Monday, 31 October 2011

Thomas Keller Oreo

Also known as TKO amongst the food blogging community, this is an upmarket version of my childhood snack. As a kid, everyday during recess, I would head down to the canteen and buy myself a 3-in-a-pack Oreo cookie. Back then, those blue packets of heaven merely cost me 30 cents. I don't know about you but I'm never a fan of the Twist, Lick, Dunk technique. I head straight for the dunk. And since I never liked drinking milk, I would dunk them in Ribena. It might sound gross to you but to me, it was the perfect combination. The Ribena soften the Oreo AND made it taste sweeter.

Research have shown that dunking releases about ten times the flavour of the biscuit compared with eating it dry. But to be able to achieve that, one has to master the timing of the dunk. Dunk it for too long and all you'll get is a soggy mess, too short and the biscuit won't have enough time to be saturated by the liquid. It has to have that perfect balance of a soft yet still crunchy texture. Well, that's my preference anyway.

In case you were wondering, Thomas Keller is an American, 3 star Michelin chef who owns one of the best restaurant in the world, The French Laundry. Such a cute name I must say. I came to know of Chef Keller from the book, The Reach of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman. It was one of those book I randomly picked out in the library because I was attracted to the cover and luckily the book was an interesting read. It introduced me to famous real chefs in America. By real chef, I meant not celebrity chefs but those who actually slogged their way up in the kitchen.

Back to the cookie, the TKO does not taste exactly like an Oreo. It's much more refined. Try to get your hands on a good quality white chocolate if possible. This is only the 2nd time I have worked with white chocolate and quality means everything. A cheap white chocolate taste like solidified sweeten milk. A good white chocolate still has that chocolately feel to it.

If you don't own a mixer, you can do it by hand like I did. Just rub the butter and the dry ingredients together with your fingers. It will take some time to get everything together and your hands will get dirty but at least you'll be rubbing some love into the dough. Lol. The TKOs can be kept in an air tight container for up to 3 days. Somehow I find it tasted better the day after making it. 

Thomas Keller Oreo from The Essenceof Chocolate
Makes 24

1 1/2 cups plus 3 Tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
215g unsalted butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature

1/2 cup heavy cream
225g white chocolate, chopped

For the Cookies: In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt, and mix on low speed. With the mixer running, add the butter, a piece at a time. The mixture will be dry and sandy at first, but after 2 minutes, it will form pebble-size pieces that start to cling together. Stop the mixer and transfer the dough to your board.

Separate dough into 2 pieces. Roll each piece of dough between 2 pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper to 1/8" inch thick. Using a fluted cutter, cut into rounds. Scraps can be pieced together and rolled out again. Place 1/2" apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 12-15 minutes at 180C, rotating halfway through baking. Remove and cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Cool completely.

For the FillingIn a small pan, bring the cream to a boil. Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Let it stand for 1 minute, then whisk to melt the chocolate until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl, and let stand for 6 hours to thicken up.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Momofuku's Strawberry Shortcake

It's finally starting to feel like spring. The sun's doing its job, the girls are wearing shorts and strawberries are in season! Well, at least in Adelaide. You know when a fruit is in season when it goes for a dollar at the market and every stall has them. Back in Singapore, I've yet to see a punnet of strawberries  going for that price and tasting oh-so-yummy at the same time. Strawberries in Singapore somehow taste.. unstrawberryish. I can still recall the first strawberry I ate when I first arrived here in Adelaide. It was the juiciest, sweetest strawberry I've ever ate. My parotid glands are secreting saliva just thinking about it. 

Now, I first got to know about Momofuku sometime back in 2010. Back then, I was still in the army and had plenty of time to read. I think I read at least 2 books a month for that 2 years. Mostly cooking related books of course; not cookbooks but books on food, the restaurant industry and chefs' memoirs. It was Anthony Bourdain's book who introduced me to David Chang, owner and founder of the Momofuku empire. Momofuku stands for lucky peach in Japanese but David Chang was not born from the land of sushi. He's a Korean American who majored in religion, loves ramen and worked at a soba shop in Japan just so he could learn the art of making noodles. Cut the story short, David Chang is a genius when it comes to mixing asian ingredients with classical French technique. 

