Saturday, December 19, 2009

Choux shines and shimmers upon your holiday dinner table....Cygnes pâte à choux!

There’s something about choux paste that is both merrily absurd and very much miraculous. With a preparation that seems to defy pastry logic, a wicked but sensual challenge lays ahead to perfect this tricky treat!

You cook a paste of water, butter and flour over the stove and then furiously beat eggs into the irredeemable mess looking dough. But with some love and patience, and the blessing from your mixer paddle, the dough comes together into a glossy, golden thick lava. When baked, it inflates into gloriously hollow ornaments, perfect for filling. It’s no wonder choux paste inspires goofy desserts like the towering, pyramidal croquembouche, the bicycle-tire-shaped Paris-Brest and the special Cygnes pâte à choux, shimmering swans that are magical for the most special occasions.

With its almost impossible flexibility, pâte à choux can be used to make profiteroles, croquembouches, eclairs, French crullers, beignets, St. Honoré cake, Indonesian kue sus, and gougères. A chef by the name of Panterelli invented the dough in 1540. He used the dough to make a gâteau and named it Pâte à Panterelli. Over time, the recipe of the dough evolved; a pâtissier in the eighteenth century, created what were then called Choux Buns or Pâte à Choux, as they resemble cabbages – choux in French.

Pâte à Choux

1/4 cup water
1/4 cup whole milk
Pinch salt
Pinch granulated sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 cup bread flour
2 to 3 large eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the water, milk, salt, granulated sugar, and butter in a 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, set it over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. The butter should be completely melted by the time the mixture boils.

2. Remove the saucepan from the heat immediately. Add the bread flour all at once and incorporate it thoroughly with a wooden spoon.

3. Return the saucepan to the stove and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes to dry out the paste. Keep the paste moving, or it will burn. The paste will dry out and leave a thin film on the bottom of the saucepan.

4. Remove the saucepan from the heat and transfer the paste to a large mixing bowl. Mix with an electric mixer set on low speed for about 2 minutes to release some of the steam.

5. Continue to mix and slowly add the eggs 1 at a time, incorporating well after each addition. After you have added 2 eggs, check the consistency by scooping a large amount of the paste onto a wooden spoon. Hold the spoon horizontally about 1foot above the bowl and watch as the batter falls from the spoon back into the bowl. If it is pale yellow, smooth, moist, slightly elastic, sticky, and takes 5 to 7 seconds to fall into the bowl, it is ready. If it appears rough, dry, and falls into the bowl in 1 big ball, it needs more eggs. Add another egg and check the consistency again after it is well incorporated.

6. Transfer the pastry to a bag fitted with a small coupler. Pipe about 1/2 tablespoon of the pastry into a mound on the prepared baking sheet, spacing pastry about 1 1/2 inches apart.

7. Brush the top of each mound with water. Bake until the puffs are golden brown all over, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer to a wire rack, and let cool completely.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The craving for Zenzai rises....reciprocal to the rapid plunge on our thermometers....

As the temperature plunge below zero Celsius, I am reminded of how much I miss the homemade Zenzai I had at a Japanese-run restaurant when I last visited LA, a rare find as most restaurants would attempt the usual short cuts with pre-made azuki or red bean paste or powder. One spoonful of this homemade Zenzai was enough to immerse yourself in the determination of the chef in bring out every essences of these tiny red coloured beans. The texture from the warm mochi heightens the experience as it lively dances between your molars.

Zenzai, or red bean soup refers to a number of traditional Asian soups, all made with azuki beans. In Cantonese cuisine, red bean soup is one of the most popular dessert. The love of this dear sweet bean among the Cantonese has led to continuous experiments in kitchen closets, generating an exponential explosion of ideas that put spins on this famed sweet soup that is traditionally served hot after dinner. From pairing the soup with the Chinese sesame glutinous rice dumplings to a fusing it with the Chinese tofu dessert, from coagulating it with coconut milk into a mousse-like pudding to freezing the leftover soup into icicles, we have just begun to explore the potentials of this bean.

Among all the various and fasinating trends, it has always been the traditional steamy one, with its comforting texture and luring scent, that captures my heart. Different from the Japanese cousin, the textural component of the Cantonese red bean soup comes from the cooking method for the beans. It takes a skillful master to simmer the selected red beans to perfection, where they remain visually intact, but melt into sandy sweetness with just the slightest pressure at the tip of your tongue.

The aroma from the red beans is an essential component, but if it is not accompanied with the luscious scent from the sun dried Chinese tangerine peels, this sweet soup would not be complete. Similar to some red wines, the magical scent of this peel increases in complexity and character as well as intensity with age and attention. I was often caught taking whiffs of my father's thirty years old batch, I have yet to try making red bean soup with it. I could hardly imagine the experience of taking a sip of the version from a famed Hong Kong restaurant, where their master secretly slip in a piece or two of their highly treasure tangerine peels, at an age of over 100 years!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Earl Grey....from an obsession to a devotion....

For those who knows me well, or not, it is certainly not a secret when it comes to my obsession towards this tea, the Earl Grey, which in my opinion has the most provocative aroma that excites both our olfactory and gustatory neurons. An unexplainable but a magical bond, very much like is what makes us homosapiens unique, whether the other end of the bond is a person, or just a simple cup of tea.

This obsession became a devotion, as I marry my passion in pastry making, with this loose leaf of heaven. The versatility of teas are visioned in variety of cuisines; from the infused Oolong duck served at a Chinese banquet, to an addictive homemade potato chips sprinkled with smoky black tea, the idea of tea as an ingredient has just begun to unfold.

Named after the 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister in the 1830s and author of the Reform Bill of 1832, Earl Grey tea is a tea blend with a distinctive flavour and aroma derived from the addition of oil extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange, a fragrant citrus fruit typical of Southeast Asia and grown commercially in Italy. Traditionally the term "Earl Grey" was applied only to black tea; however, today the term is used for other teas that contain oil of bergamot, or a bergamot flavour.

Apart from the original blend, many boutique tea stores sell a similar blend with added rose petals known as French Earl Grey. My choice has always been the Earl Grey with Blue Flowers, which has an elegant touch.

Ohh the "London Fog", not the well famed brand for their trench coats in defense against the Britain's foggy weather, is a combination of Earl Grey, steamed milk and vanilla syrup, the perfect combination of the calcium rich dairy and this fragrant tea.

With the "Earl Grey Macaron" as the debut of the Earl Grey series, there are many more luring recipes yet to come, as my tribute towards this love of mine....


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