Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A journey through Basilicata

Dinners at Vini are always a journey through different regions of Italy.

Understanding the different cuisines of the world or its regional differences is really “a look of the world through the kitchen window” as my book “Around the world in eighty dishes”, a book published in 1956, so writes in its foreword.

Expect plenty of surprises, pleasant surprises at that.

The night’s dinner at Vini had its focus on the cuisine from Basilicata. Basilicata is located in the South of Italy. It is a poor region and its cuisine mostly makes use of the products of the land and of the meat as fish and seafood is scarce in the region.

The chilli and peppers are present in the region’s cooking. It was once used to counter illnesses such as Malaria but has since found a permanent place in the distinctiveness of Basilicata’s food.

My best friend and I had a ball of a time eating and drinking at Vini last evening. It was good in every sense of the meal. The ambience, the company, the wine, and most importantly every course of the meal.

The antipasti platter started off our meal on a good note: buffalo mozerella was served with chilli jam. Sounds like a strange pairing but in fact, it worked really well. Sugna (flavoured pork rind and fat with herbs and salt) was served with crosini; this used to be a staple of the sheperds. Pan fried mandolin potatoes with baccalà (salted cod) was a real delight. It didn’t feel heavy on the palate. The deep fried assorted vegetables (Snake beans, broad beans, chick peas, aubergine, zucchini) with tiny morsels of cheese encrusted with really light batter could most probably give the boring salad a completely new face lift.

The Italian wine that was paired with the antipasti platter was a light, crisp, a touch of spiciness was really a pleasure to drink especially with the food.

Antipasti- Buffalo mozerella with chilli jam, baccala and potato, fried vegetable, sugna with crostini

Primi (first course) was farro ( a type of grain which has similarities to barley) is served with the tiniest but sweetest cherry tomatoes, zucchini and shaved ricotta salata (A type of dry, salted sheep’s milk cheese). This was really unusual and makes an interesting eat but at the same time, it was an enjoyable dish with all the flavours intertwining together, with the slightly chewy farro. This was served with an Italian merlot, a little heavy for a merlot but works perfectly well with the dish.

Farri cherry tomatoes with zuchini, ricotta salata

Main was roasted pork shoulder, braised pork, with a thin long strip of pork crackle. This was really good! The roasted pork was bursting with flavours and aromas yet it was so tender. The pork crackle (I say is even better than that at Aria!) was pure heaven. It crackles the moment you bite into it, the way it should. The sides were roasted peppers with almonds, simple and unassuming. The wine pairing ( Canneto Aglianico 05’) for this course, the only wine from the Basilicata region as we were informed, was a very acidic wine with deep tannins. Very rich and strong on its own but seems to mellow down with the richness of the pork.

Organic roast pork shoulder, cannelini beans

Dolci is the course that I look forward to all the time. We were served a slice of ricotta lemon tart with drizzle of honey and fried rosemary. I had to get over my initial shock at the rosemary and dessert combination. It worked perfectly well for me. The smoothness of the ricotta with that hint of lemon, a flaky pastry base, lightly sweet honey with the sharpness of the rosemary. That rounded off our dinner.

Dolci, ricotta lemon tart, honey and rosemary

The exploration of a small slice of Basilicata has ended along with the dinner. My desire to experience the little pockets of Italy and the rich diversity of their regional cuisine has been refuelled.

While to travel around Italy may be a distant dream, I know that I always can fall back on books and Vini for a little journey or two into the kitchen windows of Italy.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Elegant Opera

IP Lesson XXI- Gateau Opera

Catch up blog.

Next on Gateau Opera.. that is going to be the real test for us as we are required to prepare the Gateau Opera for our practical assessment this term.

The Gateau Opera or L’Opéra in French is a traditional and popular French cake which is named after the Opera theatre in Paris. There are variations of this classic. Generally, it consists of layers of jaconde soaked in coffee punch, chocolate ganache, coffee buttercream, and finished off with a layer of chocolate glaze.

This is a rich and decadent dessert but if eaten in small quantities, can be really satisfying. I especially love it as the different layers of textures interplay in that single mouthful and how the strong coffee flavour cuts through the richness and smoothness of the dark chocolate ganache. I can already think of a couple of people I know who would absolutely love this cake!

The gateau Opera that we made in class was made of three layers of jaconde, a layer of coffee buttercream, and two layers of dark chocolate ganache.

While each of the component isn’t too difficult to make, it is the assembling of this gateau that is the real test.

Well, to me at least. You need to ensure that each layer is spread evenly and the thickness of each component is similar so that it would be a feast for the eyes as well as for the stomach.

Other essential points to note: one, ensure that your jaconde (thin almond sponge) is not over baked. It is baked at a very high temperature for a very short period of time to ensure that it remains moist enough to absorb the coffee punch. Two, to take extra caution not to split the chocolate ganache. It happens especially when you get overzealous over the whisking of it to buttercream consistency (for it to be spreadable). Three, make sure that your buttercream doesn’t split. It wouldn’t if the butter is not cold when you add it to the meringue mixture.

Sounds easy?
Not exactly either especially when you have so many things to do in a single session.

The hardest part for me was still the pouring of the glaze. You need to be decisive and swift when you do it. I wasn’t. I kept trying to spread the glaze around with the palette knife. Too much fiddling around and the glaze wasn’t smooth!

My cake looks fine on the whole with the exception of the glaze.

Apart from the glaze, I didn’t soak the jaconde enough so they were a little on the drier side. I guess my punch was too thick when I tried to apply it and the jaconde refused to take in any more liquid.

It’s time to ensure that everything goes much better during assessment!

Till then, I’ll just sit back and relax with my opera and an English tea.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tetsuya's, Kent Street

You know what people say: Having great expectations can be both a good and bad thing. When something lives up to great expectations, the experience is complete, right down to the beginning: the point of anticipation. But, on the flip side, great expectations can lead to great disappointment. Tetsuya’s is a case in point.

Tetsuysa’s is rated as one of the top restaurants in Australia, and some say the world. After all it was once listed no. 5 in the renowned S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant list, that’s before it has tumbled down to no. 17 this year. Indeed, it has fallen from grace!

With a pedigree like Tetsuya’s under the helm of a chef with his own line of vinaigrettes and wares, Tetsuya Wakuda, it would be an insult if you didn’t have high expectations.


The reason why I put off writing this blog entry is that I didn’t know how to put to words my disappointment. On certain points during the four hour degustation meal, I even wondered if it was just me and my tastebuds playing tricks on me. How could everyone be raving about Tetsuya’s but me?


Tetsuya is located along Kent Street in the City. My three dining companions and I were greeted by well-trained wait staff. Service was immaculate.

Walking through the doors into the dining area of Tetsuya’s was actually pretty surreal. “I am finally here,” I thought to myself.

The vastness of the restaurant actually surprised me. Inclusive of its private dining rooms, it actually could seat a good hundred people. Even with a large restaurant, you still had to make reservations a few months in advanced to snag that coveted spot.

The dinner was off to a good start. Warm bread was served after we settled down in our seats. Given a choice between sourdough and white rolls, all of us promptly opted for the sourdough.

As I always say, the bread that the restaurant serves tells a lot about the restaurant and its food. Tetsuya’s has certainly passed the bread test. First, the bread was freshly baked and warm and secondly, it was served with black truffle and parmesan salsa butter which was “ooh, so divine”! It left me desiring more but I stopped myself to save my stomach for the 13 courses that followed.

Amuse bouche was a chestnut mushroom soup with shaved white mushrooms.

Amuse bouche

We also ordered an extra course which was coffin bay oysters with grapeseed oil, rice vinegar and ginger. A simple dish that brought out the freshness of the oysters and it was really refreshing in taste. The only complaint, if any, was that it left an oily sheen on my lips, much more than desired.

