Friday, 26 March 2010

Orange Tian - March Daring Bakers

This month's challenge almost totally passed me by, and it was only last week I remembered I had to do it!

The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

Again, I didn't feel very inspired by this recipe. As a child, I always thought my Dad was strange for not liking creamy desserts, but in the last few years I've started to agree with him. Whipped cream in particular sets my teeth on edge. (I still love clotted cream though, no worries there.) This particular challenge contained a rather large whipped cream element.

Anyway, on I ploughed. The whole point of Daring Baking is to try something you wouldn't otherwise. First up was the pate sablee. This is basically an enriched shortbread, so it forms a very crumbly, crispy pastry when baked. This came together pretty easily, although I had to chill it for over an hour before it was strong enough to work with. As I only wanted to make a couple of tians at most, I halved the recipe, cut out 4 large circles and cut out several smaller circles to make petit fours with. As soon the pastry came out of the oven, I recut it with the plating ring to ensure it was the right size and hadn't spread too much.

Pate Sablee: tian discs at back, petit four discs at front.

We had to make marmalade to use as a layer. I'd already made some Seville marmalade earlier in the year, so I melted some of this down with extra sugar and juice to create a slightly sweeter version that was more suitable for the dessert.

Sweetened Seville Marmalade

Next was the caramel. I have yet to make a successful caramel. Although this one didn't burn, it was way too runny, and was a little bitter. One day, I will conquer caramel. Not today though.

The bit of this challenge that I found most useful was learning how to segment an orange before. A video showing how was posted, and after watching AWT mumble away I managed to do a pretty good job. This is actually quite a useful skill for me, as I love oranges but often avoid them as I hate the pith. (Weirdly, my favourite dessert as a child was orange segments with Cointreau cream. My Mum thought this was ok but watching ITV wasn't. She obviously stopped reading the parenting book before the booze chapter.)

Finally the dreaded whipped cream. Gelatine was added, along with some sugar to stabilise the cream. I didn't find the cream much different, except now the texture was gluey as well as foamy. Ick. We were meant to fold in some of the marmalade at this point, but I opted for a shot of Cointreau instead. If anything was going to make whipped cream with ground up beef bones better, it would be booze.

Orange Tian

The final stage was assembling the dessert. Orange segments went on the bottom, then cream, then a pastry disc spread with marmalade. The whole thing went in the freezer for 10 minutes to harden up a little. Once inverted on to a plate, a little caramel sauce was drizzled over the top.

The final verdict was mixed. I loved the orange segments, and the crispy pastry was a nice contrast to the rest of the dessert. It was let down by the slight bitterness of the caramel and the sickly cream; I ended up being glad that I'd only made one. In future, I'd replace the whipped cream with Cointreau ice cream, or a thin layer of clotted cream. I like the tian idea for desserts in general, and it was quite fun assembling it upside down.

You can see the full recipe here.

Indulgent Chocolate Mousse

Part of the reason I find myself flipping through Leith's quite so often is that it's great for basic recipes. It's Delia for people who know how to boil an egg. After a batch of meringues left me with several egg yolks, I sought out a recipe for a classic chocolate mousse.

Rich chocolate mousse - unfortunately I ate it before I could photograph the bubbles.

The 'classic' recipe used whole eggs, so I opted for the 'rich' version instead. It was pretty simple to make, although as usual, me and boiling sugar do not get on. The recipe calls for the sugar syrup to be boiled to short thread stage. The suggested way of testing this is to dip your fingers in the sugar and see if a short thread is formed. I didn't fancy putting my hand in boiling sugar (I have definitely been there and done that) so I got the ancient sugar thermometer out instead. Annoyingly, while 'crack' and 'softball' were marked, short thread was not.

I figured that if Prue Leith was telling me to stick my hand in boiling sugar, it can't be that hot. I boiled it to around 80C, although finding the sugar syrup table in the book later (why is it not indexed?) I found out that short thread stage is actually 108.3C. So there.

This probably explains why my mousses were a bit denser than I'd expected, as the syrup and egg yolks didn't fluff up as much as the book said they would. They were still pretty damn tasty, and I filled 5 ramekins with a gloriously thick chocolate goo. I used very dark chocolate, and I think in recipes like this, it is a travesty not to. The chocolate gets watered down with cream and sugar during the process of the recipe, so using a milky chocolate to start with will just dilute it even further. You'll basically have a homeopathic chocolate mousse, and that's not going to cure any ills.

