Monthly Archives: November 2012

Pineapple…Taiwanese Style

Have you ever tried Taiwanese pineapple cakes? They’re lovely little buttery pastries filled with a sweet pineapple jam and the best ones come from bakeries in Taiwan. I’ve had the pleasure (and displeasure) of trying a whole bunch of different ones, some straight from Taiwanese bakeries and some straight from the Chinese grocery store. You can imagine which ones were better.

Now, I don’t tend to have a particular interest in Chinese desserts. There’s just something so unappealing, to me, about the sound of black sesame paste filled sticky rice balls, or sweet red bean soup, or…Chinese wife cake. Actually, I just watched my sister put a black sesame mochi ball into her mouth and spit it back out, mainly because she’s mildly allergic to sesame seeds, but that doesn’t usually stop her when she’s hungry. These pineapple cakes however, are nothing like your traditional Chinese dessert.

My version of these miniature cakes is a little different than a regular pineapple cake since the outer pastry is more in between a cake and cookie and I left out the regular addition of winter melon in the filling since I assume it’s really just there for filler. But isn’t that the case with so many things today. Fillers everywhere. It’s so hard to find foods that aren’t filled with chemicals and by-products or even just cheaper alternatives. I guess that’s what the majority of products are about nowadays, quantity over quality.

So, I’m not saying that these are the healthiest treats in the world, I’ll save the granola bars for another post, but they’re definitely not packed with fillers or red bean or black sesame paste. Oh, and they’re also a bit tedious to make especially if you’re making a large batch of them but they’re well worth it.

First portion the jam into balls,

then, flatten a piece of dough and wrap it around the pineapple jam,

shape into squares,

bake.

They didn’t bake into the perfect squares I had hoped for but I also didn’t have the square moulds that should be used to bake them in. No matter, they all go into the stomach as my mother always says.

Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes

Inspired by this and this recipe
Makes 20 small pastries filled with pineapple jam

For the pineapple jam:
1 medium pineapple (about 450g of edible pineapple), chopped finely
1/4 cup (60g) caster sugar
scant 1/4 cup (60g) golden syrup
1 tsp cornstarch + 1 tsp water, mixed into a slurry

For the dough:
1 stick (113g) salted butter
1/4 cup (55g) shortening
1/2 cup (65g) confectioners sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (210g) all purpose flour
1/4 cup (35g) corn starch
1/4 tsp (1g) baking soda

First make the pineapple jam. Combine the chopped pineapple with the sugar and syrup in a heavy bottomed saucepan and cook on low to medium heat for about 20-30 minutes while constantly stirring. Once the mixture has cooked down and thickened up, mix the cornstarch slurry into the pineapple and cook for another few minutes. Scrape mixture into a bowl and refrigerate until cool.

To make the pastry, cream the butter, shortening, and confectioners sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated then mix in the flour, corn starch, and baking soda until just combined. It will be a very soft dough but if it seems too sticky to handle, mix in a little more flour a tablespoon at a time. Let the dough firm up in the fridge while you portion the pineapple jam.

Portion the jam into 20 equal sized balls by dusting your hands with powdered sugar.

Portion the dough into 20 equal pieces.

Assemble the cakes by liberally dusting your work surface and hands with flour and flatten the dough into a circle. Place a ball of jam in the centre of each flattened dough piece and fold up the corners and use a knife or a dough scraper to shape the sides.

Preheat the oven to 350˚F

Bake the cakes on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, flipping the cakes over with a spatula half way through. Be very careful while flipping as they will be very soft at this point. They should be lightly browned on both sides. Let cool on the sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack to cool to room temperature.

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Ricciarelli, a cure for flu season

I  hate autumn. No let me rephrase that, I hate the flus, colds, and illnesses that come with autumn. Always around this time of year, particularly November, I seem to get sick. No amount of preventative measures, no hand sanitizer, no flu shot, no washing my hands until they crack and bleed seems to ward off the inevitable. Now, being sick in bed at home isn’t all that bad when you’re a kid. Actually, I’m sure everyone has feigned illness once or twice just to get out of school. However, being sick as an “adult” is another matter. The word “adult” actually means “responsibilities” and no amount of sickness will make those responsibilities disappear or seem less important. Not saying that I have a lot of responsibilities or anything but it sure isn’t as fun being sick now that I’m all grown up, now that I’m all grown up and can’t just call in sick whenever I don’t feel like going to work. Even if I really am sick…cough, cough.

So, what would I rather be doing? I’d rather be lying in bed, drinking tea, watching The Walking Dead, and eating a cookie. No, not an ordinary, chewy chocolate chip cookie or a sandy, buttery wedge of shortbread, or something like that. I want….a ricciarelli. I don’t actually know how to pronounce these little cookies but I do know how to eat them and I do know that they’re delicious. What they are are gem shaped almond cakes, dry on the outside and chewy on the inside, coated in a dusting of confectioners sugar and lightly flavoured with almond extract and orange zest to enhance their bite. They’re wonderful with a cup of tea or sick in bed with the flu.

 

Ricciarelli 

Adapted slightly from this recipe by Nigella Lawson
Makes about 15 diamond shaped almond cookies

1 large egg white
pinch of salt
110g sugar
Zest of half an orange or one clementine
1 tsp almond extract
150g almond flour
Icing sugar

Whisk the egg whites and salt on high speed of a stand mixer or hand held mixer until frothy. Add in the sugar a little at a time until all is incorporated and the egg whites hold stiff peaks. Mix in the zest and almond extract. Fold in the almond flour and mix until well incorporated.

