CSCA AB Lesson 1 – Puff Pastry

This weekend had been rather eventful, with a tiring yet interesting Saturday. Well, the Advanced Baking course which I signed up with Cambridge School of Culinary Arts started on Saturday and it has been immensely enjoyable. That evening, we also hosted dinner for our friends which was a result of an accepted proposal submitted to Foodbuzz and which I received a stipend to carry out the dinner.

Anyway, back to Lesson 1 which was on Puff Pastry. Ok, it’s not something entirely foreign to me. After all, I have attempted quick puff pastry before when making apple turnovers but I guess it wouldn’t hurt to learn more and have the experience of baking in an industrial kitchen. More importantly, I hope to learn something useful from the Pastry chef herself.

So, the hubs accompanied me to the school and waited for me for a full 4 hours as I went through the first lesson (so touched!). There were about 9 of us in the class and the chef herself was a graduate from the school and teaches full-time now. And my, the knowledge she has! She rambled on and on and I was furiously penning down new insights. There were two master recipe that we ought to know for pastry – the classic puff pastry and the quick puff pastry. Since the classic puff pastry takes a long time (about 6 hours in total), we couldn’t possibly do that and the alternative was the quick puff pastry. I was a tad disappointed since I had experience with this method and was expecting to learn the classic one (which I also attempted before but with much less success) but we just had to make do since we had time constraint.

After the demonstration and explanation, we were to pair up and attempt one of the recipes listed in our notes. My partner, Mariela, and I chose Almond Pithivier because we had no idea what it is and decided to try it. I realised later that it is a classic French pastry.

One thing good about attending classes is that you have the experts to tell you if you are on the right or wrong track. Obviously I can learn baking on my own but I would not be able to know how much I can improve without an expert’s take on it. I realised that I have to roll the dough till it’s really thin and chef made me feel the difference between Mariela’s and my dough. Oh! Now I know! Puff pastry is hard work! So, please appreciate the effort behind making puff pastry the next time you buy it!

A few things that I have noted (my own notes and perhaps only I would understand):
–  Use puff pastry for huge rise. Otherwise use quick puff pastry since this is the easier way of making it.
– Flour absorbs moisture so keep it in a dry place.
– Gluten needs to rest so you need to place it in the fridge for it to rest.
– Butter needs to be cold and ice water is needed when making puff pastry since the moisture is needed.
– Puff pastry dough is ready when they can hold together without being sticky
– If dough is too sticky, don’t add flour to the rolling pin but to the dough, esp to the buttery side. Use brush to help too.
– Keep dough loose at all times.
– Roll in one direction esp for the first roll. Never roll both in a vertical and horizontal way.
– Keep the width consistent.
– Egg wash: don’t allow it to drip to the floor of the sheet pan as it will prevent your product to rise.

Next lesson: Meringue! I am looking forward already!

Recipe for Almond Pithivier

1 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup amaretti (crushed cookies)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 oz. dark rum
1/2 tsp almond extract

Egg wash:
1 egg
1 tbsp milk or cream

In a bowl combine the almonds and crushed cookies. Beat the sugar and butter until light, add the almond mixture, eggs and run and beat until well combined. Freeze the mixture for 20 minutes.

Roll out the puff pastry 3/8′ thick, cut out even number of small circles using cake rings/cookie cutters. With the balls of your fingers, push and pat a disk of dough out onto its baking surface to make an even circle slightly larger than your cutting guide. With a docker or two forks, dock dough all over at 1/2 inch intervals – this prevents the bottom layer from rising too much. Place a round of chilled almond cream on this enlarged bottom layer of dough. Paint the circumference of bottom disc with egg yolk glaze. Place a remaining piece of dough evenly over the almond cream, pressing two layers together. Make a little hole in the top to allow air to escape. The dough may need to be chilled at this point, but if it is still firm, proceed to decorating, then chill before baking.

Glaze the top with the egg wash, take care that it does not drip down the sides of the pastry. A classic Pithivier has a scalloped edge made with a knife all around the circumference. You may also press the tines of a fork all around the outside edge. The usual pattern for the top of a Pithivier is a sheet of swirling spokes, beginning at the steam vent, curving out to the edge. If you prefer, make a decorative pattern with the back of a fork over the Pithivier. Chill the Pithivier in the fridge for 30 minutes or the freezer for 10-15 minutes. Bake the Pithivier on a parchment lined sheet pan in a 425F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375F and bake 25-30 minutes, or until puffed and golden.