Ooo..!! I was googling up on David Chang and just found out that he's opening a restaurant in Sydney soon!

The recipe for the shortcake comes from Christina Tosi, Chef Chang's trusted pastry chef who is at the helm of Milk Bar - the dessert division of the Momofuku empire. She is about to publish a book soon which will no doubt be a hit. I for one will be getting my hands on this book as soon as it arrives on shore. Christina Tosi is a pastry chef who takes simple home baked desserts to a whole new level. Who in the world would have come up with desserts such as crack pie and cereal milk. She's the Pierre Herme of America if I do say so.

The shortcake here is like a sweet, salty, giant cookie. It's simply delicious on its on. Don't skim on the salt, 1 tablespoon might seem a lot but the saltiness just helps to balance that sweetness. When you bake the shortcakes, they will spread like a yogi doing splits. So make sure you leave plenty of space on the baking tray. If you can't find shortening or just don't wish to use it, you can simply replace it with equal amount of butter. Shortening will give the shortcake a crisper texture as oppose to all butter. 

Momofuku's Shortcakes by Christina Tosi
Make 8 servings

1 Egg, beaten
125ml Heavy Cream
210g Cups Plain Flour
100g Caster Sugar
75g Light Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp Sea Salt
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
120g Unsalted Butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
55g Vegetable Shortening, at room temperature
60g Icing Sugar

Add the beaten egg into a small measuring cup and spoon off half of it. (Reserved for other use or discard them) Add enough heavy cream to the egg to make ½ cup. Stir briefly, and then put the mixture in the refrigerator to chill.

Combine the flour, caster sugar, brown sugar, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a stand mixer outfitted with the paddle attachment and stir them together. Add the butter and shortening and turn the mixer on its lowest setting. Mix the fat in until the batter is gravely, with pea-sized lumps everywhere, which shouldn’t take much more than 4 minutes.

Once you have got the sandy, lumpy, dryish, short batter together, grab the cream mixture from the refrigerator and stream it into the batter, stirring it in with the machine still on its lowest speed. Do this for as short a time as humanly possible, just until the liquid is barely absorbed. Let the dough rest in the mixer bowl for 10 minutes.

Scoop the batter into little balls, using about 2 Tbsp for each (you can assist their shaping lightly with your hands) and line them up on a baking sheet. You should have 8 balls and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and as long as overnight.

Heat the oven to 180˚C. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.
Pour the icing sugar into a wide shallow bowl. Roll each of the shortcakes through the sugar to coat very lightly, tap off excess, and place the dusted cakes on the prepared baking sheets, with enough room between them allow them to double their footprint while baking.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. The cakes will spread and then rise-the baking powder in it will give them a final, poofy kick and the icing sugar on the outside should crackle when they’re ready. Over baked is preferable to under-baked with these cakes. If their centres fall after you pull them from the oven, bake them for another 60 to 90 seconds. Transfer to a rack and let cool.

Serve with macerated strawberries and generous dollop of whipped cream.

Macerated Strawberries
400g strawberries
55g sugar

One to 2 hours before you intend to serve them, gently toss the strawberries with the sugar; the sugar will draw out the juics from the strawberries. Serve cold or at rtp, using the macerating liquid as part of the dish - pouring it over the shortcakes and strawberries. (I added a dash of balsamic vinegar to liven thing up)

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Sea salt

Spent a day at Henley Beach having a picnic with some friends. The food was great and the company was awesome. The weather wasn't looking too friendly at first but thank goodness the clouds cleared later in the afternoon. This is the third beach I've been to since coming to Adelaide and I can't comment much since they all pretty much look the same to me.

I had recently came across a blog post about making your own salt. And since the sea was just right in front of me, I decided to give it a go. It was so simple, I wonder why I've never thought about it. All you have to do is collect the sea water, filter it and boil till you get salt! It does take some time for all the water to evaporate though.