Dust your hands with icing sugar to prevent them from sticking to the dough. Portion the dough into 15 balls while constantly dusting hands with more sugar. Shape the balls into diamonds by pinching the ends and pressing the centres down flat. Space the ricciarelli out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment, lightly cover with another piece of parchment and let dry over night or for about 8 hours.

Preheat the oven to 250˚F and bake the ricciarelli for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature before dusting with icing sugar through a fine mesh sieve.

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First Time’s A Charm?

Who would have thought that the first time I made macarons I would have gotten them right? Not me that’s for sure and if you read my previous post probably not you either.

It really only took me 2 years, yes 2 years, of research to muster up the courage to finally try them out. I’m glad I did and to be honest they weren’t as tough as I originally thought. I think the key to a proper macaron is knowing how far to go in terms of mixing. No amount of explanation will prepare you for what the macaron batter should look like and it’s best just  to watch someone, who knows what they’re doing, make it. Luckily, I had seen it done when I was working as a pastry cook  and also once in culinary school.

I also should admit that I wasn’t nearly as calm as I sound while making these. Thinking about over mixing the batter made me just slightly nervous, actually more than slightly.

Basic Macarons

Adapted slightly from Canelle et Vanille’s recipe
Makes about 40 individual 1.5″ macaron shells

110g almond flour
149g powdered sugar
85g egg whites (aged for 1 to 5 days in the fridge, covered with air holes)
a pinch of fine salt
49g granulated sugar

In a medium sized bowl sift together the almond flour and powdered sugar. Stir to combine.

In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer whip the egg whites and salt on medium speed until thick and foamy. Gradually add in granulated sugar and whip on high speed until stiff peaks form.

Add the almond mixture to the egg whites and fold with a spatula. Make sure to scrape from all sides and then from the centre outward in order to get all the almond mixture combined. Drop a small amount onto a plate and lightly tap the plate to slightly spread the batter. If the batter keeps a large peak then the batter needs to be mixed some more. You want the batter to spread until there is only the tiniest peak at the top. If there is no peak and the batter is shiny then you’ve gone too far and you’ll have to start again. This is what they should look like once they’ve been piped and the pan has been tapped.

Once the batter is at the right consistency fill up a large pastry bag that is fitted with a 1cm round piping tip and pipe out 1 inch rounds onto silpat or parchment lined baking sheets. Tap the pans with your palm gently on the bottom of both sides of the pans until there are no peaks at the top of the macarons. Let the macarons dry out at room temperature for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 325˚F and double up your baking pans. This will prevent the bottoms from getting dark. Bake on the middle rack for about 14 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool until you are able to gently peel them off with your fingers.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream

Makes 225g and enough for about 2 batches of macarons 

40g egg whites
75g granulated sugar
110g butter, cubed at room temperature
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

In a large metal bowl or bowl of an electric mixer combine egg whites and sugar. Set over a double boiler and lightly whisk until the sugar is dissolved and you can’t feel the granules between your fingertips. Remove from boiler and wipe the bottom of the bowl with a towel.

Using an electric mixer, whip egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. Add in butter a little at a time until all is incorporated. Add in the vanilla seeds and whisk to combine.

Once the macarons are assembled they can be stored in an air tight container in the fridge for a few days. Let them come to room temperature before eating.

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A Kitchen Disaster…But Only Slightly

It’s probably not the best idea to start off a blog with a post about my failures in the kitchen, but here goes anyway.

I started this recipe for Gateaux Bastille with the best of intentions. A miniature cake of the darkest dark chocolate, moist chopped prunes, and the slightest hint of rum. Sounds great, right? Well actually, it was kind of great in the end but getting there was a mess. The chocolate I melted  turned into a grainy lump (probably because I did it in the microwave), I managed to burn a few of the cakes 10 minutes before they were meant to be done, and they baked into flat little disks instead of the puffed and sunken little cakes I was hoping for.

So, they’re not pretty. The flavour on the other hand was something else.

Moist, light, dark, deep, and the tiniest bit spiced from the rum and prunes. Pretty good for a bit of a disaster.

Gateaux Bastille 

Adapted slightly from The Wednesday Chef’s post on David Lebovitz’s recipe
Makes 12 individual muffin sized cakes

6 medium sized prunes, chopped into small pieces
2 tbsp dark rum

125g bittersweet chocolate (70-85%), finely chopped
4 tbsp salted butter, cut into pieces
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 tbsp granulated sugar

In a small bowl, mix the chopped prunes with the rum and let soak for an hour or until the prunes soak up the liquid.

Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper cups and preheat oven to 375˚F.

Melt chocolate and butter in a medium sized bowl over a double boiler until smooth and let cool slightly.

While the chocolate mixture is cooling, whip eggs and sugar at high speed until very thick and light in colour. Mix soaked prunes and any remaining rum into the chocolate mixture and fold a third of the whipped eggs into the chocolate. This will lighten up the chocolate mixture so that it is easier to fold in the rest without deflating it. Finally, fold in the rest of the whipped eggs until just combined.

Portion into cups and bake for 30 minutes.But check after 20 minutes for doneness. It’s always a good idea to check on baked chocolate desserts before you think they’re done because they can burn pretty quickly. A toothpick inserted and pulled out almost clean means they are done.

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