Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Blueberry pancakes

Pancakes for breakfast is a rare and special occasion for me. It's not everyday I get to wake up early to prepare a nice warm breakfast (toasts don't count). I'm also never out for breakfast unless I'm on a holiday. During my last holiday in Sydney, I had pancakes two breakfasts in a row!

Now, I like my pancakes sweet. Whether it's blueberry, chocolate or ya ol' regular stack of plain pancake, it always taste best when there's maple syrup to sweeten things up. I understand that some like theirs savoury but the idea of having pancakes with bacon and eggs somehow just turns me off. 

Once upon a time, I never did like pancakes.. I can still recall as a kid, eating a banana pancake that was flat, rubbery and spongy! Not something you would describe pancakes. Haha. But because of my traumatic childhood pancake experience, I never ordered pancakes whenever I was out for breakfast. Till that one faithful day at a hotel in Chang Mai.

It was at that hotel's breakfast that my perception of pancakes changed. Our complimentary breakfast came as a set and pancakes was a part of it. Three small fluffy pancakes dusted with icing sugar served with maple syrup at the side. After that first bite, I was totally sold! Since then, I moved on from instant pancake mix (the kind which comes in a bottle where you add water and shake it till is looks like pancake batter) to making my own. I must admit, those bottled pancake mix are pretty decent. Especially on days when I can't be bothered to make my own.

The secret to a good pancake is a lumpy batter. An over mixed, smooth batter is not better. Don't be too concerned about that unmixed bit of flour. Remember, lumps = good pancakes! Another sure win tip to a good pancake is buttermilk. The acid in the buttermilk will react with the baking soda to produce air bubbles which makes your pancake light and fluffy. To those who love chemistry as much as I do:
NaHCO3 + H+ → Na+ + CO2 + H2O

*If you don't have buttermilk in the fridge, don't worry. You can simply make it at home with either vinegar or lemon juice. To make a cup of buttermilk, just add 1 tablespoon of vinegar/lemon juice to about 1 cup of milk. Let it sit for 5m
in and viola! Buttermilk is born.

The recipe below is by one of my favourite chef, Alton Brown, who is the creator/host of the popular Good Eats show. It was his show which got me interested in cooking as a kid. I used to watch the show on TV everyday after school. Here's the pancake episode if you're interested. 

Alton Brown's "Instant" Pancakes
Makes 12 pancakes

"Pancake mix"
6 cups (750g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (check expiration date first)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar

Combine all of the ingredients in a lidded container. Shake to mix.
Use the mix within 3 months

2 eggs, separated
2 cups (470ml) buttermilk
4 tablespoons (55g) melted butter
2 cups (250g)  "Instant" Pancake Mix, recipe above
1 stick (110g)  butter, for greasing the pan
2 cups fresh fruit such as blueberries, if desired

Heat an electric griddle or frying pan to 180 degrees C. (If you are using a frying pan, place a few drops of water onto the pan. If the droplets are happily dancing on the surface, the pan is ready)

Whisk together the egg whites and the buttermilk in a small bowl. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the melted butter.

Combine the buttermilk mixture with the egg yolk mixture in a large mixing bowl and whisk together until thoroughly combined. Pour the liquid ingredients on top of the pancake mix. Using a whisk, mix the batter just enough to bring it together. Don't try to work all the lumps out.

Lightly butter the griddle. Wipe off thoroughly with a paper towel. (No butter should be visible.)

Gently ladle the pancake batter onto the griddle and sprinkle on fruit if desired. When bubbles begin to set around the edges of the pancake and the griddle-side of the cake is golden, gently flip the pancakes. Continue to cook 2 to 3 minutes or until the pancake is set.

Serve immediately or remove to a towel-lined baking sheet and cover with a towel.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A day at the farmers' market

Spent a beautiful Sunday morning checking out the Adelaide Showground Farmers Market. I never knew the Adelaide Showground was this huge. The last time I was there, it was for a completely different reason. I discovered about the market when I was flipping through the Adelaide food guide by The Advertiser at the library. In the book, there was a section on the various farmers' market around Adelaide. Apparently there are 3 major farmers' markets (Willunga, Barossa, Showground)  and many smaller ones in Adelaide. Hopefully by the time I graduate, I'll have been to all of them. 

