Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cookies Cutters & Ribbons: Green Tea Cookies Part II

I've fallen again.

Fallen prey to these gleaming metallic, sturdy stainless steel cookie cutters with Japanese motifs.

Fallen in love with a roll of beautiful ribbon. It is printed on both sides!!!!!!!!! (Yes, it's almost impossible to find consumer-available, double-side printed ribbons these days!) Sorry to sound like such a creep, but I look out for details like these.

At the point of purchase, I haven't figured when I would have a chance to use this lovely piece (I wanted to use "precious" but the word took on a whole new meaning after watching Lord of the Rings). But having a weak spot for ribbons (and paper, fabric, stationery by and large), my approach is to buy when in doubt. Hee hee :)

Things started to piece up slowly: a sakura cookie cutter, green tea powder (leftover from the previous bake), a ribbon which seems a perfect match to package green tea cookies.

I got on to more baking again, and packaging, and eating.

Actually there is one overlooked point about packaging baked goodies in pretty, small sealed bags: It delays gratification! I absolutely love these cookies, but I can't bear to tear the little pyramids apart! The calories accumulate still, just more slowly... ^_^

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Nostalgia with the Coming of X'mas - Green Tea Tree Cookies Part I

Had recently gotten some very likeable X'mas tree cookie cutters from Cuisipro . I almost ran out of ideas on how to make a green cookie without any colour additives (even contemplated grinding some fresh herbs and puree-ing avocado), green tea powder appeared on the supermarket shelf just in time to save me from some making some cookies which probably just looked green and just aren't too edible. Relief.

The fun part of making rolled cookies is really the cutting part. I subsequently bought more cutters, expressing no signs of restraint for my (over-)spending habit on baking supplies (gasp). I personally prefer metal cutters to plastic ones, but the great shapes and ascending sizes from Cuisipro's are irresistible (words from a baking-gear-fallen-prey).

Just some small tips on making rolled cookies:

1) Metal cutters tend to have a smoother "release" than most plastic ones, but take note to get good stiff stainless steel ones, it's frustrating to work with flimsy malleable cutters (imagine your round cookies turning oval-ish after some tough handling).

2) If your dough isn't sweet enough, dip them in granulated sugar before baking. They will bake beautifully. I did that for this batch of cookies, and the sugar coat adds a crunchy crust.

3) Chill. Chill. Chill. Chill till firm before rolling. Chill again if dough turns soft during handling. You can bake trays of chilled dough, just adjust baking time accordingly (usually 1-3 min more, depending on oven).

I can't believe X'mas is so near. It's often a love-hate relationship with X'mas. Whilst I enjoy the festiveness, shopping, spirit of giving, warmth, good company from old friends, I often can't bear to see the end of the year coming. I hope time could pass a little less quickly! There's so much more to do, so much to bake, so many more things on the 2007 to-do list that haven't been striked out yet!

The turquoise tea towel probably isn't too X'mas-y, but imagine a weekend morning, with tea in your favorite teacup, your little journal with the year's resolutions (and probably 2006's), and some cookies. Probably a good time to look back on things, in anticipation for the year's end. ^___^

To Christmas~~~~

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Gooey Gooey...

It would be fun to called these blobby cookies little brownies, except it is fudgier, gooey-ier and probably walnutier. (pardon the blunt non-existent adjectives!). I can't think of a better description than the author's.

Adapted from Alice Medrich's Bittersweet Decadence Cookies, these little treats are "ultrachocolatey and richer than sin, slightly crunchy on the outside with a divinely soft center..." True to every word and more, this cookie delivers a lovely jolt of bittersweetness and an intense (not to mention instant) chocolate fix.

Nothing subtle, and definitely not for the cocoa-neutral, the batch of 700g dough comprises of 300g-400g (depending on cocoa content percentage) and only 35g of flour. Ahhhhh... if you are a nut-lover, you would be pleased to know that there is 200g of walnuts in the batter as well. So, really, it's actually chocolates and nuts baked with some eggs and a tiny dust of flour.

Exciting proportions, a good sunny Saturday afternoon, ample chocolate and some fresh nuts = these gooey treats.

