Daring Bakers Challenge : Macarons

DaringBakers-Macarons4

(Black sesame and nori macarons)

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Funnily enough, I’ve never been excessively interested in macarons. I appreciate their beauty and the degree of difficulty involved in their success. As many people have said before, it’s amazing how complex a process it is to get right, considering macarons consist of merely three ingredients. So I have all the respect in the world for bakers out there such as Helen, Aran and Julia who love these sugary treats and manage time and again to present perfect and creative versions of them.

With regards to this month’s challenge, I had every intention of attempting Claudia Fleming’s recipe, but my brain was unfortunately asleep the day I stepped into the kitchen. It was only when half way through the process that I realised I had been baking on autopilot, and had somehow managed to whip up a batch of my normal macaron recipe, as opposed to the one provided for the challenge!

DaringBakers-Macarons2

So I’m not sure if my contribution really counts towards this challenge, but here it is anyway. I made some bite-sized macarons flavoured with black sesame powder and paste, with dried seaweed (nori) garnishing the shells before baking. The combination worked well together, in my opinion, also because I quite like adding savoury elements to things that are quite sweet (as we all know macarons can be).

To keep things interesting, an impromptu dessert macaron was also cobbled together from items I scavenged from the fridge and pantry. Chocolate sauce, ganache, cake, cherries and vanilla cream formed a little nod to my obsession with Black Forest flavours.

DaringBakers-BlackForestMacaron2

(Black Forest macaron)

Thank you Ami, for bringing macarons into the Daring Bakers repertoire!

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Dan and the art of kitchen appreciation

Brownie-Adzukibean-Blacksesame

(Adzuki bean and black sesame brownie)

It was only when someone asked me recently, “What do you do exactly?” that I realised I don’t blog in as much detail as I used to, about my work life. I work in a commercial kitchen in the city and like most typical kitchens, it is a predominantly male environment. Despite the multitude of personalities or the testosterone overload, it’s one of the few times I’ve felt as though I’m in a place where everyone is truly bonding as a team; from the pointy end of the kitchen heirarchy, right down to the little fishes. Even the kitchenhands are happy people : one sings throughout the day and loves decorating his apron with vegetable art, and the other works two physically-demanding full time jobs but still has time to smile and have a laugh.

These days I’m finding it strange that my blog life is intersecting with real life. For the longest time, this blog was a little secret. A place I came to, to air woes. But since it appears that quite a few people I work with are aware of this blog, I thought I might as well introduce you to some of these characters from my kitchen life.

In no particular order :

Mike. You should see Mike dance to one of his favourite songs by Rick Astley. I swear, it’s a YouTube moment waiting to happen. Mike is also allergic to cashews and hates coconut. Apparently last week, almost all the staff desserts I made had coconut in them. How did that happen??

Miles is capable of appearing to be ‘miles away’; completely wasted without even needing drugs or alcohol. I attribute it to a combination of love-sickness, long work hours and vivid gangsta dreams related to his new-found addiction to The Wire. On a good day, Miles is capable of correctly counting the number of bread rolls he is required to warm in the oven.

Mitch is my Food Disposal Unit #1. He eats everything, and I do quite like that in a person.

Spud. We once both pulled the coolroom door open simultaneously while standing on opposing sides of the door. We stood there like stunned mullets for a second then burst into 5 minutes of uncontrollable laughter. I guess that pretty much sums up my relationship with Spud.

Terry. While I’m sure most guys would hate to be landed with the ‘nice’ tag, Terry is truly the nicest guy ever. He also looks like an attractive Abraham Lincoln and bakes from his grandmother’s recipes.

Mark Anthony. Is always referred to as Mark Anthony. I can’t remember why, but it seems to make sense.

Zach. Could almost be considered an honorary member of the pastry department because he’s always there to help out whenever help is needed most.

Dan. Of course, I saved the best for last. Dan is a creative spirit. He encompasses all the qualities you would expect a great chef to possess. He leads with respect, and (knowledge being more powerful than fear), he is followed with respect. He can be tough, but also fair, and is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Lesser known fact : he can also swing dance.

As a ‘family’, we eat well, and we work hard. There is no shouting and minimal swearing in this kitchen. In fact, I made a joke the other day about loving ‘the new rack’ in my section and was greeted by stunned silence.

Oh, I love this work place, yes I do.

Adzuki bean and black sesame brownie :
(I adapted these rich gluten-free brownies from Heidi’s Black Bean Brownie recipe as seen on 101 Cookbooks.)