Coffin bay oysters

We moved on to smoked ocean trout with avruga caviar with a round reconstructed egg yolk in the center. We were advised to eat all three components together. I love caviar and I love smoked ocean trout. Poke into the egg yolk and it burst, the three weaved together beautifully with a good texture and flavour play.

smoked ocean trout with avruga caviar

Next came the spanner crab custard. Smooth, light custard with really fresh crab in it.

spanner crab custard

Dinner was building up pretty nicely. Well paced, good selection of dishes, freshest ingredients. But the dinner just went downhill from this point.

Ironically, that point coincided with Tetsuya’s signature dish: Confit of Petuna Tasmanian Ocean Trout with Konbu, Daikon and fennel green apple salad.

My first question is why they are serving us Ocean Trout twice in the same dinner in quite a similar way. The konbu crust unfortunately taste like MSG. The Ocean trout was soft as it was slowly-cooked under tender oven heat after being marinated in grapeseed oil and salt. Good but if this is his signature dish, then I was really very let down. The sides of daikon, fennel and julienned green apple was a nice complement but it isn’t an out of the world combination.

Confit of Tasmanian ocean trout with crusted daikon

I kind of lost track of the dishes in between. But the twice cooked de-boned spatchcock stuffed with foie gras with an olive tapenade with shaved truffles was another disappointing dish, just when you think things will get better. First of all, I don’t understand the use of summer truffles (Those truffles are from Perth apparently). But to me, it lacks the distinctive flavour that truffles ought to have. Summer truffles are a restaurant’s attempt to give a dish a boost of glamour. Other than that, I can’t imagine why they are included really. Oh, another thing was that I didn’t really enjoy the foie gras stuffing. To me, it just didn’t work. Call me a purist but I prefer my foie gras pan-seared where the crusty top gives way to a melt-in-the-mouth sensation.

Next, we had the terrine of Spanner crab with avocado soup. Why Spanner crab again? And I really didn’t think this dish work for me in terms of flavour and texture. It left me with a fishy after taste.

Spanner crab with avocado soup

The next course was grilled wagyu beef served with lime and wasabi and a jelly sheet made of dashi stock. Truth be told, it was good but not great.

Grilled waygu

But one can always look forward to great desserts to round up the meal nicely.

In this case, desserts really revealed the weakness of Tetsuya’s. In the presence of pastry students, the desserts were dissected apart.

To be honest, I cannot remember much of them. They were all too forgettable. Tetsuya lent his name to a dessert called Tetsuya’s strawberry shortcake. It was served in a fancy martini glass but fancy was the only way to describe it. It was simply strawberry puree with cream..the shortcake element was kind of missing.

Tetsuya's strawberry shortcake

Next was a chocolate mousse with a crème anglaise. Nothing exciting.

chocolate mousse and creme anglaise

My point exactly. The entire dinner was good but not great and I was certainly let down by a restaurant of such great pedigree. It did nothing to blow me away in any of the dishes at all. And I found out that Tetsuya’s menu don’t really change that much; it evolves but no radical changes. I feel that that isn’t quite becoming of one of the world’s best restaurant.

I like to be surprised when I dine out; to be surprised at the unexpected combinations of the textures, flavours that come to play so harmoniously.

I can think of many places that I have dined better than Tetsuya’s. this may be a harsh review but only because I was expecting a whole lot more.

See what they say: the more you expect, the greater the impact of the fall.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A demanding beauty

IP Lesson XIX-XX- Croquembouche

My Croquembouch, my dream wedding cake

I’ve been waiting for this lesson ever since I started my training in Le Cordon Bleu.

It has become personal since the Croquembouche is my dream wedding cake. For the uninitiated, the Croquembouche is a traditional French wedding cake made with a tower of profiteroles dipped in caramel on a nougatine base and decorated with spun sugar.

The French name, Croquembouche, loosely translate to “crack in the mouth” which refers to the crackle of the caramel as you pop one of those profiteroles into your mouth.

We spent two days preparing our croquembouche tower. The first day was spent baking the profiteroles, preparing the crème patisserie, and baking and cutting the nougatine sheets.

The second day was spent assembling our tower of profiteroles with caramel.

Day One was a disappointment for me. I wouldn’t make up any excuses for my below-par performance. Perhaps overconfidence has brought me down: As a result of letting my guard down, I ended up letting both my choux puffs and my partner down. It was an embarrassing episode for me especially after making choux pastry for the umpteen time.

What happened was I got carried away while adding the eggs and I added too much of it. As we all know, too much of something is not always a good thing, especially in the world of baking. My profiteroles didn’t puff up nicely as they should; in fact, they were pretty flat!

The day did not end with just the disappointment. Before I could sit around and mope, I was forced to confront my temperamental twin, Nougatine. This evil twin had me running to and fro the oven and my bench. By the end of lesson, my face was all flushed; beads of perspiration dotted my face and back; my arms were left aching.

You see, nougatine needs to be worked with when it is hot and pliable. That meant that you had to roll out the nougatine sheet before it cools down too much. Once it is cooled, it refuses to comply with you. Just like a difficult kid; nougatine simply snaps. You have to coax it by warming it up in the oven; however, you have to be extra careful, as overheating will over colour it.

Only tenacity will help you find a way with it.

“I’m going to whip you into shape,” I was lashing out a stern warning to my nougatine pieces. I still believe in the tough-line approach.

Some of my other course mates were coaxing their nougatine pieces.
Whatever the approach, we managed to cutting out our nougatine pieces ready for class the next day.


I went to bed that night with negative thoughts about my profiteroles.

I did not wake up feeling better. With the sinking feeling, I dragged my feet to the train station. But even while I was waiting for my train, I wanted to turn back for home.

I was facing the mountain of impossibility of having to stick my flat profiteroles together.

“Would my croquembouche even resemble one?” I thought to myself.

At that moment, my train arrived and left me with no time for any reconsideration.

I trudged on to class with heavy steps and a heavy heart.

“We’ll make the best with whatever we got,” my bench partner comforted me. With that, the both of us soldiered on.

Full concentration is an essential when assembling the croquembouche. Those negative thoughts dispersed the moment we started making caramel.

Caramel is made by heating up a sugar syrup to past hard crack stage (> 160 degrees Celsius). Imagine having to handle something of that temperature! If handling nougatine was like handling a difficult kid, handling caramel is like playing with fire.

A moment of distraction could result in dire consequences. All of us worked with the caramel with a bowl of ice water beside us- just in case. We were told of a story of how a student burn his finger in caramel and in reflex, used his other hand to swipe of the caramel and ended up ripping the skin of his finger off!

That being said, I find that to deal with caramel, one needs to be fearless. The more afraid you are, the more likely you will get hurt. Fearless was my doctrine for that day.

But I ended up with a burn on my thumb midway through my tower. I’m not going to try to pretend it didn’t hurt, because it sure hurts like hell. I dunk my thumb in the iced water and my entire face grimaced in intense pain.

You could hear expletives and swearing in the kitchen all through that afternoon. It is all the doing of caramel.

I would say that getting burnt was worth it the moment I pulled out the silicon paper cone that helped give the croquembouche tower its shape.
That was the only word that summed up how I felt at the point in time.

My very own croquembouche!

Chef noticed the lack of puff in the profiteroles but other than that, he said it was a job well-done.

Sadly, this might be the last croquembouche I would make. I have to say goodbye to my wedding cake dream. (Yes! Before this lesson, I was determined to make this for my wedding next year!)

