worked out beautifully, yielding smooth, light, and creamy layers that were not overly sweet. The raspberry was a great tangy flavor to pair with the matcha. I topped the cake with some ground pistachios.

I guess the word to describe the color contrast between the raspberry and the matcha would be tacky, if you ask me! I feel the average French pastry chef would shake their heads at my pink and green creation. Actually, they'd probably point and laugh. That's okay. I was proud of my first mousse cake, and it tasted amazing, even if the color combination was a little odd.

The left-overs were just as good, though I was a little surprised to find that the raspberry color faded a little at the edges of the raspberry layer.

I think next time, I might try my hand at a mousse with tangy yogurt or sour cream to pair with the lightly sweetened, matcha green tea mousse, and thus avoid the unsightly color combo.

The joconde recipe, as well as the other Daring Bakers' creations, can be found at The Daring Kitchen.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A galette des rois for an epiphany

It's a new year, and I am in search of an epiphany (is that asking too much of 2011?). At this point, I have been so busy and hasty that even baking a simple galette des rois becomes problematic! You need to be very careful when sealing the edges of the galette. You need to press every point of the top edge into the bottom edge (with egg wash in between) because if you don't, something bad will happen. Your galette will puke its guts out into the baking pan! Gross!

As I watched in disgust as the pistachio filling of my galette flowed out of it, I was horrified. This felt like another epic fail to add to the list, and I really wasn't in the mood for it! I plopped my butt in front of my oven, on my kitchen floor (which clearly needs a good vacuuming), exhausted. I had made the puff pastry and the pistachio filling from scratch. I had carefully used an eggwash to seal the two layers of pastry together so that there would be no leakage.

Clearly, I missed a spot with that eggwash.

Officially, I need a break.

When my contract was up for renewal at the end of December, I chose to walk away. It would have been so easy to agree to whatever they were offering as they praised me and exclaimed that I was one of the better employees that they had hired that year (no offense to the others). Apparently, I was the perfect fit for that job, but then why did it feel like a bad fit to me?

I learned a ton at my job. I gave it my all and I am glad that I took the initial contract. But the work simply did not spark my interest. I could do the job, and apparently, I could do the job very well, but the job didn't make me happy.

I have been left with a lot of emotions, ranging from failure to the feeling that I am a quitter (I have never quit anything in my life!). Maybe I gave up too soon. I still feel like I may be acting like a spoiled princess because I should have been happy and appreciated that I had a job, given the current economic crisis in North America.

Needless to say, December hurt a lot. While I was busy working hard to finish all my projects, I realized that I really, really need to find time to think, and some time off. I need to figure out what my goals are because I'm not sure that I have goals anymore. I have always followed the most logical path, pursuing my studies to the highest degree. It was logical. It was encouraged. At no point did I find/take the time to think about what I want to do.

So, on Wednesday night, I am going to stop the clock (or rather, I am going to change time zones), and I am going to think. I am going to travel far away so that I can actually find a few moments to think (like during a few 21-hour flights!). Yes, I know I am not Elizabeth Gilbert, and my life is not Eat, Pray, Love. It is not my intention to imitate or re-enact Elizabeth Gilbert's trek in Europe and Asia. Clearly, a woman's journey to discover herself has been written about and published/publicized over and over again. I am having a moment, so bear with me.

I will be spending time in South-East Asia visiting and traveling with a close friend. And sometime in the middle, I will spend 5 days traveling by myself. I will find time to think! Maybe I'll have an epiphany in Thailand while eating an authentic, spicy pad thai. Maybe I will discover myself while slurping the rice noodles of a pho soup in Vietnam. Maybe I'll just eat lots of yummy food and ride elephants.

Eventually, I scraped myself off the floor, and I scraped the puke filling away from the galette. And, when I angled the camera just right, you wouldn't even know that there had ever been a problem!

It turns out the galette did not loose all its filling, just some. The galette tasted really good actually!

Next time, assuming my galette doesn't loose its filling like this again, I'd bake it for an extra 10 minutes to crisp up the bottom a little more. I baked the galette for 40 minutes, but I think 50 would have been better (but I had the small issue of the overflow of pistachio filling burning...).
Here's my recipe for the galette, adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini. For the pastry, I made Nick Malgieri's quick puff pastry, which I made by hand since I don't have a big enough food processor. The recipe yields about 750 grams of pastry. I just weighed what I needed and froze the rest.

