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Monday, December 28, 2009

Daring Bakers' Gingerbread House

What could be better than taking the holiday to face my fear? Like this gingerbread house which from reading DB Forum it gave me a huge doubt that I could ever build it or have the patience to work out the pieces. It seemed like a huge task, and therefore I had been hesitating until the last moment when the challenge had come to haunt me closely. I gave in and built everything from scratch..... for the very first time.

And my worry during the proces was whether royal icing is capable to stick gingerbread pieces together. I was surprised it did it all. The dough was chilled for two days and as I was rolling it into the desired size, it shrank substantially (about 10%) so I decided I would chill it for only half an hour (enough to rest the dough) the next round I happen to make it again. As a consequence, the initial drawing has to be scaled down to 90%. The amount of dough is just nice for the number of pieces that I needed. But one and a half recipes of royal icing was needed for such elaborate work.

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes. Thanks to Anna and Y for this great challenge!

Have made some adjustments to the recipe for my own convenience. Original recipe could be found here

Happy New Year, Everyone!


Y's Recipe:
Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

- 1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
- 1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- 4 teaspoons ground ginger
- 3 teaspoons ground cloves
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 cup boiling water
- 5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]

- In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.
- Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.
- Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place.
- Cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet.
- Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.

2. Royal Icing

- 1.5 large egg white
- 3 cups (330g) powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon almond extract

- Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency.

3. Assembly

- For decoration or detailing, pipe royal icing on gingerbread pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren't using royal icing all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit.
- Pipe on the edge of the house pieces and join up together. Hold with your hand for a while until the royal icing set or lean these pieces to a box.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Very Special Birthday

It is a special month with many celebrations. My auntie's visit in the beginning of the month was considered the first celebration I had in December. Then today, Dec 24 is T's birthday. "Happy Birthday, T !!!". I am so glad I can share the special day of his existense in this world with him. And tomorrow's Christmas, and it is also R, my cousin's birthday. Yes, it is very special to be born on a Christmas day. "Happy Birthday, R !!!"

And also I just got an Award from Anncoo of Anncoo's Hobby after receiving another Award early on from Sue Sparks of Munchkin Munchies. I love this festive season with lots of joy. "Thanks, guys for considering me to accept these Awards!" Visit Anncoo's Hobby and Munchkin Munchies to explore the wonderful world of both cooking and baking!

To you all "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!"

Today is a working day, so I and T don't really have any special thing to do except dinner tonight. We will go to have his favorite Vietnamese food. Last night I had prepared a surprise at my place waiting for him to turn on the light and see later tonight. And a birthday is not complete without a home-made birthday cake, right?

So for this special day, I have picked to bake Chocolate Mousse Cake from Dean Brettschneider's Global Bakinglast night. It was practical and didn't take up a lot of time. And let's see how it tastes tonight.

Adapted from Dean Brettschneider's Global Baking
Makes a 20cm-diameter heart shaped cake

1. Base

- Couscous > 150 grams
- Water > 450 ml
- Dark chocolate > 40 grams
- Granulated sugar > 180 grams
- Vanilla essence > 2 teaspoons

- Cover the bottom and sides of a 20cm-diameter heart shaped cake ring with aluminium foil.
- Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan. Bring to boil and stir constantly.
- Once boiled, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes until the mixture becomes a thick paste. Keep stirring to avoid burnt mixture.
- Once the mixture is warm to touch, press it into the base of the cake ring.
- Refrigerate.

2. Mousse

- Dark chocolate - chop into small pieces > 285 grams
- Silken soft egg tofu > 600 grams
- Corn syrup > 45 ml
- Icing sugar > 3 teaspoons
- Kahlua > 45 ml

- Melt chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan with simmering water.
- Set aside to cool.
- Place silken tofu, corn syrup and kahlua in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Add melted chocolate and continue blending for 2 minutes more.
- Remove the base from the refrigerator and pour mousse mixture over it.
- Cover with cling film and refrigerate. Allow to set overnight.
- Decorate the next day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Happy Visit

Family connection is something I need despite the fact I breathe in all freedom and independence of living as a single expatriate in Bangkok. I feel lucky to be surrounded by the colourful and comfortable lifestyle that makes me think that the next generation of my family, that is my nieces and nephews should have been born here in order to live such a liberated life. Of course that didn't happen.

Family connection brings me regular phone calls to my sister or chats on Skype with my cousin. I keyed in everyone’s birthday in my computer to make sure I remember those important days when they occur. Family connection defines me as a social human being and that remains the same as long as I live. Suffice to say, my family means a lot to me. And that is why I want T to be part of it.