Baking these was not hard (except loads of cleaning up because of such a wet batter), but photographing them was a total nightmare! I never really know how to make dark brown little things look pretty, and it's getting harder with each post (if you notice I made loads of truffles and different chocolate cookies). I have decided to jar them up, so there is a little gloss. It turns out to be a great packaging size. Yeahhhh, my little cookie business seems to be shaping up! (unrealistically optimistic.. haha...)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Crunchy Truffles

It turned out all delightful. It was partly because I was too lazy to infuse tea in my ganaches, so I looked through the kitchen stash, and decided to make some truffles with chocolate crunchies, a valuable buy from Shermay's.

It was a high cream to chocolate truffle. 500 ml of whipping cream to 300 g of Araguani! I always loved creamy yet dark, melt-in-the-mouth truffles, so I went to quite an extreme for the cream proportion. The ganache was surprisingly easy to roll, maybe because the morning was a chilly one.

All of it was shared with friends promptly and finished up in less than a week!

I was not working from my own kitchen, so I was a little short on some of my favorite tools and packaging materials. Nonetheless, I managed alright. No fancy pictures, no cookies with ribbons, no truffles in martini glass. Just a little hill of truffle balls, crying to be eaten, and rightfully deserving so.

Yum... I'm thinking of dark truffles of white chocolate balls now. It's true you can't stop once you start, be it the eating or the making.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Baking with Chunks - Part II

I got down to the real baking! For readers looking for recipes, I am afraid I can't offer you much (yes, you are free to click on another blog link), because I have recently decided to give a shot at setting up a cookie shop (had a sudden awakening). Most of the recipes I'll be trying out in the next few months would be those I'm keen to use for my shop. So, I'm going to evolve into a cookie-ninja and you'll find me posting pictures with vivid descriptions but elusive, evasive references (if at all) to the recipes. Yes, call me awful, selfish, annoying, but I had kept those precious recipes in my 10-over year-old notebook with a tingling thought during my teens that I could set up a bakery one day, and like the baker-owners all say, "Ah.. that's my secret recipe." You won't deprive of having a chance (no matter how slim) to say that one day yup? ^___^

While this blog have never really been targeted to garner a huge audience (Yup, I think and write like I would love to read, and it serves more as my own kitchen diary). Those who have been reading regularly (I'm very thankful) would know they can skip the first few paragraphs because I never get to the point quickly. Alright point taken, let's get to it!

I have been baking a chocolate cookie with different types of chocolate chunks. I had used Valrhona's Guanaja before, and now recently tried the same recipe with Araguani, thinking its floral notes and subtle bitterness would go well with some cookie sweetness. The cookie is still good, but Guanaja's slight citrus sourness had a better go with this ultra chocolatey treat. (Personal take of course!)

I tried a sister cookie (yes I treat white chocolate and strawberries as feminine objects). It's really hard to get dried strawberries (please let me know if you know!). I emptied these morsels from an entire box of Post's cereal, and they were weightless on an digital scale! They rarely filled half a cup.

There are some distributors carrying freezed dried fruit (which researchers have reported to retain high levels of nutrients), but we have to order by the kg.

These cookies turn out quite crisp on the outside, and some bigger choc chunks remain liquidy, giving slight chewy centre. Ever wondered why some cookies turn out crispy and thin, some thick and chewy? Ah... mystery mystery. I have a thing for permutations and possibilities. I variate the same core recipe with difference types of sugars, flours, fats, and alter the amounts slightly. I would also bake the same dough under different conditions (temp. and time). Of course, with experimentation comes loads of failures and some nice surprises. Please check out this great information site on chocolate chip cookie for the theory part of it! The practical side of things: You just have to get down to doing it. The same dough produces different textures from different handlings, different ovens (tricky, but it's the whole mystifying nature of baking that gives you the kick ne? ^_-)

The second best part of baking goodies is definitely packaging them! Eating them comes a close 3rd. Yes I am one of those weird ones who doesn't eat much of what I make, my taste buds are numbed from the long hours of baking (and test tasting). These are carefully packaged to be given out to friends to "test-run" for me.

And you absolutely have to eat cookies with chilled milk. The duo sends a lovely cold jot of crumbliness, crunch, melting-ful of sensation, milky goodness, loads to chew and starts a new day like it's going to be a real good day.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The last lecture of Dr. Randy Pausch

I have been contemplating setting up a cookie store for a long while. It's a childhood dream (okie, not exactly childhood, more like teenhood).

After watching a touching and inspiring last lecture by Dr. Randy Pausch, I couldn't help but tear and started rethinking things in life reflectively and my future strategically.

I won't have pictures for you today, but some very important links. Please click here to view the full video. If you have buffering issues, try this on youtube instead. There are 10 videos on youtube for the full lecture. It would be a riveting 90 minutes, so sit tight.

