Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chez Panisse Almond Tart

I need to confess. I misspelled Chez Panisse, for a few times before I got it right.

David described the famous tart in his website. While reading, my mind was wandering, sitting at the patio, fork-digging the tart...then the fork bent (as David mentioned, this pie was removed from the menu as customers complained they had trouble eating it with fork), I then use my hand grabbed it up...put it my mouth...chew...w...w. Okay, wake up to reality. I was inspired, it was time to strap on the apron.

I agree with David, this one is a bit tricky (and sticky). I would really really and really love to make it again, but...(yes, there is a but) I will need to stand in front of the oven at all times. You'll see why.
Find the recipe here

The crust was easy to make. The dough I made was not as soft as David's. I prefer to make it dryer as easier to handle that way.

Once finished rubbing butter into flour, I added water by spraying water into the flour(instead of pour 1tbsp directly into the bowl as I found it is almost impossible to get all bits well-combined with 1 pour of tiny amount of water). While spraying, toss the bowl to dampen dry crumbs.

Talking about spraying, I counted how many times I sprayed into the bowl, how many strokes would turn crumbs into dough. It counted 75. -_- I intended to measure ….75 puffs was equal to how many tablespoon or water(?) . I know, I got my agenda. The day passed by, I forgot to do this. Then My sub-consciousness reminded me, in my dream that I needed to do this first thing in the morning. So next morning, I did. [Are you envisioning me, getting up in the morning, running in PJ , crazily puffing water into a tiny tablespoon? My neighbor might have seen me , which explains why they looked at me in a odd way.

[now go back to procedures.]

I stopped spraying when the crumbs held together when I squeezed them in my palm. I think I used more than 1 tbps of water as directed. I was surprised though that unbaked dough came out drier than expected. May be the humidity was low? See below, humidity in my kitchen was only 30'ish (in summer it was 70'ish, and FYI, in Bangkok it was 80'ish in a non-rainy day).

I poured the dough on the working space, as the rule of thumps in making pie, I didn't knead. I wrapped the dough and it went directly outside the window. No, I dint’ throw away, I just rest the dough in a cold place. Outside was colder than the fridge. I set alarm clock not to forget it there, an hour later, before I went shopping.

Can I confess one more thing? I used bread flour instead of all-purpose flour. I have a (lame) excuse; bread flour is a lot easier to buy (here in shanghai) and a lot cheaper. I did try to source cake flour produced locally. No luck. Bread flour should be okay, I thought. I barely kneaded it, plus there was very little liquid in the dough, I was just crossing my fingers that gluten wouldn’t develop. And I’m glad it came out okay.

After I came back from shopping (gee, it was cold out there. I couldn't feel if my ears were still attached to my face. Especially, after an old guy pointed at me...gossipped with his grandson at the mall, maybe my ears fell off the ground !?). I checked myself in mirror and I looked fine (and pretty). So, I strapped on an apron and started to roll the dough.

The dough was easy to handle. I pressed the dough up to fully cover the side. Once done, I chilled the pan for half an hour. Put it out, slid inside the oven and baked blind. After 15 min, the side of the dough shrank quite a bit !!! I kind of expected this but...oh gee, please don't shink further. I wanted to decored it up to the edge, made it nice...but boyd, the oven was hot! So, I just hoped that it left some edge for me enough to hold the filling.

While baking pie shell, I made filling, which is super easy. But hold on, once you pour the filling and start baking....someone got to do the dirty job.

In the oven, once the filling started to bubbled...I smoothed it out to prevent ugly top as described in David's website. It was not easy but it is a must. And when you open oven door frequently, temperature was , I think, a bit difficult to control.

And this was when I think how baking new recipe is interesting. There are a few factors out of control. Sometimes I just scream when things went wrong in the midst.

And , I found it very difficult to make top crust as nice the original. Eventhough this was a pain, I made this twice with in twon weeks. It was a big hit , maybe my (male) colleagues love something crunchy ? I myself like it very mooch (much) too. I will definitely make this again.

Thanks again David.

