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!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Har Gau Siew Mai Char Siew Bao!

hahahaha... this is exactly what was spurted out in a flowing fashion while ordering dim sum this afternoon. For my family (and many others I believe), this "threesome" is the cogent part of our traditional dim sum palate at new restaurants tried out. If any of the three items falls short of expectations, it's hardly redeeming even when the rest of the food is good. I don't proclaim to have tried many dim sum places (I have the habit of going back to the same place again and again, pledging high loyalty out of non-adventure), but I hope to recommend these few. Dim sum lunches are fantastic, affordable, hearty get-togethers, and everyone seems to have a consistent favorite(s). Mine's char siew bao. kekeke....

Most preferred dim sum places:

1) Crystal Jade Golden Palace

- for the chic setting, great well-rounder on all cooking styles: steamed, baked, deep fried. "char siew soh" aka bbq pork pastry and egg tarts are MUSTs! I cannot retaliate enough. you can probably skip desserts like almond and walnut paste though.

Paragon, #05-22
Tel: (65) 6734-6866

2) Lei Garden at Chijmes

- I very much prefer the Chijmes branch (the other one is at Orchard Shopping Centre) for the lovely daylight, tall roof and pretty windows. Try to get a seat in the main hall if you enjoy the bustle of dim sum "ladies" shuffling their little treats into your conversations. (just kidding... Lei Garden's service crew is an exceptionally attentive and efficient bunch). It is imperative to try the cheesy lobster deep fried with thin noodle crisps. Mango lovers should save room for dessert; try the mango pomelo sago.

#01-24 Chijmes, 30 Victoria Street
Tel: (65) 6339 3822

3) Li Bai Restaurant
- Exquisite. I am not sure if this would be a fair post, because we last ate there more than 2 years ago. I remembered I had the freshest "har gau" aka shrimp dumpling ever. The sheer freshness was impressive.

Sheraton Towers
39 Scotts Road Basement 1
Tel: (65) 6839 5623

4) Hua Ting Restaurant
- We just had it today in fact. It's the source of motivation for this post. The "Siew mai" has a whole load of shrimps in it. They are generous on the sizing of these hearty treats, though we should be mindful they do put less on 1 portion (ie 3 har gaus in 1 bamboo steamers vs 4 which is the usual for other restaurants). Bring your UOB card for 18% discount, I think citibank saves you 15% as well :)

Orchard Hotel, 442 Orchard Road
Tel: (65) 6739 6666

Go Go Go Go Go Go Go Go Go !!! What are you waiting for!??!

Please let me know if you have other recommendations!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Only for Cookie Monsters

haha... I moved away from chocolate making the past week, as I still have loads of truffles in the fridge. At times like these, I start to reflect on my social life (lack of), and start counting friends with only fingers, never toes. And I contemplate if I should knock on the neighbours' to offer some chocolate treats. Cringing at the thought of being shooed away or bitten by alsations, I decided to keep them where they are:- back in the fridge.

Well, I moved on to something that can be kept in an air-tight container at room temperature, in order not to face unnecessary pressure to buy a new fridge. This will be classified to my husband, shhh... can you imagine I was goggling wine coolers to store chocolate?! The impulse usually comes in the wee hours from 1200-0200. In the mornings, I would wake up and shake my head in disbelief, relieved that I didn't clicked on "buy it now" a few hours ago.

I should start talking about these Sablé (shortbread in English) to give them due justice. I was dying to eat some homemade cookies and I jumped in. I was lacking some ingredients actually, but I was pretty sure I had substitutions, so I went ahead. I am not sure if you had noticed or think so, and I may be all wrong about this, but I do feel that bakers and chefs are prone to some sort of compulsive behavior (not just in the kitchen). Sorry.. I digressed again... back to the cookie:

This cookie is a bundle of flavours, crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, not too sweet, oozing with deep chocolate flavour, right dose of saltiness. Melting chocolate chunks as you bite into, even chewy if you are patient enough. They smell wondrous while in the oven, you can almost judge the readiness from the heavy chocolate scent. I used my favorite Valrhona Guanaja 70%, (it almost seem like nothing could go wrong with these chocolates). They are one of those cookies that taste good even when they had grown a little soft (I forgot to keep those 2 I photographed... keke...)