The croquembouche is a beauty with too many demands; short shelf life of four to six hours; needs to be in a cool and dry place (fridge is not an answer with all the moisture). In hot and humid Singapore, I think that the caramel and spun sugar will sweat and melt before I say “I do”.
on a nougatine base decorated with nougatine triangles, bounded together with caramel and spun sugar

A beauty

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The bread of life

IP Lesson XVI, XVII, XVIII- Breads

Baguettes, Lavosh, Ciabatta


The four ingredients needed to bake a basic white loaf.

I’m just constantly amazed at how a tasty loaf is created just by using such basic ingredients.

One other fact of bread is that it contains about fifty percent water. I figure if you can bake enough bread for a business, you would be really rich!

Classes this week focused on continental breads such as the Pagnotta (a wholemeal bread), Ciabatta (Italian ‘Slipper’ bread), Baguettes (Traditional French loaves), Baps (Scottish loaves) and Fruit loaves.

Breads are not only therapeutic to eat but also therapeutic to bake; the kneading of the dough in an almost rhythmic fashion; the feel of rounding the bread dough into smalls rolls with the palms of your hands; the smells of the freshly baked loaves that musk the kitchen; the crackling sounds of the bread loaves as you tap your fingers against it when it is out of the oven.

That’s the therapy in baking your own bread.

On a gloomy grey Friday morning, the Pagnotta dipped with a fruity extra virgin olive oil helped chase away the blues.
On a busy Friday afternoon, a slice of the warm baguette with a thick slab of butter (just like the French do) renewed my strength and perked up my senses for the day in the kitchen.
On Sunday morning, I discovered the joy of a warm fruit loaf with apricot jam.

That’s the therapy of eating the very bread you bake.

If you know what those store-bought breads contain, you will probably not want to eat them anymore. Think about it: they can last for quite a while and still retain its softness. Preservatives such as calcium propionate to inhibit mould growth as well as flour treatment agents, emulsifiers are added to the bread we buy from supermarkets. The list goes on. I dare not think about what I’ve been putting into my body.

I need to be baking my own breads soon when I get home.

Vegetable rolls

fruit loaf with apricot jam

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My best part of the day

IP Lesson XV- Danish pastries

Hazelnut twist

Right from the first week of the Intermediate course, Ch*ef G*ert has been excitedly telling us that he hopes that he would taking the class for Danish pastries. After all, who would be more appropriate to teach us about Danish pastries than a Dane?

Maybe I ought to clear a huge misunderstanding right at the start of this blog entry. While the rest of the world know these lovely pastries as Danish pastries, in Denmark, they are known as “Wiener- brød” which means “bread from Vienna”.

Let’s take a trace back to the history of the Danish pastry or “Wiener- brød”. In the late 1800s, many bakers from Vienna were offered jobs in the bakeries at Copenhagen. Along with them, they brought along a recipe for a type of sweet bread which became hugely popular amongst the Danes. Its popularity led the Copenhagen bakers to develop the dough process behind this sweet bread and eventuality led to this much-loved pastry.

For the purpose of this entry, we shall just continue calling it “Danish pastry”. The pastry itself is similar to the puff pastry dough but instead of giving it 6 single turns, we only give the Danish pastry 3 single turns. This gives the pastry its soft, ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ sensation. According to Ch*ef G*ert, high quality cake margarine is used in the production of these delights in most bakeries in Denmark.

But since we don’t have access to that, we stuck with our good old friend, butter.

To me, the best thing about Danish pastries is that you can create a colourful plate of them in different shapes, sizes and flavours just with this single dough. The possibilities are endless!

Assortment of danish pastries

A variety from Kringles which is a pretzel-shaped pastry filled with Remonce, to apricot windmills filled with crème patissiere, as well as apple turnovers and hazelnut twists would be perfect for a sweet breakfast on a winter’s morning or a tea to be enjoyed with friends.

The dough was prepared the day before and it is made with basic ingredients like flour, sugar, salt, butter, yeast, eggs. The butter is then enclosed in the dough and given three single turns with a 20 minute resting period in-between turns. An amazing thing what simple and ordinary ingredients can present you at the end of the day.

The next day, when we took out the dough from the cooler room, the dough has puffed up to about double its size. It looked like a huge pillow and one that we embraced with arms wide open.

That expansion was most welcome; it simply meant that we were doing something right with our dough.

The fun part of the day began: it was time to shape our dough into windmills, pockets, twists and turnovers. I must admit to having a favourite and it does not even have anything to do with taste! The windmill looks fun, vivacious, bright and cheery. It reminds me of a kid’s toy, all it lacks is a stick to hold it, just like a lollipop.

The Danish pastries were given a final touch as soon as they were out of the oven. Though they already look attractive, a quick brush of the apricot glaze just made them glow in its beautiful shine even more.

That was the point where I didn’t bother resisting anymore. The aromas of the butter blended together with the sweetness of the apricot jam got me in the end. I did not even want to wait till I get home before biting into one of these!

A few of us spent the rest of the Saturday evening beside the oven, packing and eating our very own Danish pastries together.

And that, to me, was the best part of the day.

Devouring the twist

Traditional never tasted better!

IP Lesson XIV- Apple strudel

Tradional apple strudel

Often, we get excited about new desserts; the more foreign they look and sound, the more we want to try them.

Like all things traditional, traditional desserts tend to be forgotten or neglected. Or sometimes, they have evolved radically. Think of the Opera cake: How many variations of it have you seen?

While I don’t think that this evolution in the pastry world is a bad thing, I feel that we should not forget the good old traditional ones. For in them, we can learn about the fundamentals of baking, to understand culture, and to enjoy something that our predecessors have devoured and enjoyed.

I for one am guilty of embracing new dessert creations. I loved the surprise in every bite- new and unknown combinations of flavours and textures tease me and marvel me. Sometimes, I tend to snub off traditional pastries because most of the time, they are very humble or simple. Sometimes I am not even aware of the traditional pastries because of the ‘bastardized’ versions in the new world.

When you mention apple strudel, I think of the ones made with layers of puff pastry, pastry cream and apples, the ones that were responsible for a huge apple strudel craze in Singapore years ago.

Class today opened my eyes to the traditional apple strudel and to put it simply, I love it!

The traditional apple strudel is best known in Vienna, Austria. However, it actually originated in Hungary before spreading to the rest of the Austrian-Hungary empire.

Basically, this traditional apple strudel that we baked uses a paper-thin dough and filling the dough with tart green apples and flavourings before rolling and baking it.

The making of the strudel isn’t difficult. The hardest part lie in stretching the strudel dough. It was such a fun experience! Imagine just pulling the dough at all four corners till you get tracing paper thin dough where you can see your hands through it!

This must be done with much care and being impatient will just ruin the dough. Once you cause a tear or hole in the dough, you can’t scrunch up the dough and start over. This is due to the fact that the gluten needs to be well-relaxed (we left the dough overnight in the fridge) before stretching it.

Well, this is not to say that this dough is entirely unforgiving. A small tear wouldn’t hurt. Just continue with it and most probably you wouldn’t see it the moment you roll it up.

My Malaysian coursemate actually commented that the texture of the dough feels like prata (or the Malaysians will call it ‘Roti Chennai’) dough and to prove his point, he really went to pan fry the dough.

Surprisingly, it did have the taste of prata without the greasiness! Ch*ef G*ert, my Danish chef, liked it so much that he actually asked for seconds and thirds!

And so all students from SIM (Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia) all went crazy with the leftover strudel dough making variations of the prata (or roti Chennai)-with egg and without egg.

Now, while I can go on and on about the crazy variations of the prata, I should probably get back to the apple strudel proper.

Once you get past the hard bit, it’s time to be rewarded with the easy bit: comes the easy part: the random scattering of the ingredients for the filling. That is to allow those apple slices, brown sugar, sultanas and whatever you fancy to fall like autumn leaves onto the paper thin strudel dough which has been brushed with melted butter.