Note: David Lebovitz is my latest culinary hero, besides Alton Brown. :-D

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Gingersnaps had me at hello. If I recall it right, I was on US domestic flight and they served crisp, flat, cookies. I didn’t even know what it was called back then until I flipped though the empty package....gingersnap(???). Apologies for my ignorance, I was not quite an epicure.

Recently, I bought ginger cookies from IKEA store, not bad at all. I understand that they are imported from Sweden as with the rest of the goodies on the shelf. My visits to IKEA lately didn't always end up buying housing stuff, but always carried back a few packs of cookies.

So far, I haven’t had bad gingersnap (and I wouldn’t wish to). I wonder if I could make one of my own. Since Christmas is around the corner, I have good excuse to strap on my apron.

Got Hardware? Ginger-man cookie cutter, checked. Rolling pin, checked. Hand mixer, checked. Got Software? Ground ginger, checked, Ground cinnamon, checked. Nutmeg, unchecked (uhh !).
See recipe from David's Website (Chez Panisse Gingersnap) here

I sprinkled cinnamon sugar on unbaked cookies. I have no quota on spices so…put them on!

The good thing about ginger cookies is that you can fearlessly play with it. It won’t go bad-shaped. One thing need to be care full is the room temperature that may soften the dough and that cutting and re-rolling becomes a messy task.

Verdict: I smiled when I had a bite. The sweetness is just right. If you roll thinly, it melts in your mouth. I will double ginger and cinnamon power next time. This is just the matter of personal preference. You may stick to recipe and adjust spiciness later on.
Comments from a freind of mine, Kate - "could you please next time don't make cookies resembles human shape ? I feel like a monster biting out those gingerman's litlle arms and legs."
Me - "okay, I'll make them round-shaped next time"
Kate - (silence, grabbed the last gingerman from zipbag) Ngawm..m..ngawm..m (chewing).
Me - 8-^

Monday, December 15, 2008

Miniature Cream Scones (Gourmet Magazine, March 1990)

Before I gave up, I had to finish this business, baking scones. The first time after two scones-disasters, I finally got nice, light, buttery, flaky scones. Thanks Epicurious for publishing this recipe (it was first published in Gourmet magazine , March 1990).


1/2 C of heavy cream plus additional for brushing the scones (I use egg+1tbsp of milk for brushing)

1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp of sugar plus additional for sprinkling the scone
2 1/4 C of cake flour
1/2 tsp of salt
1 tbsp (or 3 tsp) of double acting baking powder
1/2 tsp of baking soda.
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons or 90 g) of cold unsalted butter, chopped into tiny bits.
1/2 C of dried currants (I used dark raisins)

In a bowl, whisk together 1/2 C of cream, egg , vanilla and 3 tablespoon of sugar until they combine well. I warmed up cream in microwave so that sugar dissolved easier. In another bowl sift all dry ingredients. I sifted twice so that wet ingredients can soak in quicker.

Now the key procedure, working with butter. I don't have food processor. And I cannot work with my bare hands as they are too warm to smash the butter directly into flour. The bottom line we want is coarse crumbs of flour+butter with the size of small tiny peas. My method is to chop up butter into little pieces, as if you are chopping onion for stir fry (some people use cheese grater, but butter must be freezing cold enough to grate) . No surprise, butter will stick to blade and chopping board, so sprinkle sifted flour, set aside in the bowl, would be a good idea. Once chopped, my butter cubes are just as small as 2 x 2 millimetres (oh yeah, they were that small). Feel free to sprinkle more flour while chopping as these will be all scooped back to the bowl. Once done , in the bowl, use pastry blade to cut in butter and flour mixture to coarse crumbs. This process should be quick as the butter cubes are very very tiny and they incorporate into the flour in shorter time. Be careful not to let butter metl, especially if your kitchen temperature is warmer than 25 C . Luckily, my kitchen was freezing cold, 12 C (imagine next week is Christmas !).