I think they will be *THE* recipe for christmas this year.

Reviews so far:

CK: very gooodddd
HL: very nice!! are you baking for cny? can order from you!?
SY: damned nice, mmmmmmmmmm (reaching for another)
SC: good stuff! very crispy!
P: very nice worrrr... do you know how to make soft cookies too?
Ma: (i don't usually allow my folks to eat my fattening bakes) hahaa... give me just 1 small piece... how to taste? but not bad!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Was not an ice cream fan but...

Love this ice-cream, I find myself walking to the freezer ever so often to steal another spoonful. I didn't really dare to indulge after I knew how much calories were packed into that little tub. I still don't, but if you knew 1 quart (0.946 litres) of this yummy churn has 370g of whole milk (3.7% fat, not the low fat type we normally reach out to), 170g of sugar, 5 extra-large egg yolks, 200g of whipping cream (38% fat), would you be in the same dilemma as I am? Well, you would be sneering if you fall into the please-let-me-gain-some-weight category, but for I, who fall in the gain-some-weight-drinking-water, there is always a slight hesitation to spoon another mouthful of creamy not-low-fat ice cream.

I can't resist this one though. Oh yes, I had not introduced. This is some Cocoa Nib Ice Cream with Caramelized Cocoa Nibs, recipe from Chocolate Obsession by Michael Recchiuti & Fran Gage. You might have notice how much I refer to this book from the past posts :) The ice cream has a complex cocoa flavour, one's that deep and derived, subtly teasing on first smell, deeply gratifying on tasting.

It has a hint of vanilla taste (though I omitted the vanilla), burnt caramel, roasted nuts, bittersweet crunch, deep cocoa flavour (but not very chocolatey)... aargghh, i can't figure it out, nor can I describe it well, but I just love it. It has a richness you will miss right after eating it, so I'm heading back to the freezer for more!!!

About nibs: Cocoa nibs are "tiny nuggets of roasted, shelled, and cracked beans, not yet crushed or ground to homogeneity, not yet transformed into chocolate liquor..." as per Alice M. in Bittersweet. I had gotten a kg of cocoa nibs and am trying out all sort of recipes with this bagful of wonderfully fragrant crunch.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Belated Ganache Squares for the birthday girl

It was Jane's birthday on 2nd July and I texted to send her some morning greetings. She had a special request for chocolates or cakes (homemade). I haven't gotten an oven yet (yup, that quite explains why I am making chocolates, I only have all the baking/confectionary equipment except the oven), so most cakes are quite out of question. I decided to make some plain ganache with dusted cocoa powder... in a squarish box, and personalise it with her name. It'll be lovely to have a 4" by 4" ganache square further cut into 1" by 1". Love squares. (no squares for long names like Jennifer or Mirabelle ^^)

Huh... but I couldn't find a pretty box at home so I ended up making one. (excuses excuses to dish out the pen knife!). I spent so much time working out the die cut that when I fell asleep that night, I recalled my whole day was really just about the paper, ruler, pencil and pen knife. Other nights, I am thinking about chocolates, cream, a new mixer, new fabric prints. In this in-between phase of trying to start something on our own (entrepreneurship as they would put it), I sometimes experience bouts of guilt when I consume myself in such indulgences, instead on working on business plans. Maybe I should spend less time blogging too. It's turning into a chocolate blog. Hehe... okie that was a big sidetrack from the present.

For this ganache, I upped the cream proportion. 4 parts cream to 3 parts chocolate. No butter. I wanted something really melt-in-the-mouth. I decided on something simple, no fuss, but the proportions may not turn out too right. Whilst combining, I was very worried; The ganache wasn't like pudding-like, unlike what I had worked on before, it would take a longer time to set. I let it set for close to 24 hours (which is why it's belated) "Something has to be different", I thought, be it uglier, softer, creamier. It's after all, Jane's birthday.

Mmmmmmm...mmmmmm....mmmmmm..... this has got to one of the best chocolates I ever tasted. It's totally melt-in-the-mouth, creamy like... like... cream?? (pardon the lack of vocabulary). Chocolate taste lingers soothingly on the tongue, not overpowering, but still intense. Bittersweet, yes bittersweet... I like it as much as my favorite Royce chocolates! I am very glad Jane and Ed enjoy them, they said it's better than the first (the ugly yummy truffles). Man I was over the moon. I'll keep working on it, testing out different recipes and proportions for the classic ganache.