Then, it’s off to the oven to get it baked! Even though the apple strudel can be served cold, I think that it’s best served warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream.

That would be heaven on a plate.

Sometimes it is the most traditional desserts can taste so good and can be so comforting.

Give me this apple strudel and I will give up my fancy desserts!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cultural exchange

IP Lesson XIII- Hot cross buns and baklava

Hot cross buns

Moving away from classic French-style desserts and diverting our attention to some other well-loved desserts and pastries from other countries and cultures.

We made hot cross buns and baklava during Thursday’s class.

Hot cross buns at the end of August does sound a little strange. After all, they are meant to be eaten over Good Friday and Easter. Nonetheless, they were yummy buns sweet buns spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice with sultanas, currants and mixed peel.

Even though I don’t really see them much in Singapore, hot cross buns have been a childhood memory from the books that I have read and the song about hot cross buns (I can still sing it!).

A warm image comes to mind when I think of hot cross buns. A mother opening the door of her oven and carrying out a tray of freshly baked hot cross buns, all a shade of golden brown. And then, there is the sweet smell of bread that fills the entire house. Two kids come running down the stairs, following the smell which leads them to the kitchen table. Mother then serves her children those warm buns with a mug of hot chocolate for a late afternoon tea.

Hot cross buns, Hot cross buns
One a penny, two a penny
Hot cross buns!

The hot cross buns were not hard to make especially after having baked several types of bread. The only difference is that we had to pipe the cross mixture on the buns to give them their signature look and to finish them with an apricot glaze after they are baked to give it an attractive shines.

Diamond Baklavas

We prepared our baklavas concurrently. Baklava is a rich and sweet pastry made with layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashew nuts, pistachios and sweetened with a syrup.

The origin of the Baklava is not well-documented although many ethnic groups has claim it as their own. Whatever its origin, the Baklava is enjoyed through Middle East all through to Greece.
I naively thought that we will be making the filo pastry sheets from scratch! However, chef K*aren told us that chefs don’t bother making their own filo because it is pretty difficult to roll them out into such thin sheets.

Having made a baklava, I doubt I would readily choose to eat one anytime soon. The amount of clarified butter (otherwise known as ghee) that goes into it is quite astonishing even for us pastry students who have been going through heap-loads of butter each week.

Besides the clarified butter, it is drenched(note the word, drench) with a sweet, sugary syrup.

If I were to make my own baklava, I think I would make it less sweet and let flavour it with a good amount of rose water to give it a good floral and distinct flavour which would be much better than plain sugary sweetness.

After a hectic week of baking gateaus, the pace in the kitchen slowed down significantly this week. With less stress, we can enjoy every bit of the lesson much more.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The beauty of mistakes

IP Lesson XII- Sacher torte and Tiramisu


Sacher torte

Saturday’s class was dedicated to making two very popular cakes: Sacher torte and tiramisu.

Sacher torte must be one of the most popular cake around. It originated from Austria in Hotel Sacher. It is rich chocolate cake with apricot jam and dark chocolate ganache.

Tiramisiu which means ‘pick me up’ is a delightful dessert that originated in Italy.

While we were most excited about making these two cakes today, our moods were literally dampened as I found out that my partner has lost her tool kit. She was visibly affected (who wouldn’t be when the tool kit cost so much!). I was lost for words because I know that, quite frankly, words would bear little comfort when faced with such a loss.

In any case, the lesson had to go on and we had to bake our cakes no matter what. So the both of us trudged on with the hectic lesson where we had to prepare and assemble both the sacher torte as well as the tiramisu.

The sponge fingers were made from scratch and it was my first time baking them. I think I wouldn’t be buying store-bought ones anymore the next time I make tiramisu.

The filling was made with mascarpone cheese, cream, icing sugar, egg yolks and tia maria (coffee liquor). It’s not hard to make tiramisu but I must say that this is one of the better recipes around.

The tiramisu worked out well but as the tin was too large, we didn’t have enough filling to fill the tiramisu to the top which marred its look quite a bit.

The chocolate sponge cake for sacher torte was baked and it was sliced and layered with chocolate ganache and apricot jam but the hardest part lies with the application of the glaze. Done right, the sacher will shine from every angle. (I’m not kidding!)

The dark chocolate ganache had to be of the right consistency(flowy) before pouring over the cake. If it is too thick, it will end up in a dull blob.

It also sets very quickly which meant that you would have little time to spread or try to change its form once the glaze is on.

Another thing with the sacher's glaze is that you cannot put it in the fridge or it, too, would lose its shine. Such is the delicacy of the sacher's glaze.

Most of us had trouble with the glaze and ended up not having a smooth top and sides. Mine was a terrible mess. It was far from what chef had done so effortlessly during demo. I totally underestimated the glaze.

But we all learn from mistakes don’t we?
In fact, I find that the best lessons are always from mistakes.

Sometimes hard, sometimes painful, but always good.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I can't sit still!

I'm going to Tetsuya's tonight.
Long story on how we got the reservation but I'm not complaining.

I'm looking forward...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


IP Lesson XI: Raspberry Mousse Gateau

Raspberry Mousse Gateau

Sitting at the demo kitchen watching Ch*ef K*aren prepare the raspberry mousse cake was definitely and easy and enjoyable ride.

Being in the kitchen an hour after demo and having to prepare the same raspberry mousse cake was an amazing journey that we experience great accomplishment.

The raspberry mousse gateau was assembled with the following components: Jaconde (an almond sponge cake), chocolate flavoured tulip paste (required for the patterned sides of the cake), raspberry mousse (the filling of the gateau), raspberry glaze.

The pretty sides of the cake was made using a patterned silpat mat. First,we prepared the tulip paste to spread across the mat and refrigerate it till its firm. Next, we prepare the jaconde sponge to spread over the tulip paste and there you have it. Two colours, two flavours.

The jaconde was also used as the base of the gateau. The raspberry mousse was made from raspberry puree and gelatine leaves. Can I just say that I dislike mousse that is made using gelatine as a binder? To me, it just gives too firm and jelly-like a texture. I rather use whipped cream or beaten egg whites instead to give it a creamy texture.

To top the cake, a raspberry glaze was made using the same puree, glucose, gelatine, sugar and water to give it a nice red, shiny layer.

Finish up with tempered chocolate decorations. I’m so happy that the chocolate decorations are shiny, shiny, shiny and I didn’t realise that the sound of the snap from the chocolate can be so enduring!

Presenting to you, my raspberry mousse cake…

Pretty but I wouldn’t choose to eat this..

My moment: Le Fraisier

IP Lesson X- Le Fraisier

Le Fraisier

Le Fraisier, a popular French strawberry shortcake, is made with genoise sponge, soaked with a kirsch punch syrup, layered with mousseline cream and decorated with strawberries and topped with a layer of marzipan.’

I much prefer the Japanese style version of this cake which has a much lighter and fluffier sponge and also a less rich cream. The mousseline cream is made with crème patissiere and a whole load of butter! The French love their butter. I do too. But the only thing I could thing of while making the mousseline cream was ‘Fat, fat, fat’.

However, it gives me much gratification and joy when Ch*ef K*aren came over to my bench and announced to the entire class, ‘this is a darn good mousseline cream. Look at’s beautiful’. She then proceeded to scoop some mousseline cream up onto a random slice of strawberry and put it in her mouth and gave me her ‘this is to die for’ look.

That moment was defining for me. Something hit me.
It reaffirmed my decision of taking this course.

Behind my passion of creating cakes and pastries is my joy and pride derived from witnessing people enjoying these creations.


For the past three weeks of school, I have been stuck in a rut: uninspiring days and sleepless nights. I was missing home a lot more badly than I did in the previous three months. I really hate to admit it. All I wanted to do is to leave after the intermediate course and abandon the superior course.