So when recently my auntie decided to visit me here for a holiday with her husband, I was thrilled. I have been talking so much to her about my life here. Hearing too many good things about a place for too many times, she no longer possessed any slightest power to reject my invitation. Her husband’s initial fear of heat finally was put into peace when I convinced her that the weather here was fully bearable during the year-end period. So finally they were here, eager and excited like kids on a school holiday.

They were introduced to T and to the food which they loved entirely minus the spiciness and sourness. They met nice people. For instance when they went to a dessert store and the seller offered them dessert sample, they tried it, and decided they wouldn’t want to buy and gradually walked away. The seller was still giving them a smile. That was something remarkable for them. Safety is another thing they felt here. My aunt enjoyed browsing in supermarkets and making price comparison with those in Hong Kong.

To spice up their holiday here, whenever they were at my place, I tried to create some activities. And frankly speaking as much going-outs as I wanted to plan for them, I had to bear in mind I was dealing with 60-something-year-old persons here. Being modest with the options is good and despite their fit condition, I had to make sure were they were not over exhausted or over walked. Comfort and safety are a must.

I was entirely surprised how much they enjoy a sushi-making session. The idea came up one afternoon after my auntie was commenting about Japanese food and we decided to carry it out the next day. These 2 energetic matured persons were totally inspired to create various decorations for sushi. They had so many ideas, so keen to explore, so creative. And I believe you will agree with me when you see what they have made.

And now they have left, I and T really miss them, a lot!

"Auntie Ngai and Uncle Loh (or Auntie Easy and Uncle Handsome, as how T referred them from Thai translation), this post is dedicated to you. See you again very soon, and you are always welcome here!"

Recipe for Sushi, please click here

Monday, December 21, 2009

December Gratitude

Strawberry season is back! Love seeing them so abundant in every corner of the town. They are available in mousse cakes, smoothies, pies, and everything that is delicious. It is wonderful even just enjoying the vivid and lovely color of these fruits. The taste is remarkable and refreshing!

It is just as wonderful for receiving a blog award from Sue Sparks of Munchkin Munchies this month. It feels so much Holiday Season already! Let me pass this on to other 10 great blogger friends for acknowledging the inspirations and support they have given to me and other bloggers. Thank you so much, guys! You rock...

- Simone of Junglefrog Cooking
- Fitri of Rumah Manis
- Anula of Anula's Kitchen
- Lauren of Celiac Teen
- Rose of Bite Me Kitchen
- Mimi of Mimi's Kitchen
- Audax of Audax Artifex
- Anncoo of Anncoo's Hobby
- Jenn of Jenn Cuisine
- Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums

Monday, December 14, 2009

Daring Cooks' Salmon En Croute

It has been a busy week. Not busy working but accompanying relatives who came to visit. It was their first trip to Bangkok and that made it special. Took this task seriously because I really wanted them to have a good time during their stay.

The comforting part is that they did enjoy their trip - they had spreaded good words to other relatives. They praised the delicious Thai food they ate, the safety they felt, the places where they went, and the friendly people they encountered. On their last day here, I invited them to come again during Thai New Year next year. They seemed to be very enthusiastic. And I really wished they would come again.

Being with them made me feel how much I needed this family connection every now and then. They were so easy to talk to and so many untold family stories were shared. Just as much as they enjoyed their stay here, I enjoyed their companion too. Now they have gone, I missed them already.

Meanwhile, the challenge was going to due. I had to do something about it. Salmon was not really my thing so I thought of having mushrooms instead. Lots of mushrooms, carrots, onions, parsley, and potatoes. So here it is ... my Mushroom en Croute.

Thanks to Simone of Junglefrog Cooking for this wonderful challenge. The 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online.

I have made some adjustments to the recipe and quoted some pastry making techniques from Audax of Audax Artifex. Original recipe could be found here

Makes 3, size 12.5cm x 12,5 cm parcels

1. Mushroom Filling
Cooking time: 15 minutes

- Vegetable oil > 2 tablespoons
- Big onion – chop > 1
- Carrots – cut into cubes > 200 grams
- Potato – cut into cubes > 185 grams
- Oyster sauce > 2 tablespoons
- Soya sauce > 3 tablespoons
- Granulated sugar > 3 tablespoons
- Straw mushrooms – slice into thick chunks > 400 grams
- Corn flour > 2 tablespoons
- Water > 2 tablespoons
- Parsley – chop > 30 grams
- Red chilies – chop > 5

- Mix corn flour and water. Set aside.
- Saute onion in vegetable oil until fragrant. Add carrots and potatoes and cook for 10 minutes.
- Add seasoning – oyster sauce, soya sauce and sugar. Stir to incorporate well.
- Add straw mushrooms, then parsley. Stir occasionally.
- Pour in corn flour mixture. Cook until it is thick.
- Add red chilies.
- Remove from fire. Cool. Refrigerate until it is ready to use.