The sheltered area of the market
I was there at half past eleven and the crowd was pretty decent. Lots of families with young children in tow. There are 2 areas in the market. The indoor area is where most of the dried goods and bread stalls are at. There is also a cooking demo area where I managed to try some cold Vietnamese veggie rolls that the chef from Hilton was preparing. Outside, you'll be able to find all the fruits and vegetable stalls. 

The first thing I noticed at every stalls was that there were 2 different prices for the same item. Apparently you can become a member of the market and receive discounts. For more info about their membership check out their website

Freshly shucked oysters. $14 a dozen.

Outdoor area of the market
One thing you'll notice about the fruit and vegetable stalls is that the sellers grew the produce themselves. I overheard a guy telling his customer about when he harvested his celeries and what produce are in season. Since spring has just recently dawn upon us, the market was brimming with all kinds of vegetables. All the produce were reasonably priced and pretty much comparable with the Central Market in the city. 

Most stall place out samples of their products where you can try them out. All the stallholders I met were forthcoming about their products and were more than happy to let you taste test them. I enjoyed going up to most of the stall, interacting with the owners and learning more about what they were selling. I could sense a close knit community between the various stallholders as well as their regular customers. Overall, I had a wonderful time at the market and would definitely come back again. I just love supporting small businesses like these given how they provide a personal touch you can't find in a supermarket. 

A cute sign I spotted at the Bush Tucker Ice Cream stall
Every Sunday 9am — 1pm
Adelaide Showground, Leader Street, Goodwood

Friday, 23 September 2011

Opera Cake

It all started with this cake. This was way back in december 2009. My first foray into food photography. I can't recall why I chose to make this cake. But damn. It was delicious. The Opera cake or L'Opera was created in Paris in 1900s at a pastisserie called Dalloyau. It is a multi layered cake composed of 6 layers: 3 layers of Joconde (soaked in coffee syrup) ,a layer of coffee buttercream and bittersweet chocolate ganache and finally topped with chocolate glaze. A joconde is a french almond cake, pretty much a sponge cake with an almond-ny flavour. Surprisingly, the cake was not as rich I expected it to be with all those layers. 

It took me about 5 hours to assemble the cake having to make each component separately but the results were worth it. Not too bad for my first attempt at a layered cake. If I had to make this cake again, I would make the joconde thinner and ensure that the cake is really cold before pouring over the glaze. If you are short on time, you can make each element on different days and assemble them whenever you're ready. 

The layering process minus the last 2 steps.

Opera Cake
Adapted from Dalloyau from Paris Sweets: Great Desserts from the City's Best Pastry Shopsby Dorie Greenspan (Broadway Books, 2002)

Makes about 20 servings

The cake:

  • 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds
  • 2 1/4 cups (225 grams) confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled briefly

The coffee syrup:
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (7 grams) instant espresso or coffee

The coffee buttercream:
  • 2 tablespoons (10 grams) instant espresso or coffee
  • 2 tablespoons (15 grams) boiling water
  • 1 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (30 grams) water
  • Pulp of 1/4 vanilla bean
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 3/4 sticks ( 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

The chocolate ganache:
  • 8 ounces (240 grams) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (125 grams) whole milk
  • 1/4 cup (30 grams) heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons ( 60 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

The chocolate glaze:
  • 5 ounces (150 grams) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 stick (115 grams) unsalted butter