You see, Superior course is a huge obstacle for me. For one, it did not make sense for me. Its focus is mainly on sugar work, marzipan moulding and chocolate work which I don’t have that great an interest in. As much as I value the appearance of the product, taste has always been top priority for me. It seemed senseless to be making things you wouldn’t be eating like an entire sculpture made from marzipan or sugar.

I shan’t go on and on about that. In essence, I’m glad to say that I’ve put all these self-doubts, continuous questioning, and indecision behind me. My reasoning: At the end of December, I want to be able to say that I have fulfilled my goal of completing the entire diploma programme. That fulfilment and pride would be immeasurable; it would be priceless even though the certificate might not be so.

What’s more, I’ve come to terms that the pursuit of knowledge in all things related to food or more accurately pastries means a great deal to me. I cannot leave without understanding the intricacies behind chocolate, sugar and marzipan. I might not have much use of these particular skills, but what I do know is that the knowledge of it would be comfort to me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chocolate obsession

Gateau Concorde

IP Lesson IX- Tarte au chocolat noir and gateau concorde

I’m still lagging in my blogging! We made tarte au chocolat noir and gateau concorde last Saturday.

Chocolate desserts are such a great hit aren’t they?

Tarte au chocolat noir is a dark chocolate tart made with chocolate short pastry filled with dark chocolate ganache and decorated with raspberries. I think this recipe is one of the best that I’ve tried. It’s rich, not overly sweet. Dark chocolate lovers will adore this one!

The chocolate short pastry is made with cocoa powder, icing sugar, butter and it’s a much more delicate dough compared to the pate sucree (sweet pastry) that we have been making. Even after resting the dough (like all other pastry doughs) for twenty minutes, it still tears really easily so we had to handle it with care.

The chocolate filling is pretty easy to make. The key to getting a great tarte au chocolat noir (apart from using good chocolate couverture) is to give it plenty of attention. By attention, I mean when you put them in the oven, you need to make sure that the filling doesn’t bubble and boil if not you wouldn’t have a nice smooth surface.

The Gateau Concorde was a joy to make. It is basically chocolate meringue discs layered with chocolate mousse and decorated with chocolate meringue tubes. We made French meringue for this purpose and bake the meringues at a low temperature for about 1.5 hours to dry them out. This results in a crispy meringue that simply cracks in your mouth.

The Gateau Concorde is a little too sweet for my liking! Yes, even for a sweet tooth like me. The chocolate mousse is really perfect on its own. Rich, creamy and really chocolatey. The meringues were really too sweet. If you know the amount of sugar that actually goes into this meringue, you probably will think twice about eating it!

I’m heading off for a picnic in Royal Botanic gardens now. Shall blog about this week’s classes soon. I promise.

For now, I’ll leave you with the tarte au chocolate noir recipe because it’s simply fantastic!

Tarte Aux Chocolat Noir

(Recipe from Le Cordon Bleu)

Chocolate Short Pastry

280g Bakers Flour

200g butter

50g cocoa powder

120g pure icing sugar

2 egg yolks

pinch of salt

Sieve dry ingredients, rub in butter till crumbly.

Add egg yolks and incoporate. Do not overwork the dough!

Roll the dough out into the size of your palm and flattened it. Leave it in the fridge to rest for about 20 minutes.

After resting the dough, roll it out to about 3mm thickness, line it on a tart dish. At this point, you can give your dough more rest if you wish to. If not blind bake the tart at about 180 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, until it is cooked.

Tart Filling

80ml Milk

200ml cream

200g Dark Couverture

1 Egg, beaten

Boil milk and cream.

Pour over chocolate pieces (you will need to chop up your chocolate if it comes in a block) and stir to melt it.

Add egg and stir till well combined.

Pour into tart mould and bake at 150 C till set.

When it sets, it wouldn’t be wobbly if you shake it. Do not overbake the chocolate tart till the chocolate filling is bubbling/boiling. Leave the tart in the tart dish for awhile before removing it to cool the tart in the fridge.

Decorate with fresh raspberries and icing sugar.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fear no more...

I have overcame my fear of tempering chocolates..

That's enough reason to celebrate!

[reading] Chloe Dutre-Roussel's The Chocolate Connoisser

Monday, August 10, 2009

The comforts a tart can bring

Linzer torte

IP Lesson VII- Linzer Torte and Tarte Aux Fruits

When you talk about comfort foods, it usually is something rustic and homely. Rarely would you hear someone mention cavier or truffles (the mushroom variety) as their comfort foods.

While most may list out savoury items as their comfort foods, I know a few people, including myself who would seek solace in sweets. For my sister, it would be a good bar of chocolate or a nice warm chocolate cake. As for myself, a good rustic tart, savoury or sweet would really make me feel all better inside. Strange as it may seem, a simple fruit tart or spinach and feta cheese tart has the ability to release endorphins in my body and make me feel happy.

For class on Thursday, we made two rustic tart- Linzer Torte and tarte aux fruits.

The Linzer torte originated in a small town called Linz, Austria. It is in fact a tart made with ground nuts (either hazelnuts or almond) and spice with a layer of raspberry jam in the centre, finished with its characteristic lattice-patterned top.

You know what I love about studying in Le Cordon Bleu is that I get to learn and taste these new desserts. It is my first time tasting and making this torte/tart. You can say it is love at first taste. It is little wonder why it remains a favourite amongst the Austrians. Another interesting fact of this torte is that it’s one of the oldest known cakes in the world.

Rustic but comforting.

After making a few fruit tarts during basic classes, we were back to making another fruit tart. This time, it was a fruit tart not only with crème patisserie but also with frangipane filling made from ground almonds and rum. What can I say? I really love the frangipane paste filling. Almonds and alcohol: the two ‘A’s that comforts thy soul!

In my opinion, the frangipane filling works well in the tart giving it another element of texture as well as flavour. The sweet crust pastry or pate sucree is made with some ground almonds which gives the pastry a richer flavour which I think taste better as compared to just using flour alone.

The fun part with this tart lies with the arrangement of the fruits. I have always liked the tarts with fruits tumbled on the top, looking absolutely gorgeous even in its haphazard manner. The funny thing about doing this is that there is actually some order in its haphazardness. That’s the beauty of it.

I love the way that Chef K*aren does it. She makes it seem so effortless, just tumbling the berries off her hands onto the tart. As contradictory as it may sound, it took me quite a while to arrange the orderly disorder on my tart!

Feeling pretty pleased with my virgin effort, I rewarded myself by digging into a huge slice of that tart when I got home. After a long day at school, and a long bus journey home, it was pure bliss and contentment. For that moment, it took away my physical weariness and my emotional worries.

Such is the comfort a tart can bring!

Tarte aux fruits, rustic style

Sunday, August 9, 2009

You can't stop at one

My truffle tower

IP Lesson VI- Chocolate Croquembouche

A croquembouche is a traditional French wedding cake or sometimes it’s used for christening. Its name ‘Croque en Bouche’ means ‘crunch/crackling in the mouth’ in French. The original croquembouche is a cone made with profiteroles filled with crème patisserie coated with caramel (thus, giving it the crunch when you bite into it). It is decorated with spun caramel, almonds or flowers. Can you imagine such a lovely showpiece? I would really want to make one for my wedding. That’s just one frivolous reason why I’m taking this course at Le Cordon Bleu now!

Before I start rambling on about the croquembouche and my wedding, I should get back to the chocolate croquembouche proper. A chocolate croquembouche is a modern interpretation of the French classic. Imagine a cone made from chocolate truffles. I believe that the chocolate croquembouche is heaven for some of you.

What we did was to make chocolate ganaches (with alcohol like kirsch, Malibu, rum) and coat them with tempered chocolate (Dark, milk and white). And all we had to do is to ‘glue’ them together with chocolate.