Yes, she likes the box too. ^^


Die Cut adapted from Structural Packing by Josep M. Garrofe

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Pseudo Chocolatier Fridays - The Revered Earl Grey

Alas... I jumped into making Earl Grey truffles, I had meant to try out the classics a few more times before I go on to try the infused ones, but I just couldn't wait, after drinking some very-fragrant earl grey tea.

After the ganache has set, I tasted it and to my dismay, the tea flavour turned out very strong, and further sharpened by an intense sweetness. I don't have a very sweet tooth to be honest, so the first reaction was "oh mannnnnnnnnnnnnnn". I was a little disheartened to roll them out to give out, so I scooped them (with a melon scooper) into tiny spheres and froze them (knowing I won't be able to continue in the same day).

I returned to the frozen balls of ganache yesterday (4 days after I first tasted them, no, please don't even start thinking I'm gross. According to Alice Medrich, with whom I would continue to "apprentice" fervourly, ganache can kept in an airtight container and be frozen up to 2 months.)

I was decidely very positive that morning and my head was almost ringing," I am sure some people with a sweet tooth would like to taste you". I went ahead to handroll them lightly with chocolate on both palms (another great tip from Alice M. from Bittersweet) in melted (untempered) bittersweet chocolate, and then drop them in trays of cocoa powder, nibs and chopped pistachios.

I tasted a few during the chocolate making process (and whilst photographing them.. keke..), it was as if I gained a sweet tooth or two, because I started finding them a little addictive. The cocoa powder created a bitter coat, and the chocolate coating was almost nonexistent. As I pop it into my mouth, the bitter coat melts almost seamlessly into an intense burst of bergamot flavour. The ganache though not as smooth as the previous plain truffles I made, is still mouth-melting. (arrgghh! how come not as smooth!??!! I suspect I need a finer strainer and I whisk a little too hard this time round...) Nuts and nibs tamed the sweetness with a crunch. (fine discovery, yup I admit that was more of an after thought and counter reaction to the ganache's sweetness.)

The earl grey flavour could be too strong for some, but lovers of full citrus flavour won't complain. I think I would lessen the amount of tea and sugar in my next try; I am a lover of earl grey but I am anxious to taste how a mildly flavoured earl grey truffle would be like (especially with such good chocolate used!), and definitely not as sweet as this one. Bittersweet is always yummier.

Sorry, but I can't resist putting this trivia down. You may have already known and find me silly actually: Do you know that earl grey tea is flavoured by an essential oil from the aromatic peel of the bergamot orange? And that the bergamot orange has no relations to the bergamot herb, which is grown primarily for ornamental purposes (and potpurri making). It is named so, because its "odor" is considered similar to that of the bergamot orange. All the while, I thought bergamot flavour had something to do with the bergamot herb! Yes, you would have realise I don't find knowledge that general, and sense not that common! haha... I love Wikipedia for many reasons.


Sunday, July 1, 2007

Reviews on truffles

(-) Negative (critical but constructive)

"They are too soft... but the taste is good" (from 2 folks who tasted some 6-hour-out-of-the-fridge truffles)

"They need to be more regular" (from the consistent)

"Too much nibs! Too bitter" (haha.. she ate 1 round one rolled all round with nibs)

(-+) Neutral

"....................." (silence.... she didn't like chocolates but picked up one of mine because she knew I made them, I don't know what to make out of this situation)

"Did you really make them???" (from unbelieving friends who never stepped into their kitchen more than necessary, not sure what to make out of the comment too!)

(+) Positive (encouraging and esteem boosting)

"Wowwwwwwww........." (before tasting, which means they probably like the box)

"Mmmmmmmm..........melt in the mouth, not too sweet" (definitely from folks on the dark side)

"Yummieeeeee............" (from the cheerful and greedy)

"The box looks so you!!!!" (huh, not sure if it's a compliment, let's assume it is? ^^)

Overall, I am happy with the results, but wait, I would be happy even if they didn't quite like them, because I'm really enjoying the process of making chocolates, especially the finger-licking part before washing up! (Don't tell me I am the only one doing it...)