2. Spinach Puree (Optional)

- Spinach – use only leaves > 60 grams
- Cheese cream > 75 grams

- In a food processor, mix spinach and cheese cream and whiz to get creamy green puree. Set aside until ready to use.

3. Shortcut Pastry

- All purpose flour > 450 grams
- Very cold butter > 200 grams
- Salt > 1 pinch
- Egg yolk > 1
- Water > 2 tablespoons
- More water > if necessary.

- Mix egg yolk and water. The result will be about 3 tablespoons of liquid.
- Grate cold butter block straight from the fridge with large-hole grater. Put back in fridge.
- Sift flour from the height into a mixing bowl to allow air to be incorporated into the mixture and this trapped air will make pastry light. Place the bowl in the freezer for a while.
- When the mixing bowl is cold enough, take out from freezer and incorporate grated butter to the flour. Use food processor as the first option. Avoid direct contact of heat to the flour and butter (if necessary, soak hands in iced water). For easy option, use folk and spoon, rub butter into flour until the mixture resembles pea-sized lumps. Stop tossing and mixing immediately. Small pieces of butter should show. Don’t use hand to rub cause the butter will melt. The idea is to have separate particles of butter coating the flour to produce flakiest pastry. You are doing right if upon dipping your hand into the mixture, your hand comes out without the smell of butter.

- Fold in salt and egg yolk mixture, one tablespoon at a time, and keep mixing with folk and spoon (if hands are used, make sure you soak your hands in iced water first) until it forms a cohesive and slightly sticky dough. Avoid too much water. If it is still too dry add more water. To test whether the dough has enough water: pick up a small clump of dough and gently squeeze. Stop when the dough sticks together with small dry cracks. Perfect shortcut pastry is supposed to be crumbly and dry. Do not knead the dough to smooth. Gather the dough pieces, form into a disk, cover with cling film and chill for 30 minutes.

4. Assembly

- Mushroom filling > 1 portion
- Coarse sea salt > 1/2 teaspoon
- Dried chilly powder > 1 teaspoon
- Egg yolk for brushing – beat moderately > 1

- Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
- Preheat oven to 175C.
- Take out dough from refrigerator. Divide dough into 3 portions. Work on 1 portion while keeping the other 2 portions chilled.
- Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of plastic into a rectangular area of approximately 31cm x 19cm with the thickness about 2 to 2.5mm. It should look like the butter is not distributed evenly. Chill for a short while before filling.
- Put mushroom filling in the middle within an area of 11.5cm x 11.5cm. Stack it up to a thickness of 2.5 to 3cm. Top with adequate amount of spinach puree (if used). Brush the surrounding area with egg yolk. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of sea salt and ½ teaspoon of chilly powder. Fold the top and bottom ends into the middle, one overlapping the other. Then fold the left and right ends and tuck them up neatly to form a parcel.
- Place the parcel upside down on the baking tray, with the folding portion hidden at the bottom.
- Brush the entire surface and sides with egg yolk. Score surface with diagonal lines using the back of a knife. Poke the tip of the knife into the sides to form tiny cuts to allow steam to escape.
- Sprinkle with the rest of sea salt and chilly powder.
- Repeat the steps and complete 2 more parcels.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Place tray close to the top fire and bake for 10 minutes more.
- Serve with the rest of the spinach puree as the sauce.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Morning Surprise

To my surprise this morning I found Tank’s email in my inbox, titling DMBLGIT November 2009: Winner Announcement. The content was the congratulation for winning the award and the winner badge in five color options.

I was stunned, never expected to see another DMBLGIT award so soon. So I figured I was lucky and should be thanking Le Petrin for hosting November DMBLGIT, Andrew from Spittoon for creating such event, and the talented panel of judges: Bron, Sabra, Julia, Mowie and Claude-Olivier.

The moment I got this, the very first friend that I thought about was Fitri of Rumah Manis. She always teased me about my macarons and photo contests, and now she is the one who won a contest with her macaron photo. And this time it is special because we are actually getting winner badges from the same contest. I should quickly go and tease her.

At the same time I really want to post something before weekend. And as usual, I never get enough of the Daring Bakers/Cooks’ Challenge until at least I get a couple of rounds. The possibility of developing different flavors and filling never stops thrilling me. So I was back in the kitchen with my previous Cannoli recipe and worked out something suitable for the filling, only this time it is savoury.

Having made so much of Cannoli, my testimonial is Cannoli is a super delicious pastry, either sweet or savoury and suitable for any occasion. And I believe most people who have tried it will agree with me!