The joy of building your own truffle tower (that’s what I like to call it) is incredibly immense! It’s such a showpiece you know what I mean. My truffle tower was made from about 80-90 chocolate truffles.

What do you think of that as a birthday cake? You wouldn’t even need to cut into it? All your friends can just pull out a truffle each to munch on. The only problem with it is that you probably need a really tall tower because no one can just stop at a one.

What's there not to love about chocolates?

Chocolate pieces

IP Lesson V: More Chocolates

It was time to coat our pralines and Vienna almonds.

Tempered dark chocolate was used to enrobe these yummy goodies before we decorated them with little specks of crystallized lavender. I really like purple on chocolate. it makes the chocolate pieces look gorgeous!

I thought this would be pretty simple but it isn’t that easy to coat the pieces nicely all round without getting “feet” around the bottom of the chocolate pieces.

I finally realised why handmade chocolates are so expensive. This is a tedious process, really. A few of us only got it right after a couple of attempts which meant that we had more than a couple of ugly but great tasting chocolates!

The best way to do it is to use two dipping forks.

Put the square/diamond-shaped praline pieces into your tempered dark chocolate with a dipping fork. Lift the praline from the chocolate pool and proceed to tap the dipping fork against the edge of the bowl (about 20 times) to knock out the excess chocolate. Then gently place the chocolate coated praline onto a piece of silicon (baking) paper. Use the other (clean) dipping fork to push the praline piece away to remove any feet that remains.

And there you have it. To have pretty chocolate pieces, you would need to get your chocolate properly tempered which isn’t the same as melting chocolate really. Tempering chocolate is a process that stabilizes the structure of the cocoa solids in chocolate. This method is essential for moulded or dipping chocolates which would allow the chocolate to set quickly, to give it shine and a clean snap.

And so we had a plateful of little chocolate pieces to take home. I really had to resist them.
Now, name me a person who doesn't like chocolates?

I can't, honestly. What about you?


Tempering chocolates 101:
(My attempt at explaining something really complicated)

The method that produces consistent good results is the tabling/marbling method.
Start off with dark chocolate couverture. Put the chocolate pieces into a bain marie and to melt the chocolate at 45-50 deg celcius.

Then pour 2/3 of this melted chocolate onto a cool marble surface and use a metal scrapper to manipulate the chocolate back and forth to cool the chocolate. You should manipulate the chocolate till the temperature falls to 27-29 degree celcius.

By this time, the chocolate on the marble surface would have thickened and have lost some of its glossiness. At this point, transfer the chocolate from the marble surface into the bowl containing the remaining 1/3.

Stir to combine both the chocolates till you get a temperature of 31-32 degrees celcius. At this stage, your chocolate is tempered and it should be glossy and shiny and sets quickly

Monday, August 3, 2009

Chocolate is our friend..indeed

IP Lesson IV: Pralines, fudge, ganache

It’s back to a week of chocolates.
After my chocolate disaster in Basic, I was feeling a tad apprehensive about class this week.

That sense of apprenhension was kind of eased when I woke up on Sunday morning to find myself in poodles of laughter.
This was what I saw written on the mirror in my bathroom:

“Don’t worry, Joanna…Chocolate is our friend. Once we are done with them, we will eat them!”

To sum up this week, I'm glad to say that the week did not end up in disaster.
After we conquered the chocolates, we ate them, very willingly.


We spent Thursday class preparing a variety of ganaches to be used for the chocolate truffles for Saturday's class- Dark chocolate with rum, dark chocolate with kirsch, milk chocolate (omitting the caradamon pods), white chocolate with Malibu.
Chocolate is great. Even better when it comes with alcohol.

Preparing the ganaches is an easy task; simply put a pot of cream to a solid boil before pouring the boiled cream over the chopped couverture pieces, stirring till smooth and incorporated and lastly adding in the alcohol/and butter.

We also made pralines and white chocolate fudge. Fudge is such an English thing. You’ll find shops dotted around the countryside specializing in fudge alone.

As for me, I can never understanding people’s fascination for fudge. It’s far too saccharine sweet for me. The funny thing is that Chef K*aren, who’s an English, doesn’t like fudge either.

Which brings us back to question why we are making fudge at all, white chocolate fudge at that! Fudge is made from cooking sugar, glucose and cream in a pot. You will boil it till it bubbles and thickens (Till about 110 deg celcius). Then, you take it off the heat and add in the white chocolates and stir it quickly before adding a little of butter. That explains why it is so sweet.

Pralines, on the other hand, is another story altogether. My love for pralines begins with my love for all things nuts. Since pralines is quite simply hazelnut and milk chocolate, what’s there not to love.

We made Vienna almonds too- those caramelized almonds..those beautiful almonds enrobed with a caramel coating with dotted flavours from the vanilla bean. It is so lovely that I can eat a bag of those and feel guilty only after I am done with them.

The ability to make caramel comes from the understanding of how sugar cooks and the different stages of cooked syrup (Soft ball, hard ball, soft crack, hard crack and then caramel).For me, today's lesson today cleared up some of the mystery surronding it.

Sugar work is serious business and we will be learning more and working more with sugar when we reach Superior stage. That will be the time when we will be getting our hands dirty (and hopefully not burnt) moulding sugar to create showpieces.
Class was pretty fun. We worked in teams which made class a lot more fun and less stressful. Working in teams did help a lot in terms of completion of the tasks. After all, working in the kitchen, like any other industry, is very much about team work.

Failing to rise to the occassion

IP Lesson III: Gateau Mille Feuille

'a thousand layers'

What else could you do with a reverse puff pasty?

A mille feuille, of couse!

The Mille Feuille means ‘a thousand layers’ in French. Frankly speaking, it really does have a thousand of butter and dough layers in the puff which makes it so crispy and its ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ kind of goodness.

The Mille Feuille go by other names such as vanilla slices and/or napoleon.

But a mille feuille by any other name will still taste as sweet.

This is one of my favourite ways of using, or rather eating puff pastry.

First of all, we had to bake three equal-sized discs of reverse puff pastry so we can assemble them. We had to ‘dock them like crazy’ in the words of one of my coursemates to prevent ‘blisters’ from forming; we don’t want a high puff, we just want the crispy layers.

It was really rewarding to take the reverse puff pasty out of the oven- the even tan of the puff pasty, the consistent puff amongst all three of the puff pasty. Next we had to prepare crème diplomat which will be the layers in between the puff pasty. Crème diplomat is similar to crème patisserie; the difference lie in the use of the gelatine in the crème diplomat which will give it a more stable structure and holding the crème in place in between the puff pastry layers.

The elements of my gateau mille feuille were coming together beautifully in a manner that I would be very proud of. Even the assembling of the gateau went without a hitch. However, the fondant icing failed me.

Or technically speaking, I failed it.

Fondant is such a finicky creature. It is easy to dismiss fondant as a sickly sweet sugar mess. You can probably say that as a consumer but as a chef working with it, you are under its mercy. Work too slowly, and you will have it setting before you can say ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ (well, that’s the longest word I know..)

That was precisely the thing that happen to my fondant. I had to spread a layer of fondant in its original state over the cake before piping a round spiral of chocolate and neon pink over it before making a design by feathering it. Before I got to the feathering bit, the fondant decides to play some mind games with me.

The worse thing about pastry is that you can’t do much corrective action like in cuisine; to add more seasoning if the soup is bland. All I could do is to helplessly allow the fondant to set before me and accept the way that my gateau had turned out. It wasn't a pretty sight (both my gateau and I).

My three hours in the kitchen has been wasted. There’s no point in having a perfectly great tasting gateau when it doesn’t look good, not to the Chef at least.

Despite it all, he was being very encouraging towards me.