Galette des rois
Yields 1 12-inch galette
  • 130 grams shelled pistachios, ground in a mini KitchenAid food processor 
  • 8 grams (1 tablespoon) corn starch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 125 grams butter, room temperature
  • 125 grams granulated sugar 
  • 2 large eggs 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon spiced rhum
  • 500 grams all-butter puff pastry
  • 1 dried black-eyed pea (or any other dried bean)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 crown
  1. Whisk together the ground pistachios, corn starch, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the sugar.
  3. Add the dry ingredients, then add the eggs, one at a time.
  4. Add the vanilla and rhum.
  5. Transfer to a small container, and refrigerate overnight (or until cold).
  6. Divide the puff pastry in 2.
  7. Roll one half to a 12-inch circle (or a little bigger, and trim to a 12-inch circle).
  8. Spoon the filling into the center of the disc, leaving the outer edge free for egg wash. 
  9. Place the black-eyed pea in the filling, close to the edge, and in the direction that you would cut the galette (to avoid slicing it in half).
  10. Prepare the egg wash by mixing the egg yolk, icing sugar, and a sprinkling of water.
  11. Coat the edges with egg wash.
  12. Roll the other half to a slightly larger disc. And place on top.
  13. Press down the edges really, really well!
  14. Trim the edges to make them pretty, if you'd like.
  15. Generously coat the top pastry with egg wash. Let stand 1 minute to dry a little, then coat it again.
  16. Draw pretty patterns with a knife (don't pierce the pastry!) on the top pastry..
  17. Pierce the pastry to allow for venting.
  18. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  19. Bake the galette at 350°F for about 50 minutes.
  20. Let cool completely before serving.
  21. The person that gets the slice with the bean gets to wear the crown!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Egyptian shortbread

On the eve of the orthodox Christmas (or sometime during the winter holiday season), there is one type of cookie that my mom and I always make: shortbread. Egyptian shortbread to be exact. I'm sure that the Lebanese will say that they are Lebanese shortbread, and the Syrian's will correct me and call them Syrian shortbread, and the Iranians will label them as Iranian cookies.... Whatever you want to call them is fine. They are Egyptian to me.

We have made these cookies for years. The recipe comes from my aunt Fawzia in Egypt. She gave my dad the recipe over the phone, which he quickly translated into English, inscribing it on a scrap piece of paper as she spoke. The recipe she gave him was vague, to say the least. My aunt Fawzia is the oldest of my dad's siblings, and she is quite the cook. She has been cooking and baking these traditional recipes for our family for so long that she measures nothing. She has a feel for how much of each ingredient has to be added. I'm sure her recipes are dependent on the climate and the look and touch of what she's preparing, but whatever she puts together always works out deliciously.

I swear, she could cook for an army in a tiny New York kitchen without a single measuring spoon to be found. When she gave my dad her shortbread recipe, she guesstimated amounts in "saucers" and "cups" (but not the cups that you or I know), probably just to humor us (I suspect she finds our meticulous measuring quite amusing). I don't think that she actually knows how much of each ingredient she uses in her recipe. Some years, the shortbread we made were too short; some years, they were just right. I suppose that the success of the cookies was highly dependent on how heavy-handed we were when measuring a saucer of sugar.

After years of baking this recipe, I think we have come up with the right ratios yielding a cookie that is delicate but firm enough to munch on without making a mess. These are not the typical British shortbread since the Egyptian shortbread are made with samneh (also known as ghee or clarified butter) and powdered sugar. An egg yolk gives structure to the cookies, while a touch of brandy gives a certain "je ne sais quoi" to their flavor making them ever-so winter appropriate. The flavor of these shortbread is wonderfully sweet.

My dad still reminisces of the years when our cookies were so short that he'd take a bite of one only to find that the rest of the cookie had crumbled in his hand and all over his lap. Clearly dad's an even bigger fan of butter than I am!