Warm up the oven to 200 C. Put the tray in the middle of the rack, no need to grease the tray.
With the fork, stir wet ingredients into the dry, slowly mix in. Don't over stir. How ? pause every 3-4 strokes and let the wets soak in. You'll see that once you pause, flour absorbs humidity around them and becomes lumbs. Continue stiromg, just until combine. Add raisins or other dried fruits of you choice. Some part of the dough will look a bit sandy or dry, that is okay.

On a lightly flour surface , knead the flour for 30 second , approximately 20 strokes, not more than that. I am a gluten nerd, I would do anything to prevent gluten formation as I don't think anyone likes chewy scones. (right ? right?)

Pat down the dough, roll into ½ inch thick. Make sure you roll it evenly; otherwise, the scone will be tilted when baked in the oven. Cut with cookie cutter, set aside. I used the 1.5 inch diameter cutter, yielded 9 scones.

On pre-heated tray, put scones next to each other, don’t leave spaces. Putting them shoulder-to shoulder will help them rise better (crowd them so they have no choice but to sit straight!) Some website suggests to thumb-press on top of scones to prevent domed structure. I didn’t do that, I forgot.

You can brush with cream as advises in the recipe. I brushed with egg, lightly beaten with 1 tbsp of milk. Be careful not to brush on the side as it prevents the edge to rise. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until brown.

Got Tea?

Monday, December 8, 2008

chocolate mousse

One day, I got bored and felt like I needed to make something nice out of my my left over creme in my fridge.

I love chocolate and so do my freinds. So , here it goes. Nothing fancy about it.

I was in search of gloossy chocolate frosting. (which obviously, this one is really not). But it does look pretty, doesn't it?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Chewy-after-one-week Brownie

I am not sure if I want to blog about this. Anyone who are big fan of Cooks Illustrated magazine must stop reading now. I mean it….NOW. Or please, navigate away from this page. Cooks Illustrated is an outstanding magazine. Well-described and detailed instruction turn easy-to-go-wrong recipes into fool-proof ones. But, for this brownie, they don't get my brownie points. I don't hate it but this is just not my favorite. I wonder what in the world would/could/should have gone wrong. Let me tell you how I did on the first try.

I have to admit, my fault, I decided not to follow the process as directed. I beat the eggs..yeah I did...(stop screaming , okay? okay?) I know that's a no-no for making chewy fudgy brownie, but...but I just wondered if this could turn into a disaster. And yes, I got what I asked for, a disaster. The brownie came out cake-liked. It didn't hold together, let alone fudgy'ness. It melted 3 seconds right after reaching my tongue (well, If you could manage to pick it up gently with your fingers and successfully deliver to your mouth). Taste wise, dull. (now imagine, cook illustrated fans are stoning me to death). As I mentioned, it was my fault, I'm the culprit, okay? I won't beat the egg when making brownie again. I promise. After the first bite, the whole tray went directly to my Ziploc bags and to the fridge. My heart was broken and I need to be alone for a while.

I opened my fridge a few days later, ziploc bags were still there. I was greeting hello to my brownie and as if they said something like "Don't worry, I'm cool...I'm cool". Yes, of course, they'd been sitting in the fridge for a few days, must be cool. I wondered how bad/staled it was so I dragged them out and had a bite. It turned out I had quite a few bites as It was pleasantly chewy. Yes! chewiness I was after. It really was good in later days. Wait a minute, was I cheking the mole around the edges? Just kidding, they were no mold.

Then....I wanted to share them with my friends. But given it was a few days old, plus the appearance was not well-maintained on the first day, I'd better chewed it up by myself. Okie, the taste is okay and the texture is right after a few days. I marked my calendar for the second try.

After licking my wound and my fingers, I was ready to re-visit the recipe. Everything was done as instructed. I promised to myself I wouldn't beat the eggs hope was restored up high that I would get fudgy brownie of my dream. I didn’t use Ghirardelli as recommended but used >50% bittersweet chocolate bar I could source in supermarket.