"We all have these moments. Don't be too hard on yourself. Even the best chefs take time and practice to get things right."

Which brings me to this question: what if this is my one chance, that one opportunity and I let it slip? I have a feeling that there wouldn't be that many chances and opportunities for me to waste.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The thrills of reaping your rewards

IP Lesson II: Savoury petit fours
Petit fours: Mini pizzs with anchovies. kalamanta olives, cheese on a tomato concasse sauce, quiche lorraine and parmasan twists

The second day of classes on the first day of school was pretty hectic. We had to produce quite a few variety of reverse puff pastry products including mini pizzas, parmesan twists (Cheese sticks), pissaladierre, quiche.

There was lots to do and lots to bake today but I’m all for savoury stuff. I’m thinking about an instant dinner. What better than to dig into a plate of freshly baked petit fours.

Today was about reaping the rewards of yesterday’s toil. That is if you did your puff pastry and pate brisee (short pastry) well.

I enjoyed today’s lesson even though I was rushing a little towards the end to get my mini pizzas into the oven but overall the products were beautiful. They puffed up really evenly and nicely.

The petit fours tasted awesome really; you cannot ask for more with a good puff pastry with flaky layers that melts in your mouth.

So that was our dinner.
Would have been our breakfast too if we didn’t control ourselves.

pissaladierre with julienned leeks, carrots and onions

Another first (without too much anticipation)

IP Lesson I: Reverse puff pastry

Back to school once again after a two weeks break. It felt a little surreal as I walked through the school gates once again. This time, I am no longer a ‘freshman’ so to speak. I am a senior now yet at the same time, I don’t feel like I’m that good to be one.

I see them gather at the school hallway looking a little lost, wearing their starchy white uniform still fresh and new, carrying their ‘Le Cordon Bleu’ branded tool kit. That sight reminded me of myself three months ago. I felt a tad nostalgic if it’s the right word to use.

Walking into the familiar demo II kitchen, I found myself amongst cheery, familiar faces. The kitchen was bustling with noisy chatter amongst strangers-turned-friends. We also met our new chef for this term (for Thursdays)- Chef K*aren W*igston. She is no stranger to us since she was one of the examiners grading our éclairs during assessment week last term.

The lesson started proper with her referring to a long list of things on the white board which included a section on ‘work flow’, which was something unfamiliar in the demo kitchen last time.

Intermediate patisserie as I soon found out required much better time management and work flow than basic patisserie. This time, we had to present all our products to the chef half an hour before classes end (by ANY means). If not, we would not be assessed for the lesson.

Time management in the kitchen isn’t my strongest suit. This would probably sound strange for a person who enjoys (needs) to plan and be in control of things.

For me, time in the kitchen simply zoom by me. Three and a half hours in the kitchen may sound like a long time but with the numerous tasks and procedures that we have to complete, it simply isn’t. I’m still trying to work on that part.

Back to the lesson proper.

You know what’s cool: we ended basic patisserie with puff pastry and today, we’re starting intermediate classes with puff pastry. Reverse (or as some people may call it ‘inverse’) puff pastry that is.

The difference between the two types of puff pastry is the way in which the butter is enclosed in the detramp. For the reverse puff, the butter dough encloses the de tramp (dough mixture). This results in a flakier, crispier, lighter product. As far as I know (if my sources are right), Pierre Herme prefers the reverse puff pastry method.

And from this lesson, I found out that I favour this method too.

Today’s class was mainly focused on mise en place (simply means good preparation). We had to prepare our reverse puff pastry dough, fillings and sauces for tomorrow’s class because we will be making a variety of savoury petit fours.

Pretty funny that we, patisserie students, are starting the course with savoury items isn’t it?

Making the reverse puff pastry isn’t as tricky as I thought it would be. As with puff pastry, you need to (a) give the dough enough time to rest, (b) ensure that the consistency of the butter/butter dough is the same as the de tramp. For practical class, we were giving the green light to use the dough breaker which is a really cool machine.

Last term, we had to roll out the puff pastry by hand. It was back breaking and arm breaking work. Imagine having to roll it out 6 separate times. The dough breaker cuts the time by two thirds and cuts away all the pain!

Preparation of the tomato concasse which is a tomato based sauce for the mini pizzas and the filling for the pissaladierre was done in pairs. I can’t be more thankful for such a wonderful partner for Sarah and I work well together.

By the time class ended, it was already six-thirty in the evening. But our day has yet to end. We had a two hour theory class till eight-thirty. Did I mention how much I dislike late classes?

Theory was dreary as we had to learn about food safety. (Once again, it’s back to haunt me) Honestly, the classes are, at best, dry. I rather learn more about the differing ingredients in patisserie.

When the day finally ended, Sarah and I made our way to the bus stop only to find ourselves there for forty-five minutes. Those minutes crawled by; it just does especially on a cold, wintry night after a long day of classes. The feeling of misery really kicked in bad, I kid you not.

It was nine-thirty by the time I got back and ten by the time I had dinner. That’s no fun at all. That’s how much I dislike late classes. I pray and hope that the time table for Superior patisserie would be much better.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Home-cooked Korean Feast!: Post-assessment pig out session

The lovely, lovely spread

I love being with friends who can cook and who love to cook. One of our Korean course-mate invited the group of us to her house for a meal post-assessment. She would be cooking up a Korean spread for us. We were more than thrilled, of course. Well, even for a non-korean food lover like me.

The moment we stepped into her house, we were greeted by her chirpy housemate and a whole spread of Korean dishes on the table. “Oh my God, she must have spent the entire day in the kitchen,” I thought to myself.

The feast started without much further ado. We had beef bulgogi, daeji bulgogi (stir-fried pork in a spicy marinade), mandu (deep-fried dumplings), kimchi dumplings, Korean-style potato salad (with ham included), chap chaue (Korean stir-fried noodles), normal garden salad and some other food that I don’t know the names of. Forgive me, but I’m unacquainted to Korean cuisine.

I was surprised that I really enjoyed the meal not only for the company but for the great food! My favourites were the beef bulgogi and the chap chaue, which is basically stir fried potato noodles with mushroom, vegetables and beef and this battered and deep fried roll made with seaweed with sweet potato noodles in the centre.

She also made this Korean sweet rice drink called sikhye. It is basically made from rice and malt barley and it goes through several hours of fermentation. It taste sweet, somewhat a cross between barley and chenddol. Initially when she mentioned rice drink, I thought of the brown-rice tea that Japan serves. The sikhye is more like a dessert because of its sweetness.

Home cooked Korean food has changed my mind about Korean food. Perhaps I wouldn’t call myself a convert as yet but I’m definitely more open in trying and learning more about the Korean cuisine.

I have to thank my very kind Korean host for all the time and effort that she put into the meal. When we left her place, her kitchen looked like it has been through a snowstorm of sorts. I couldn’t imagine cleaning up but being a typical Asian host, she didn’t want us to lift a finger even though we attempted to clean up.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Adriano Zumbo, Balmain

Adriano Zumbo, The Patissierie

After assessment week, the gang with a big appetite troop down to experience the creations of Adriano Zumbo, Sydney’s answer to Pierre Herme. Our motto “travel anywhere for good food” points us in the direction of faraway Balmain. We’re glad that we finally made it there.

Adriano Zumbo, the pastry chef and creator, is really young. At 27, he runs his own patisserie that does takeaway pastries and cakes and a chocolate café. He’s an inspiration to me as he travels and notes down flavours and then experients with different ingredients and create pretty unexpected desserts. I’m also in awe of pastry chefs who continuously launch new ranges of desserts, discontented with status quo. Here at Adriano, you’ll find new ranges of desserts that change with the seasons. We were right about time for his winter collection.