Cendol Macarons

This is inspired by the dessert we often have at the hawker centres back home. To me, the coconut milk taste stands out whenever I consumed it, coupled with the red beans and I love chewing on them. Thus, this is my take on this Cendol macaron.

The basic recipe for the shell is used and coconut buttercream for the filling. To lend a cendol appearance to it, red bean paste and coconut jelly are added. Later, strawberries are inserted to give a more vibrant outlook to the dainty macaron.

Basic recipe (adapted from Macarons by Annie Rigg)

Makes about 40 shells = 20 filled macarons
200g/ 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
100g/ 2/3 cup ground almonds
125g egg whites (aged) – about 3 eggs
a pinch of salt
40g /3 tbsp caster sugar

Combine the confectioners’ sugar and ground almond and sieve it. Set aside.

In a spotlessly clean and dry mixing bowl, put the egg whites and add a pinch of salt. Using  the whisk attachment, beat until they will only just hold a stiff peak (looks like the bubble bath foam).

Continue to whisk at medium speed while adding the caster sugar a teaspoonful at a time. Mix well between each addition to ensure that the sugar is thoroughly incorporated before adding the next spoonful. The mixture should be thick, white and glossy. A test to perform to show that it is ready is to invert the mixing bowl. If nothing falls out, you are all set to go!

Fold the confectioners’ sugar and almond mixture into the egg whites. The mixture should be thoroughly incorporated and smooth. Do not overmix! When it is ready, the mixture should drop from the spoon in a smooth molten mass.

Fill the piping bag with the mixture and pipe evenly sized rounds, about 3.5cm across onto the prepared baking sheets. I used the 807 Ateco piping tip.

Tap the bottom of the baking sheets sharply, once, on the work surface to expel any large air bubbles.

Add any edible decorations (I added gold glitter) onto the unbaked macaron shells. The top left one was a mistake; I added too much!

Leave the macarons for at least 15 minutes, and up to 1 hour, until they have “set” and formed a dry shell. They should not be sticky, tacky or wet when tested with your fingertip.

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

Bake the macarons on the middle shelf of the preheated oven, one sheet at a time, for 10 minutes. The tops should be crisp and the bottoms dry. Leave to cool on the baking sheet before inserting the filling.

Coconut buttercream

200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
100g confectioners’ sugar
70ml coconut milk
2/3 tablespoons caster sugar

Beat the butter until creamy and pale. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, beating well until the buttercream is smooth.

Whip the coconut milk and caster sugar until it turns slightly frothy, and add this to the buttercream. Beat until smooth

Pipe in the buttercream and add the red bean paste, coconut jelly and/or strawberries on the shell before sandwiching it.


Nonya in Spring

A Foodbuzz 24×24 submission

I find it an obligation, no doubt a pleasant and willing one, to learn and familiarise myself with Peranakan cuisine when I married a wonderful man from that culture. The first time his auntie invited us over for a meal, I didn’t realise that I was in for a shock. Knowing that I was an aspiring homecook, she rambled a string of ingredients (Her Peoh, Buah Keluak, Belacan, Assam paste, Buah Keras…) that went into those wonderful dishes and my head throbbed. She was after all, speaking in a combination of the Malay Language & Hokkien, which I know very little of and I was lost in translation. But goodness! What a lot of ingredients that go into those dishes! However, that does not deter me from wanting to learn. I want to join the ranks of the women in that family who could prepare scrumptious Peranakan cuisine. Of course, I realised later too, that those ingredients do have English names attached to them. What a relief!

The family is coming to visit us in June (we are from Singapore and now in Boston for the husband’s studies) and I thought it timely to assemble a list of dishes that I could whip up for them during their short stay with us. The plan is simple. I would test the recipes in my kitchen and the hubs would be the food taster, giving me his honest feedback.  I though it fantastic as well to invite some of our friends over for Peranakan cuisine, with the blessings of Foodbuzz!

The theme of this dinner is Peranakan (obviously), with a little adaptation from this nonya (that’s what the woman is called in that culture). And since it’s spring, I promise that the dishes would be full of colours and finger-licking-good!