With hindsight, I think it might have been nice to swirl a bit of raspberry puree through as well. It is very rich, so a bit of fruitiness would balance that well.

Rich Chocolate Mousse (Adapted from Leith's Cookery Bible)
Makes 4-6 depending on ramekin size

70g granulated sugar
110ml water
3 egg yolks
170g very dark chocolate
300ml double cream

1) Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan gently. Heat until it reaches the short thread stage (a thread of about 1cm between a wet thumb and finger, or 108C/227F). Leave to cool slightly.
2) Give the egg yolks a quick whisk in a large bowl to combine them. Slowly pour in the cooled syrup, whisking all the time. Continue until the mixture is thick and bubbly.
3) Melt the chocolate in a microwave or bain marie. Fold the melted chocolate in to the eggs.
4) In a separate bowl, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Gently fold this in to the mousse mixture.
5) Pour the mixture in to ramekins (maybe layer with some raspeberry puree at this point) and leave to set in the fridge for 4 hours.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Black and White Shortbread

I have been shying away from some of the more frivolous cookbooks in my collection, and find myself returning again and again to the Leith's Cookery Bible. I quite like the way pages upon pages of it are filled with French sounding dishes I've never even heard of. The first chapters give advice on how to cater a buffet for 80 people and the basics of food hygiene. There are few pictures, and they are mostly pretty useless for the basic home cook - 3 ways to present apple flans?

Black & White Shortbread

I had a craving for shortbread, and I had some chocolate left over from the stall that needed using up. I love making shortbread, as it uses very standard store-cupboard ingredients. It's ideal for late night baking sprees when you can't be bothered to go to the shop. It's also easily jazzed up by whatever ingredients you have lying around (I'm quite a fan of citrus and herbs).

Two-tone Shortbread

As the chocolate helps seal in the moisture, these keep really well. Be careful not to leave them in a warm place, as the chocolate will melt. While this won't affect the taste, they might become a bit blotchy looking. The rice flour helps to keep the texture really "short", but if you don't have any, you can substitute it for more plain flour.

Black & White Shortbread (adapted from Leith's Cookery Bible)
Makes about 8

110g butter
55g caster sugar
110g plain flour
55g rice flour
100g white chocolate
100g dark chocolate

1) Preheat the oven to 170C.
2) Thoroughly mix the sugar and butter together.
3) Add the flour, and gently knead to make a smooth dough.
4) Roll out the dough on a floured surface, to about 5mm thick.
5) Use a biscuit cutter to cut out large circles. Reroll the scraps until you have 8 biscuits.
6) Put the biscuits on a tray, and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
7) Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. They should be starting to turn golden.
8) Cool on a rack.
9) Melt the white chocolate in a small pot. Use a pot that the biscuits will only just fit in to, as you want it to be as deep as possible.
10) Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Dip the biscuits halfway in the white chocolate, and place them on the paper to cool. Put the tray in the fridge if your kitchen is warm.
11) Once the white chocolate has hardened, repeat steps 9 & 10 with the dark chocolate.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Australia Highlights

The worst part about holidays is when you have to come back. After several flights, 47 hours without sleep, and a rather large duty free bag full of TimTams, we arrived back to a rather cold and gray Edinburgh. Without the motivation of sunshine and new cities to explore, I have been rather slow to readjust my body-clock. I've never really been one for the solo lunch extravaganza, so I've found myself passing through the days on nothing but bananas, toast and the occasional bowl of soup.

Evenings haven't been much better. If I'm tired I revert back to my past narrow eating habits, endlessly flicking through magazines and cookbooks in the vain hope that something will inspire me. It does not. I am ashamed to admit our dinners over the past few weeks have been pretty dire, as I have lost all focus in the kitchen. I want to cook, but I have no desire to eat, let alone photograph and blog about such uninspiring food.

Hopefully my mojo should return soon, and I shall return to more frequent blogging. For the moment, here are some photos from the trip.
We had breakfast at the Sydney Opera House. A seagull ate the leftovers.