Enough to fill 10-12 four-inch cannoli

1 Cannoli shell
Please refer to Daring Bakers' Cannoli

2. Filling

- Butter > 2 tablespoons
- Garlic – chop > 5 cloves
- Carrot – cut to cubes > 1/2
- Minced pork > 260 grams
- Ground coriander seeds > 1 tablespoon
- Granulated sugar > 1 teaspoon
- Salt > 1 teaspoon
- Red chilies – slice > 5
- Mint leaves – slice> 1 stalk
- Kaiware sprouts - to garnish
- Ground red bell pepper - to sprinkle

- Saute chopped garlic in butter until fragrant.
- Fold in carrot cubes. Cook for a while.
- Then add minced pork, ground coriander seeds, sugar, and salt. Adjust seasoning to suit your taste.
- When it is cooked, add chilies and sprinkle with mint.
- Ready to use for filling.
- Garnish shell with a small bunch of Kaiware sprouts and stuff with fillings.
- Sprinkle top of shells with ground red bell pepper and serve.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Daring Bakers' Cannoli

Interesting enough that the November DB challenge came with Cannoli that is pretty much about deep frying. So it is a baking challenge that doesn’t really require baking. More like cooking, but then it is also can’t be catagorized as cooking because it isn’t like making a dish. It is basically a dessert. So in that way, we can all call it a unique challenge – like something interesting every once in a while.

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

The look of Cannoli reminds me so much of the past Indian Dosas. Made some dessert dosas rolled and filled with Crème Patissiere and fruits. And they are both easy to make and surprisingly very delicious when they are matched with the correct filling. Frankly speaking, I said easy because basically I got ample guidance from the forum – failures and corrections that other members made and tips and advice provided. These are invaluable source of information especially for members who are very limited time in hand. So as I had followed through the forum almost every day or every chance I had no single problem making Cannoli. The shells puffed, blistered and tasted good.

And I didn’t even use Marsala Wine, White or Red Wine. I was using Fruit Wine with Rose flavor instead. Happened that it was the only wine available in my kitchen and some member had mentioned about using grape juice or something like that. Well, it turned out fine. I was so glad. I am so grateful to Lisa for hosting this challenge and introducing us to this Jewel of Sicily. And also lots of gratitute to the forum for lightening up the way to the Cannoli Heaven!

So pleased I managed to make Cannoli in many versions: cannoli original form, cup form with kiwi fruit and peach chunk topping, and millefeuille canolli with peach topping. Delicious, I definitely will make it again and again! Maybe next time will make the savoury cannoli.

Makes 22-24 4-inch cannoli

Most important equipment: Metal or wooden cannoli forms/tubes or anything with the shape of batong with diameter of 4 inch, 5 diameter cookie cutter and pin roll.

1. Shells

- 2 cups (250 grams/16 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons(28 grams/1 ounce) sugar
- 1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt
- 3 tablespoons (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil
- 1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar
- Approximately 1/2 cup (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand
- 1 large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)
- Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 cups/approx. 2 litres)
- 1/2 cup (approx. 62 grams/2 ounces) toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish
- Confectioners' sugar

- In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.
- Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch;- large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.

- Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well, uhh, Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.
- In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer's directions. Heat the oil to 375°F (190 °C) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

- Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.
- Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.
- Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.

2. Filling

- 2 lbs (approx. 3.5 cups/approx. 1 kg/32 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained
- 1 2/3 cups cup (160 grams/6 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it), sifted
- 1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon (4 grams/0.15 ounces) pure vanilla extract or the beans from one vanilla bean
- 3 tablespoons (approx. 28 grams/approx. 1 ounce) finely chopped good quality chocolate of your choice
- 2 tablespoons (12 grams/0.42 ounces) of finely chopped, candied orange peel, or the grated zest of one small to medium orange
- 3 tablespoons (23 grams/0.81 ounce) toasted, finely chopped pistachios

- Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.
- In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl and stir in chocolate, zest and nuts. Chill until firm.(The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).

3. Assemble

- When ready to serve..fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip, or a ziplock bag, with the ricotta cream. If using a ziplock bag, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner. Insert the tip in the cannoli shell and squeeze gently until the shell is half filled. Turn the shell and fill the other side. You can also use a teaspoon to do this, although it’s messier and will take longer.

- Press or dip cannoli in chopped pistachios, grated chocolate/mini chocolate chips, candied fruit or zest into the cream at each end. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and/or drizzles of melted chocolate if desired.

Useful tips:
- The key to crispy and blistered shells is thin dough, so try to roll dough as thin as you can.
- Rolled dough circles will shrink. So if you are aiming for 4 inch circles, cut dough into 5 inch.
- While wrapping dough circles into the tube form, do not press too tight or else it will be difficult to slide it off after fried.
- Keep the right frying temperature. Not hot enough, the shells will not cook properly and turn greasy. Too hot, the shells will be burnt.