I have been profoundly touched and inspired by Professor Pausch and I sincerely hope to share this with all of you stumbling onto my blog.

And to Dr. Pausch, thank you so much for sharing your life's lessons with us. My prayers go out to you and your family.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Baking with Chunks

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, if you do continue to see me missing from time to time on Kalena's Kitchen, I'm probably inking/printing something, working on photoshop, or cutting paper in the studio! Back to the chocolates, here's a little peep into the chocolates in my fridge. A dear friend and I used to bake mountain-heaps of cookies during our teens; it's my friend's mom's secret recipe for choc chip cookies and I remember buying loads of Hersheys mini chocolate chips.

Ever since I got fixated on home made truffles, I tapped readily into my supply of couverture chocolate and chop chunks out of blocks and buttons. Ummmm... uuuummmmMMMMmm... It's so true that you can't skimp on chocolate for chocolate desserts. It just gives the extra "Om" and gratification which chocoholics crave. Chunks (if not over overbaked) also gives rich liquidy centres, retaining fudge like qualities in chocolate cookies.

I am a big fan of some Valrhona chocolates, and I admit I stock up quite excessively (often blowing the monthly grocery budget, shhhh... *classified* to my husband). I don't take much milk and white chocolate, but I do keep a little so I don't need to make another trip when some good recipes come by. To allow myself (and some chocolate-loving friends who are guinea pigs for new recipes) to constantly try all at one time, I save little pastilles in containers, label them with a big smile like it's part of a prized collection. Everyone has a personal favorite, it's interesting to guess who might like what.

Ever since I started working with flavoured truffles, I can't stop thinking about chocolate pairings:- Guanaja with white tea? Too subtle? Caraibe with expresso, ahhh, dark and smoky indeed. Araguani with caramelized nuts? Should I try to accentuate or balance the bitterness? Which one goes well with rose? The questions go on and on. I am closer to grasping why there are plentiful flavours offered in our epicurious environment today. The endless possibilities with chocolate present ample room for creativity and fuels the sense of adventure pervading a chocolatier's kitchen. (even a pseudo one!)

As much as I love experimenting, the sentimental side cries for the classic and traditional. It's weird how some flavours just grow on you, and you almost feel bad to "turn your back on them". Ekks, sorry to sound so freaky, I am well aware of my longtime tendency of personifying my favorite things. I still whip out batches of plain old truffles from time to time; they are the familiar sights of comfort food in the fridge. When I run out, I reach for bars and buttons of couverture chocolate. All forms and textures, all yummy~~~

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Say No to Bad Food

It's an absolute heartwarmer.

First it was the brochure outside the cafe, which I couldn't help but pick up (for the punchy lines and great graphics!) but didn't have time to check out the place itself due to time constraint. Then it was coincidence 2 weeks later when Shareen (a very old friend of mine, with whom I hardly meet up but always have loads to catch up whenever we did) suggested we try this new café, which was exactly where I had in mind. Finally, it was the place. And it greatly surpasses our expectations.

This place has a lot of soul. I have never seen an open kitchen so packed with friendly staff, whisking, mixing, churning, brewing, cooking and smiling! Food for Thought exudes an inexplicable charm of familiarity (though it's our first visit!) and a vibrant sense of community. We got ourselves a bench seat, ordered a roasted pork sandwich and a lemon tart. Homemade goodness! (Sorry I didn't have my camera with me then) For those who have seen Ratatouille, do you guys remember the scene when Anton Ego had a flashback in time when he tasted the humble dish:- Rémy's recipe? Well, though mine wasn't drastic like Ego's (no no, please don't imagine me with that shocked blank face), I felt a little reminiscence seep in, it wasn't a singular experience but a recollection of hearty times with old friends, the same vim and vigor of youth, the passion and drive, the binding belief of the group.

When I was there last week, they were calling out for creations from hidden bakers! If you have something good to feed, they would try and might buy it from you to sell at the café. Go for it!

All in all, I'll be back for more, and with some very dear friends.

Food for Thought

420 North Bridge Road
#01-06 Norh Bridge Centre
+65 6338 8724

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ganache 101

These truffles won't turn out well if I had not picked up Alice M.'s Bittersweet some time ago. The ganache broke:- curdled up into a oily puddle, greasing the sides of the bowl, instead of emulsifying into a uniform pudding-like texture. I panicked a little and wonder what wrong I did this time round. Could it be the tea? Or did I overmix (huh, I don't think so) or could it be the cream that got too hot and burned the chocolate? I didn't have much time to figure out while in the kitchen. I stared at the oily curdle, froze for a few seconds, and got down to fixing it.