1. To make the cake: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Line two 12 1/2-x15 1/2-inch (31-x-39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter. (This is in addition to the quantity in the ingredient list.)
2. Working in a clean dry mixer bowl fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the whites into another bowl.
3. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the almonds, confectioners sugar and whole eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes. Add the flour and beat on low speed only until it disappears. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture, then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.
4. Bake the cakes for 5 to 7 minutes, or until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. Put the pans on a heatproof counter, cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the cakes over and unmold. Carefully peel away the parchment, turn the parchment over and use it to cover the exposed sides of the cakes. Let the cakes come to room temperature between the parchment or wax paper sheets. (The cakes can be made up to 1 day ahead, wrapped and kept at room temperature.)
5. To make the syrup: Stir everything together in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Cool. (The syrup can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.)
6. To make the buttercream: Make a coffee extract by dissolving the instant espresso in the boiling water; set aside.
7. Bring the sugar, water and vanilla bean pulp to a boil in a small saucepan; stir just until the sugar dissolves. Continue to cook without stirring until the syrup reaches 124 degrees C, as measured on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Pull the pan from the heat.
8. While the sugar is heating, put the egg and the yolk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat until the eggs are pale and foamy. When the sugar is at temperature, reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly pour in the syrup. Inevitably, some syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl - don't try to stir the spatters into the eggs. Raise the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the eggs are thick, satiny and room temperature, about 5 minutes.
9. Working with a rubber spatula, beat the butter until it is soft and creamy but not oily. With the mixer on medium speed, steadily add the butter in 2-tablespoon (30-gram) chunks. When all the butter has been added, raise the speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thickened and satiny. Beat in the coffee extract. Chill the buttercream, stirring frequently, until it is firm enough to be spread and stay where it is spread when topped with a layer of cake, about 20 minutes. (The buttercream can be packed airtight and refrigerated for 4 days or frozen for 1 month; before using, bring it to room temperature, then beat to smooth it.)
10. To make the ganache: Put the chocolate in a medium bowl and keep it close at hand. Bring the milk and cream to a full boil, pour it over the chocolate, wait 1 minute, then stir gently until the ganache is smooth and glossy.
11. Beat the butter until it is smooth and creamy, then stir it into the ganache in 2 to 3 additions. Refrigerate the ganache, stirring every 5 minutes, until it thickens and is spreadable, about 20 minutes. (The ganache can be packed airtight and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 1 month; bring to room temperature before using.)
12. To assemble the cake: Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Working with one sheet of cake at a time, trim the cake so that you have two pieces: one 10-x-10-inches (25-x-25-cm) square and one 10-x-5-inches (25-x-12.5-cm) rectangle. Place one square of cake on the parchment and moisten the layer with coffee syrup. Spread about three-quarters of the coffee buttercream evenly over the cake. (If the buttercream is soft, put the cake in the freezer for about 10 minutes before proceeding.) Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square; moisten with syrup. Spread the ganache over the surface, top with the last cake layer, moisten, then chill the cake in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Cover the top of the cake with a thin layer of coffee buttercream. (This is to smooth the top and ready it for the glaze - so go easy.) Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour or for up to 6 hours; it should be cold when you pour over the glaze. If you're in a hurry, pop the cake into the freezer for about 20 minutes, then continue.
13. To glaze the cake: Bring the butter to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and clarify the butter by spooning off the top foam and pouring the clear yellow butter into a small bowl; discard the milky residue. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over—not touching—simmering water, then stir in the clarified butter. Lift the chilled cake off the parchment-lined pan and place it on a rack. Put the rack over the parchment-lined pan and pour over the glaze, using a long offset spatula to help smooth it evenly across the top. Slide the cake into the refrigerator to set the glaze and chill the cake, which should be served slightly chilled. At serving time, use a long thin knife, dipped in hot water and wiped dry, to carefully trim the sides of the cake so that the drips of glaze are removed and the layers revealed.
Storing: Each element of the cake can be made ahead, as can the assembled cake. The cake can be kept in the refrigerator, away from foods with strong odors, for 1 day, or you can freeze the cake, wrap it airtight once it is frozen, and keep it frozen for 1 month; defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.

If you do not have the exact baking pan dimension, roughly pour in about 1-2cm worth of batter into whatever pan you have in your kitchen. You might have to do this 3-4 times depending on how small/big your pan is. Adjust the baking time as necessary. The raw batter cannot be kept thus I suggest that you bake everything and freeze the leftovers. Do note that this is traditionally a square cake and individual servings are sliced into rectangles.
Ensure that the topmost layer of buttercream is smooth and cold to the touch before pouring the glaze over. This will ensure a nice unblemished top. 
The cake should be taken out of the fridge and left at room temperature before serving as the buttercream will tend to solidify when it's cold.
What do you do you've got leftover glaze? Make a mess!

Monday, 19 September 2011

My first post

I've been contemplating setting up a blog for the longest time. It all started when someone asked me if I had a blog when I mentioned that I enjoy taking photographs of food. Then, she was happily munching on my macarons I made during my hari raya open house. It wasn't an epiphany per se. It was more of a palmface-why didn't I think of that moment. So here I am, a year after that incident happen. I hope I'll be able to keep updating it and perhaps one day be as popular as all the other food bloggers whom I adore.