Top left: After simmering for 2hr, you'll start seeing the NaCl crystal starting to form.
Bottom left/Top right: All the water have nearly evaporated, leaving behind solid crystals
Bottom right: The damp salt before it's been left to dry 

I wanted to get large salt crystals like Maldon's and so I made sure to turn down the heat to a simmer once half of the liquid was boiled away. This is to ensure that the crystal formation won't be agitated from the vigorous boiling action. After simmering the water for nearly 2 hours, I had to gently scoop up the crystals so that it won't break and transferred them to a bed of paper towels. Left it to dry overnight and woke up to beautiful salty crystals glimmering in the morning sun.

I ended up with about 2 tablespoons worth of salt from a litre of sea water. Taste wise, it's salty. Really salty. Not quite the fleur de sel from Guérande but more like henley de sel.  I didn't manage to achieve the crunchy texture I was hoping for but nonetheless I'm pretty proud of it. It's not everyday you get to tell someone you made your own salt.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Creme Brulee

French for burnt cream. This dessert needs no introduction. A rich silky vanilla custard topped with a caramelised crust and typically served in a ramekin. I don't know about you, but the best part about this dessert to me is shattering the layer of caramel. The cracking sound it makes as you hit your spoon against the top layer only to be greeted by the soft, creamy custard underneath it. This somehow reminds me of the anatomy of a tooth! Haha. The caramel representing the harder outer enamel layer while the custard is the softer inner layer of the dentine. And instead of a spoon, we use a high speed drill to get into that inner layer! 

Many people might not know this, but creme brulee might actually not be of French origin! There's a debate as to who invented the dish first; the English or the French. To me, it doesn't matter whoever it was who came up with it. Just like the brouhaha in 2009 about a Malaysian minister who attempted to "reclaim" what was/has been Singaporean dishes. 

The creation of a dish is a thought process of a chef who is influenced by the things around him. You take a little bit of that, borrow ideas from someone, make use of local ingredients and there you have it! An iconic dish that represents you as a chef and perhaps in the long run the nation's as well. Instead of arguing who owns the rights to a dish, we should be focusing on the future. Many chefs today like 
Heston Blumenthal and Wylie Dufresne are recreating old dishes, transforming classics into avant garde dishes. Although I'm a strong proponent for classic, traditional dishes, I am always amazed at the things these guys come up with.

This dessert requires you to invest in a blow torch if you want that caramelised top layer. Now, there's probably not much use for a blow torch at home and I admit, I've only used it once (not counting the time I tried lighting up the bbq pit with it). But if you're as hardcore as I am and willing to splurge on this one-dish-contraption, I'll advice you to buy yours at the local hardware shop instead. It's much cheaper compared to those "special chef blow torch" you'll find at any kitchen appliance store. They are after all, the same fire spitting gadget. 

The recipe below is by Alton Brown whom I talked about in my previous post. The recipe is a classic vanilla creme brulee. I would recommend that you skip the extract and use a real vanilla bean for this as an extract won't be able to provide that vanilla kick this dessert needs. I buy my vanilla bean from eBay as it is much much cheaper. You can choose to either get the AAA stuff or the cheaper "extract quality" bean. Either way, a bean is much more superior than any extract you can find. This recipe calls for vanilla sugar, but ordinary sugar is fine.

*To make your own vanilla sugar: Dry the vanilla bean, which was cooked in the cream mixture, and place it in a container full of sugar. That's pretty much it! The sugar can be kept for a long time, just give the container a shake occasionally. You can add more used vanilla bean into the container over time. 

As you can see from this recipe, a creme brulee requires lots of egg yolks. What to do with the whites? Make macarons! If not, they store well in the freezer. I usually portion them out in small ziplocks so that I only defrost what I need. If you don't have any ramekins, use those disposable aluminium bowls like what I have done. 

Crème brûlée by Alton Brown
Makes 6 servings


950ml heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 cup (225g) vanilla sugar, divided
6 large egg yolks
hot water


Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C.

Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and reserve for another use.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually. Pour the liquid into 6 ramekins. Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake just until the creme brulee is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Remove the creme brulee from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Divide the remaining 1/2 cup vanilla sugar equally among the 6 dishes and spread evenly on top. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top. Allow the creme brulee to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.