I have done this twice (and I bet I'll still freeze in the state of panic the next time it happens) and it worked well for me. According to Alice M., no matter how much ganache you are fixing (I have never worked with over 1 kg of chocolate for truffle centers, so I can't testify it works if you work in a chocolate plant), heat up 4 tbsp of cream to a simmer, pour into a bowl, and slowly add the broken ganache to the heated cream, little at a time, stirring slowly. Voila! I was very relieved. To add to the distress, my visiting cousin was staying with us for a month, and she got into the kitchen just in time to observe the curdly mess. I was hoping she didn't quite figure it went "wrong" at first, as it would affect her tasting buds psychologically.

It seems this white tea dark truffle turned out well enough to get a few "wow"s from friends. I love it personally, small, bite-sized, bittersweet, smooth, deep, with hints of apricot and floral notes. So subtle that you won't think it had been flavoured. Think I would increase the white tea dosage in future.

Thumbs up to Alice M's tip! You could also refer to this page on Baking 911 a few ganache how-tos.

Welcome to the mystifying world of chocolate. ^_^

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Good Morning Mousse...

When you get a ice cream base so yummy before it gets churned in the ice cream maker, you get a no-nonsense mousse. Real, rich, smooth, thick. Most of the mixture went into the Kitchenaid ice-cream maker, which had been well utilized since it got recruited into my kitchen's regiment. The rest of it which didn't get churned are dressed with bows and floral headpieces, decidedly ready to be eaten at an imaginary wedding.

The mixer itself, however is crying for the whisk and paddle to be fitted on more frequently. Yes, I got the order mixed up. We bought a 5 qt mixer before we got an oven. For 2 months, I have only made a few batches of cookie doughs with this astute member of our kitchen, freeze them, and brought it to my mom's house to bake. We can't seem to be able to find the elusive ideal oven. I had wanted to get a larger-than-our-usual-domestic oven because I bake a lot of cookies during X'mas. Built an affinity for the industrial ones in bakeries but was dismayed that they are unsuitable for domestic use. Contemplating to get 2 90cm long ones and build one on top of the other. Justifiable for just baking for X'mas? Errrmmmmm... let's get back to the mousse and ice cream.

This recipe created an end mixture so thick that it was hard to pour, and got my hands all gooey after (which resulted in a massive licking aftermath). If you don't believe in finger-licking goodness, try this recipe. And be sure to lick your fingers and favorite spatula clean. (don't tell me I'm the only gross one?)

Though the ice cream turn out a little icy/grainy (most likely due to freezing that happened too quickly), its deepness, darkness and fudginess would please any chocolate lover. When I do it again, I would add more burnt caramel and less milk (caramel to deepen the complexity of flavours, and less milk to balance the water content).

Dark Chocolate Ice Cream
recipe from The Essence of Chocolate

- 3.5 oz 62% semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used 70%)
- 4 large egg yolks (I used 9 medium ones for 2 batches)
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar (150g plus 25g)
- 1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (about 80g)
- 2 cups whole milk (480 ml)
- 2 tsp water


-- Place the chocolate in a large bowl. Set a fine-mesh strainer over the bowl, and set aside.

-- In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks and 3/4 cup of the sugar until slightly paler in color. Add the cocoa and whisk until a paste forms.

-- Bring the milk to a bowl over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Whisking constantly, slowly pour the milk into the cocoa mixture, and whisk until smooth. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, about 3-5 min. (Yes, please be very watchful as the mixture thickens slowly at first and more quickly gradually)

-- Strain the hot mixture onto the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted.

-- Place the remaining 2 tbsp sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue to cook, without stirring, until the caramel is dark brown. Swirl the saucepan to achieve an evenly cooked caramel, remove from heat and pour immediately into the chocolate mixture, whisking constantly. (Please start whisking just before you pour, as the super-hot caramel creates a little "explosion" when added to the chocolate mixture) If any of the caramel solidifies into small chunks, strain.

-- Let cool, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least several hours, or overnight.

-- Churn and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Because the mixture is so thick to begin with, it may take less time than most ice cream to freeze to the desired consistency.

-- Enjoy! Yummmmmmmmmmmm.......