First up is a plate of finger food – boxing chicken. It is given that name because it does look like a boxing glove. Children love this dish as they can hold the wing at the boney end and bite. To achieve the look, hold the wing bone and make a cut on both sides nearest the bone. Then pull down the skin towards the meaty part and wrap the skin over the meat to make it look like a boxing glove. You should marinate at least an hour before. Usually this is deep fried but I prefer to roast it in the oven (save space for the stovetop!).

The main dish for this dinner is Popiah or spring roll. It is a great dish as you can do your own roll at the table, choosing the ingredients that you want in your spring roll, making it a personalised one indeed. It can be both enjoyable and torturing at the same time, especially for those who find it challenging to fit the filling snuggly as they roll  it.

That being said, the preparation can be a chore since the ingredients involve quite a few items. The main filling is made up of shredded turnip and carrots (test your knife skills!), brown fermented soya bean and minced pork. Just a little information on turnips that might be useful for us. When choosing turnips, look for smooth skin. They should feel firm and heavy with crisp green tops. Turnips are, generally, white at the bottom with a light purple blush on the top. Those that are small have the sweetest, most tender flavor. The larger the turnip, the more woody it tends to be. Besides these, other ingredients that go into Popiah include lettuce, bean sprouts, garlic, Chinese sausages, crab meat, coriander, eggs and sweet flour sauce. Are you overwhelmed? This is not all. For the shells or popiah skins, you can either choose to buy them at supermarkets or make them youselves, But I must warn you, it’s not easy!

After giving a short demonstration on how to wrap the ingredients, the dear friends had a go at it. Some were a natural in wrapping, others more inept and created quite a design. “Hey! Yours look like a squarish envelope!” “Doesn’t matter. There’s no hard and fast rule to wrapping!” Definitely, just as long as the roll is made and we are contented with it, who cares?

make a gif

We all needed a break after the two dishes and decided to play a game of Dominion. In the midst of playing, the silent air of contemplation was interrupted by uncontrollable burping.

Now, it’s time for dessert!

And it has to be Cendol! Oh! How the husband and I miss this dessert! While this can be commonly sold in dessert stores, coffee shops and food courts back home, we hardly see it here. Cendol is a Malay dessert that traditionally consists of green mung bean jelly droplets flavoured by pandan leaves, swimming in slightly salted coconut milk and drizzled with palm sugar syrup. Later, when fridges became available, it evolved into ice cendol. Shaved ice was added to suit the tropical weather. More colourful variations are seen these days with new additions such as azuki beans, creamed corn and grass jelly and hey, that’s the way I like it!

So begins my adventure in creating this dessert. Back home, pre-made green mung bean jelly droplets are available at supermarkets  but this is obviously not the case here. Thankfully, it is not too difficult to make and even if you do not have the cendol-making frame to form the droplets, you can substitute using a slotted spoon. Having made these, allow your creativity to take charge and create your own version of cendol! Just remember to keep the three essential ingredients – mung bean jelly droplets, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup. While we do not have shaven ice here, what I did was to prepare the cups of cendol and put them in the freezer for about 2-3 hours to allow the coconut milk mixture and syrup to freeze a little (though not entirely). When you are ready to consume it, use the spoon to mix the contents and you will get the effect of the shaven ice.

When the friends were served this dessert, a guessing game ensued. “What did you put in?” “What’s this green thing?” Is this grass jelly?”

I love it when friends use their senses to identify the ingredients in their food. And I must say, some of them did really well!

Last but not least…

… how can anyone resist macarons? Though it is not part of Peranakan cuisine, surely I can tweak the flavour to add a Peranakan twist to this French cookie!  And yes, you’ve guessed it! I’m making Cendol flavour, largely from coconut milk and coconut gel. And since I absolutely adore red bean paste, I added that as well. Then, I decided to get a bit more creative and added strawberries too! Oh! The many different flavours and colours you can play with macarons!

The night was complete with wonderful company and delicious home-cooked Peranakan cuisine. The husband and I had a great time sharing the culture with our friends and it was a night to be savoured. It was an immense pleasure to prepare the dinner and I dare say that I have a little more knowledge on the cuisine upon researching on it. Thank you, Foodbuzz, for this wonderful opportunity!

More recipes will be posted.

Continue reading