Macarons from Adriano Zumbo. His shop was amazing, with some fantastic, wittily named creations. We found the macarons a bit hit and miss - the black sesame; coconut and pineapple; and forest fruits with pink pepper were delicious. The cherry and banana was synthetic tasting, and the lemon verbena with mint was way too vegetal.

The vanilla heart was our favourite, and I was impressed at how accurate the piping had to be to make hundreds of identical hearts to sandwich together.

Melbourne was my favourite city. I loved the lanes and we were lucky enough to stumble across Gill's Diner. Here we had what was easily the best meal of the trip. I had a rabbit pastilla, which was bursting with spiced meat and surprisingly juicy chunks of dried apricot. It was accompanied by black sesame crusted labneh and peppery salad leaves. T had chicken 'Three Ways' - a dainty breaded drumstick, a roasted breast and a chicken sausage. We finished off with a plate of crispy churros with a chilli chocolate dipping sauce. The waiters were lovely, and kindly fitted us in even though the place was packed and we didn't have a booking. It was all very relaxed, with the menu written on a blackboard and large communal tables. I'd love to find a restaurant like this in Edinburgh.

Another delight we found among Melbourne's lanes was Koko Black, a chocolate shop with a few branches around Victoria. We had a Chocolate Spoil in the cafe, featuring chocolate cake, chocolate shortbread, raspberry and cognac truffles (pictured above), chocolate mousse, chocolate ice cream and 2 hot chocolates. The chocolate mousse and ice cream didn't last long, as they were particularly delicious. I was totally chocolated out by the end though.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Onion Soup with Cheddar Croutons

Up to the age of about 15, I was a bit of a fussy eater. I would often decide what to eat in restaurant by ruling out all the dishes that contained things I didn't like, leaving a choice of only one or two dishes. I got away with being fussy, because I was comparatively normal compared to my siblings. At least I ordered something from the menu. My brother would just demand new creations. Pizza Express was the restaurant of choice as they would happily make a pizza with no tomato, extra ham and extra cheese. I always ordered Mushroom or La Reine. ALWAYS.

Eventually I got bored of this and started eating like a normal person. I even went to the other extreme, picking the thing on the menu that I thought I would least like, just to get over the fussiness. I knew I'd conquered it the day I ordered a Four Seasons pizza (Olives! Capers! ANCHOVIES!)

However, the one fussiness that I couldn't seem to shake was cheese. Mozzarella, cream cheese and Boursin were the only cheeses I'd eat, and only then when combined with other ingredients, preferably strong enough to mask the flavour of the cheese. I remember a family holiday in France, where a particularly insistent waitress asked if I wanted to share a cheeseboard with my parents. No amount of reasoning in English would dissuade her, but a firm "Je deteste le fromage" got the message through. On a field trip at uni we were served macaroni cheese, and just the smell of it made me want to heave.

Onion Soup with Cheese Crouton

I still want to get over my dislike of cheese. I'm slowly getting there. I'm usually fine with cheddars, brie and mild goats cheese. Parmesan and blue cheese still freak me out, but maybe one day I'll get there.

I thought onion soup and cheesy croutons would be a good way to introduce cheese into my diet. I went with a recipe from "Roast Chicken and Other Stories" by Simon Hopkinson, even though I was initially skeptical of pureeing the soup and adding cream. I really liked the tanginess of the vinegar and the wine, and a crouton added interest to the otherwise boringly silky texture.

Smooth Soup and Crunchy Crouton

Onion Soup (from "Roast Chicken and Other Stories")
Makes 4 portions

3 large onions
110g butter
50ml white wine vinegar
250ml dry white wine
600ml chicken stock
300ml double cream

1) Chop the onions into fairly small pieces. Sweat them in the melted butter with salt and pepper in a covered saucepan on a very low heat. After about an hour, they should be very soft and mushy but not coloured.
2) Add in the vinegar, and simmer until it is almost completely evaporated.
3) Add the wine, and reduce by two thirds.
4) Now add the chicken stock. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook gently for 30 minutes.
5) Puree the soup, and return to the heat. Stir in the cream, and reheat the soup, but do not boil. Check the seasoning and serve with a toasted cheese crouton (or 4).