Friday, August 3, 2007

Does anyone need some wrist corsages?

My first experience with wrist corsages was a month ago when I helped a distant friend out with making some for her wedding. S.C. thought she could use some of my artsy talents (or so she claims, but I think it was more because I was the only available one on a weekday afternoon!). It's fun actually, but tough, tedious and quite exhausting to put small fresh flowers all round a wristlet. It would be easier to make a chest corsage (for the groom and groomsmen), or a wrist corsage that resembles the pin-on version, just with an extra ribbon attached. I guess we liked the journey less travelled, and wanted the bridesmaids to feel a little special. We did the corsage in a bracelet form, with small flowers all round the first half of the wrist. Tedious, arrghhh tedious... I think I took more than half an hour for 1.

I didn't bring a proper camera then, and one month later, a sudden urge came. I recreated these corsages, with wax (not candle wax, not ear wax either, hehe... it's a cute hardy flower) and limonium, to take proper pictures. Except that, these are not for any particular occasion, and I am really not sure what to do with them. I am kind of kicking myself now. I better be reading this entry 10 years later for a good laugh to make all the work well worth it!

It is very enjoyable though, I am reliving part of my childhood dream of being a florist. If you intend to make some yourself, equip with:

- good sharp scissors
- florist tape
- wire (may not be applicable, it depends on your design)
- ribbons (I used 1/4" thick for the above design)
- flowers and greens of your choice (best to pick hardy ones to withstand the twisting torture, and small ones if you want to make wristlets like mine)
- patience (it probably won't turn out well on the first try)
- ample time! you can't rush it...
- refrigeration (don't leave the wrist corsages to wilt in sweltering heat!)

P.S. Let me know if you are getting married this weekend? I would love to see these worn on a joyous occasion. ^^

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"Muji" of Chocolates?

When some of my chocolate taster friends gave advice on how to improve, C.M. a funny comment, "yummm... nice, but it's too soft, can you make it harder like Royce's?" I explained it's probably because it's been out of the fridge for close to 6 hours and she came up with a crazy idea; she will get a box of Royce's, take a few pieces out of the fridge for 6 hours before testing the texture. Haha... warped, but hey, it's isn't all too hard an experiment. I don't know if she has the results yet, but all I know it was starting to whet my appetite (yet again) on chocolates (someone else's...).

My girlfriends and I were introduced to Royce during our schooldays. The Suntec boutique was (and still is I think) located strategically in front of Carrefour. Back then, we would share a box (usually champagne flavoured). It was wondrous, cold, creamy, velvety and melt into a smooth lush on the tongue. It's still sweet looking back, haha... and hey, in case you doing some math at the back your head, school days aren't exactly THAT long ago for us. ^^

I got to it quickly (normally quite efficient at food shopping). Went to the basement of Takashimaya in the next morning and got a box of "Bitter". I later found that it contains liquer (VSOP) and went back a few days later to get a box of "Mild Cacao". Not that I know what "Mild Cacao" flavour would taste like at that point of time, but the salesperson explained it was bittersweet, and I gladly parted with some cash.

Nama "Bitter" is quite strong in liquor flavour, it is one of acquiring taste I feel. Maybe it's because I don't normally eat chocolate with liquor, the first try was one of overwhelming alcoholic gush. I was eager to stop after the first piece, and drank some water to wipe the aftertaste clean. S. really liked it, and asked me to keep trying. Yup, slowly but surely, after a few pieces over the week, I started appreciating the complex flavours of chocolate with aged brandy. The flavours unfold slowly over time, so don't be hasty eating them! I'm quite hooked I must say. I'll try different liquor for some future batches.

"Mild Cacao" is a little too sweet for me. A bittersweet addict, I think I'll give it a miss next time and revert to "Champagne" or "Bitter". Referring to the picture above, here's my guide on flavours (hope I did not remember wrongly). Clockwise from dark blue: Milk, White, Champagne, Mild Cacao (which isn't bittersweet nor milk) and Bitter (with liquor). There is a seasonal one from Royce's catalogue.

I think a lot of us have a penchant for Royce because of its instant melt-in-the-mouth, velvety qualities. That aside, while most chocolatiers in the market enrobed their chocolates with a thin glossy shell for ease of storage and a good snap, use different molds/forms/decorations for differentiation, sell chocolate by the piece, it is somewhat refreshing to have someone dust cocoa powder over plain rectangular pieces of ganache and sell them in denominations of 20!