Egyptian shortbread
Makes ~ 40–50 cookies
  • 1 cup clarified butter (aka ghee or samneh), room temperature
  • 1 cup icing sugar, sifted
  • 1/8 cup brandy
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until smooth.
  3. Add the brandy and the egg yolk, and mix until combined.
  4. Add the flour, mixing and scraping down the bowl as needed. Continue beating the dough until it comes together (initially it will be a crumbly mess, but with some patience, it turns out just right!).
  5. Form the dough into 2 large disks.
  6. Roll out 1 disk until it is 1/4–1/8 inch thick using powdered sugar so that the dough doesn't stick. Cut into circles with a glass dipped in powdered sugar (~2.5 inch diameter glass). 
  7. Bake the cookies on a silpat lined baking sheet for about 8–12 minutes. The timing is highly dependent on how hot your oven is: if your oven is hotter (and heats to about 325°F), they may bake in as little as 8 minutes. Do not let them brown.
  8. Remove the pan from the oven, and place it on a wire rack to cool for a couple minutes before transferring the cookies to another rack to cool completely.
  9. Serve the cookies as is, or sprinkled generously with more powdered sugar.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Chewy salty toffee blondies

Edmonton is far. It's not so far that I can't take a 4.5-hour plane ride to get there, nor is it too far for a domestic phone call. But sometimes, Edmonton feels farther than far. Yesterday, I left Edmonton, and it feels extra far because my best friend is there, and I am back in Montreal. I spent a week in Edmonton with her, and we pretty much did nothing together. We bought Pyrex's at Walmart, watched Audrey Hepburn movies, ate popcorn, homemade fudge and 19 cent chicken wings, and we chatted. I couldn't have asked for more. Yet, somehow, the minute we arrived at the airport for my flight home, I suddenly felt like it had been too short, and we hadn't done/said enough. I had a million things on my mind and yet I somehow didn't find the time to express them all, and then it was too late.

 Edmonton is really far! It's not too far for phone calls, yet both our lives get too busy for those phone calls. Of course, we both can feel from far that we are thinking of each other constantly, and I have been known to call her long-distance from my cell phone while walking to the metro (no, I don't have an amazing phone plan....). Sadly, it's just not the same.

The Cilantropist says fresh chocolate chip cookies are like a big, warm hug, and I completely agree with her on that. A small batch of warm chocolate chip cookies is just what I need as I contemplate when I can take my next trip to see my best friend. I've been feeling a ridiculous level of sadness-induced laziness though, and the thought of scooping cookies was just not appealing. So, I made a pan of blondies instead. Chewy salty toffee blondies to be exact. And, because misery loves booze and chocolate, I added both to the blondies (rather than go on a binge of scotch and chocolate that would probably end badly).

Since today is our birthday, mine and my best friend's (yes, we were born on the same day of the same year!), I wrapped them up in a bow, and gave them to myself for our birthday.

This recipe has a good amount of salt, so if you aren't into the salty-sweet combo, you might want to switch to a finer salt, and use about half a teaspoon (whisk it in with the dry ingredients). I opted to add the coarse salt at the end, with the toffee bits and chocolate chips, in an attempt to keep the salt crystalline. The brown butter adds a pleasantly subtle nuttiness to the blondies.

Here's the recipe.

Chewy salty toffee blondies
Yields one 9x13-inch pan (~15 or more squares, depending on how you cut them)
  • 2 1/4 cups (340 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cups toffee bits
  • 1/4 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp coarse gray salt (plus more gray salt for sprinkling on top before baking)
  • 3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter, melted, browned, and cooled
  • 2 cups (400 grams) dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup scotch (I used Jack Daniel's)
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease a 9x13-inch Pyrex baking dish, and set it aside for later.
  2. Whisk together the flour and baking powder.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the toffee bits with the chocolate chips and gray salt.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and brown sugar for 1 minute.
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix for 2 minutes or until the mixture has lightened in color. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  6. Add the vanilla and the scotch.
  7. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture. Beat until just combined, then add in the toffee, chips, and salt mixture, and beat on low until the chunks are evenly distributed.
  8. Dollop into the prepared pan, and spread the mixture evenly, using your hands to press it into place (Optional: sprinkle with more coarse salt before baking).
  9. Bake for 35–40 minutes (because I like my edges nice and browned, I baked the blondies for a solid 40 minutes).
  10. Patiently wait for the blondies to cool completely (or almost completely) before feeding your blues (this is a good opportunity to catch up on house chores since a blondie reward is waiting for you in the kitchen!).
Note: My oven hovered between 325°F and 350°F when I baked these, although it was set to 325°F.