As we stepped into the tiny hole in the wall patisserie, we (I) were (was) mortified that it has been raided. I’m exaggerating slightly but most of the display cabinets were almost empty. My first reaction was to exclaimed to the guy behind the counter. He then told me that there was a massive rush around noon and told us to come earlier the next time.

I always hope to see the good in every situation. In this case, it greatly helped us narrow down our choices. I cannot imagine if the full range was in sight. We’ll probably be stationed at the store for hours and getting more than we can chew on.

Even in an almost empty shop, we spent about a good fifteen minutes before we walked away with our prized goodies- two cakes and seven macarons between four of us.

Then we trooped down for a few hundred metres to Adriano’s café chocolat to order coffee and erm..more sweets.

A chocolate with a name like ‘raspberry and parmesan cheese’ would hardly go unnoticed. While some may give it looks of bewilderment or maybe disgust before turning attention to its more endearing neighbours, the more adventurous lot would be lured by the possibility of wonderment.

We belong to the latter group so each of us got a piece of that dark chocolate with raspberry and parmesan cheese. Being in a chocolat café, you can’t stop at a single chocolate piece, so we ordered a chocolate ganache macaron, a banana chocolate macaron and a earl grey flavoured macaron.

Satisfied with our lot, we wanted to dig in but not knowing where to begin. Eventually, we started off with the two cakes that we chose: Lucas rides the tube which was what I chose: macadamia praline mousse, macadamia dacquoise, vanilla chantilly, pear tartin, macademia feuilletine. Our next cake was Aranus ( I might have gotten its name wrong)..Aranus was very interesting. I wouldn’t pick this dessert so I’m glad that someone else actually did. To me, it was somewhat Asian inspired- with spiced sable biscuit, mandarin mousse, tonka bean brulee, almond and ginger crunchy bits. It was really interesting blend of flavours and textures.

Lucas rides the tube

Aranus-The winter collection

Both desserts were so different and unique in every way; it’s too hard trying to pick a favourite. It’s would be like making my sis pick out her favourite bag and she’ll justify that each bag would suit a different day and different occasion.

Our adventurous selves then emerged as we gingerly took bites of our chocolates. While I wouldn’t mind eating them again, I thought it was a bit of a push to bring the two flavours-raspberry and parmesan together. Both flavours were intense and sharp but somehow they were so far apart on the spectrum that made them seem like an awkward couple being on a blind date.

Moving on to the happy-looking and colourful macarons: the first thing we noticed was that there were of different sizes! Their flavours were unlabelled. We did try to find out what they were but we found ourselves lost in between tonka bean, pear and salted popcorn as the guy behind the counter rattled off their names.

So we had a taste test: between us, we managed to list out the flavours- (from left to right) pear, salt and vinegar, passionfruit, tonka bean, berries, mandarin orange and spice and salted popcorn.

Macarons- The winter collection

The macarons were a bit of a letdown; you cannot compared these to the ones at Pierre Herme or even La Renaissance. The stand out flavour for me is the mandarin orange and spice and the salted popcorn oh..and the tonka bean which has hints of vanilla flavour.

It was a light and delightful tea, giving us hints of what Adriano has up his sleeves and definitely leaving me wanting more surprises.

Adriano Zumbo, The Patissierie
296 Darling Street Balmain.
Ph 02 9810 7318.
Open 8 to 6 Monday to Saturday and 8 to 4 on Sundays.

Café Chocolat
Shop 5, 308 Darling Street Balmain.
Ph 02 9555 1199
Open from 8 to 4 Monday to Friday, 8 to 5 on Saturdays and 9 to 5 Sundays.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

LCB Basic- Overview of Assessment

My fruit flan- Assessment Day III

The past three days have been a stressful period for me.

Exams aren’t a new concept to me especially having gone through Singapore’s education system.

Having been through countless test and exams for fourteen out of the twenty four plus years of my life, I shouldn’t be the least thrown off by the practical exams at LCB. I hate to admit it but the past few days have been a pretty tense and intense period for me.

The practical assessment was carried out over three consecutive days: Day 1, to prepare puff pastry using a) English method, b) French method and to prepare pate sucree (sweet crust dough) for the fruit flan; Day 2, to bake ten coffee éclairs complete with coffee crème patissiere, coffee fondant icing; Day 3, to bake 5 vol-au-vent cases, 10 bouchee cases using our puff pastry dough and to bake and decorate a fruit flan. We were assessed for our hygiene, our workflow in the kitchen, and of course our products.

I must have been very worried about my assessment because that has manifested itself in my sleep. For the past three nights I have been having dreams of rolling my dough. It would take me forever to fall asleep and when I do, I dream of being in my school’s kitchen rolling out dough over and over again!

Day 1 of assessment was the more relaxed one out of the three days- after all; you are just preparing the doughs. In terms of timeline, we were given a good amount of time to work with. Apart from getting aching arms from the rolling of the puff pastry dough, it was pretty much a breeze and I found myself humming along to some odd ditty that was stuck in my head.

Day 2 of assessment was the day that I was most worried and concern about. Chef M*ichael actually warned us that this was the day where even good students stumble because so many things can go wrong. First of all, the timing is very tight. Even though three and a half hours may sound very long, the time simply slips by you when you are making éclairs because of the many components that has to be taken care of. Second of all is getting ten uniform and consistent products isn’t easy.

My greatest fear was not being able to assemble the éclairs in time. That happened to me in class. I had no time to finish filling my éclairs with pastry cream and no time to do the icing. My next stumbling block was piping the choux pastry.

The éclairs need to be uniform- of the same length and the same width. They cannot be too slim or too fat either so that was the challenge. Piping is my nemesis. So I knew that this was going to be my downfall. While piping the choux pastry, my hands were shaking! I must have been really nervous about it.

I was the last to finish the éclairs but I finished about fifteen minutes before the end of assessment which was what that mattered. Overall, I was pretty happy that the choux pastry baked beautifully, the pastry cream was smooth, shiny and of the right colour, the fondant icing was tempered well. The only unsatisfactory thing was the uniformity- some of my éclairs were too thin and the fondant icing wasn’t applied neatly enough for one of the éclairs. The sad part of that two of my ‘better-looking’ éclairs actually toppled over so I had to use my back up ones for the assessment. A pity but that shouldn’t be my excuse really- because I should be able to have twenty uniform ones..not just ten.

The greatest joy was to bite into one of my éclairs on the way home. It tasted extremely good even though I don’t like éclairs- part of that must be the sweet taste of success and satisfaction.

Day 3 of assessment started off on the wrong note. 1) the ingredients was not prepared for us. When the assessment started, some of us still did not receive the eggs and vanilla bean needed from the pastry crème. 2) we found out on the spot that we had to prepare our own glaze for the fruit flan when it was promised that it would be made for us to use. 3) I just hate kitchen two because there isn’t enough stoves for the class. But like Chef M*ichael always say, “Good chefs can work under any conditions.”

So we just needed to cope. Everything went on well for me in terms of the work flow..the tart baked beautifully. Then came the vol-au-vents and bouchee cases. I thought mine would turn out fine. To my horror and dismay, all I saw were topsy turvy cases, slanting at an angle. Whatever happened to them!

My mind was racing fast on what I did on Thursday while preparing the puff pastry dough. I don’t quite know what went wrong but the fact that I might have folded in the butter into the dough a little too early. But there was nothing much I could do to salvage the situation.

I just had to choose my best ones to present. Thankfully, some of them still look decent if you do not examine them closely.

The fruit flan was alright-wished that I could have done a better job at the decoration but that still isn’t one of my strong suits. When assessment was over, I was just so relieved that it was all done and over with. I’ve passed the first patisserie exam. I’m moving on to Intermediate in three weeks time!

And last night, I slept extremely well.
No more dough-making dreams.