The verdict ? Those who are Cook’s illustrated regulars who ignored my warning above, please navigate away from my page otherwise be ready for my harassment. Ready? Steady? Go!. The taste was exactly the same as last time, DULL. Texture was disappointing. I used to have a chewier brownie which was cooked in microwave (Dah!). This batch, I baked at night and left it sat outside the oven til next morning and the texture was still cake-liked. It was not dry or anything , it just too easy to fall apart. You know what, it was quite similar to the first batch that I intentionally whisked eggs until fluffy.

Here is my second bake looks like.

I belived the recipe did a good job in putting my hopes way up high. The crust was nice and shiny. But the texture , may be my expecation was parred up to the moon, was disappointing.

So, what make it so fragile, I doubt if I should use bread flour so that gluten develops the bonding (or the chewiness)? Well, thinking about that I have a few other recipes to try. It is a bad idea to be persistent. My conclusion, although Cook’s Illustrated claimed they threw away > 50 pans of brownie before coming up with this recipe, I would not bother my third pan of brownie and try this recipe again.

Every dark brownies has its bright side too. As I mentioned above briefly, the brownies are so good after day 3…repeat….after day 3. For chewing monster, keep them in your fridge for one week in Ziploc. No kidding, no mole, if your fridge is not overcrowded and works properly. The taste and texture develops with the passage of time. The other good thing about is that it has low fat content in relative to other fudgy brownies recipes. (well, may be this is why it’s not as fudgy?) You can feel guilt free having a little square for afternoon snack.

A debate on brownies could be endless. It is just the matter of personal preference. Mine? combination of shiny crust, cookies-liked+fudgy, cocoa+coffee taste, + some nuts. Yours? For more debates on brownie, visit NY Times article.

For those who doubt my comment. I would recommend you to try this recipe and compare it with other brownies you have ever had. Let me know you feedback.

(source: Cook's Illustrated2008)

5 ounces semisweet chocolate or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into quarters (1 stick)
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Turn on the oven to 350 degrees. I used 8 inch square pan but the recipe calls for 7 inch. I believe the thickness in 8 inch one came out just fine. Melt chocolate and butter with low-med heat in microwave, stir frequently. Or, heat them over simmering water. Stir in cocoa powder. Set aside to cool.

Whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt in medium bowl until combine, about 15 second (wow...that precise !!! this is what was described in the recipe, but I think it largely depends on your hand speed. For me, I normally do 20-25 strokes within 15 seconds while my grandma would have only 5 strokes. Agree?). okay okay I understand...the idea is to blend them well...not whisk for the fluffiness.

Whisk warm chocolate mixture to egg mixture then stir in the flour with wooden spoon until just combine. Pour mixture into the pan, level surface with spatula. Bake 30 or 40 minute, I recommend you to check after 25 if you use 8 inch pan like me as the batter spread out thinner. This recipe should be under-baked as it tends to comes out too dry because the low fat percentage. The doneness is observed by , the brownie is slightly puffed and tooth pick inserted in the center comes out with small bits of crumbs.

Cut the brownie after it's completely cooled down unless you need warm brownie with vanilla ice-creme.

My notes

- Don't bake in higher heat than 350 degree. I think a bit lower than 350 is fine so that you got the shiny sugar crust which develops with time. If it is baked under high heat, the batter will dry out before the sugar molecules float up to the surface and caramelize. And you end up with a dry and matted-surface brownie.

- I think putting a shot of espresso would be a way to go. I am not caffeine addicted, but am a coffee addicted. (confused !?)

- I would omit the cocoa powder. It does nothing to improve the flavor. Rather, I love the acidic taste in bittersweet chocolate.

And last but not least.....keep in the fridge for 2 days for chewiness. See, it's a good thing that this can be baked ahead ! Wrap in Ziploc or plastic box. If you fear of strange odors. You can place a tablespoon of espresso powder (instant or freshly ground are all fine) beside brownie. Even after 1 week when you put it out for afternoon snack, you got brownie's sweet smell, not the anchovy pasta you put in the fridge last night.

Dear Cook's illustrated magazine - when it comes to brownies, it's hard to please everyone.