115g bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
225g unsalted butter
310g cooked adzuki beans
60g black sesame meal/powder
100g walnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
25g cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
360g plain honey

Preheat the oven to 160′C. Grease and line a 7″ x 10″ baking tin and set it aside.

Place the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring just until the chocolate has melted. In a food processor, combine the adzuki beans with the black sesame powder, vanilla and a couple of spoonfuls of the melted chocolate mixture. Blend until smooth, about 2 minutes.

In a large bowl, stir the walnuts with the remaining melted chocolate, along with the cocoa powder and salt.

In an electric mixer, whisk the eggs until light and creamy, then add the honey and whisk well.

Fold the bean mixture into the walnut/chocolate mixture, then fold in the egg mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until set. Once baked, allow to cool on a wire rack before transferring to the fridge to chill well before cutting. These brownies are best served from the fridge as they are slightly crumbly, but assuredly very moist and delicious!

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Heart beats for cake

Adzukibean-Vanilla

(Adzuki bean with vanilla, and hazelnut Pocky)

If
If you
If you could
If you could only
If you could only stop
If you could only stop your
If you could only stop your heart
If you could only stop your heart beat
If you could only stop your heart beat for
If you could only stop your heart beat for one heart
If you could only stop your heart beat for one heart beat.

–Too many birds, Bill Callahan.

Do you ever feel like sometimes you love a song so much that it’s hard to describe what it’s like to hear it. Is it like falling in love? That electric feeling that jolts your heart when fingers touch. That first kiss. The inexplicable sense of everything being right in the world.

My current obsession is Bill Callahan’s album, Sometimes I wish We were an Eagle. It is on rotation in my house every day. If I’m not listening to it, I’m humming it quietly under my breath – as I traipse down the street, while I wait on the platform for my train, or when I’m dealing with someone I do not enjoy interacting with. During these moments, Bill whispers. Joyfully.

I dread the moment I become oversaturated on Bill and finally get sick of that album. Later down the track, I know I can come back to it and rediscover how great each song is. And the heart will beat faster again.

MochiCake-BlackRiceandSesame

(Black mochi cake with sesame)

Several bags of glutinous rice flour later, and I’m still not sick of mochi cake yet. I first made one from Elizabeth Falkner’s book, but did not like the result. My next attempt, using Food Librarian’s recipe for cherry mochi cakes was very successful. It planted the seed of interest, and the fact that her recipe is the easiest “one-bowl-wonder” ever, further enabled my obsession. I have also since adapted the recipe to suit my preferences, resulting in a slightly lighter and less sweet cake, which still maintains that elusive diplomatic balance between a Western cake and an Asian chewy dessert.

MochiCake-Blondie2

(Mochi blondie)

If like me, cake governs your heart as much as music does, then this recipe is for you. Once you’re hooked, you’ll probably find yourself playing around with the ingredients. Substitute mochiko for black glutinous rice flour or green pandan rice flour (both available from Thai grocery stores). Or substitute thin coconut cream for evaporated milk, throw in some cherries and top the batter with shredded coconut or chocolate chips, and you have a mochi cake version of the Cherry Ripe bar. Or add some melted white chocolate, and fold in white chocolate buttons and macadamia nuts, and you have a chewy mochi blondie.

Make this, and when you taste it, you will know what I mean. Mochi cake, be still, my beating heart.

Mochi Cake :

225g mochiko [I use Thai glutinous rice flour, available from most Asian grocery stores, to great effect]
85g unsalted butter, melted
175g caster sugar
187g evaporated milk (1/2 can)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
additional ingredients of choice eg. fresh berries, chocolate, nuts

Preheat the oven to 175′C. Grease and line a 12 x 8 x 1.5 inch rectangular baking tin.

Sift the mochiko and baking powder together. In an electric mixer, whisk the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Fold in the melted butter, then the evaporated milk and vanilla. Fold in the dry ingredients and any extra ingredients you wish to incorporate into the cake. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared baking tin.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool the cake on a rack, then remove from tin and cut into desired shapes.

Variations :

Mochi blondie : Reduce sugar to 150g. Melt 100g white chocolate with the butter and proceed with the method above. Fold extra white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts into the batter at the end, if desired.

Adzukibean-Vanilla2

(::vanilla pannacotta, adzuki brownie, black mochi cake, adzuki snow, soy caramel dust, homemade Pocky)

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