The art of timing

Shows like Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules have taught me many, many things about cooking but perhaps one of the greatest lessons has been the importance of mastering timing.

Too much time in the oven and that beautiful (and expensive) beef tenderloin overcooks, becoming less tender and more dry and tough. Too little time and that pork belly that’s meant to melt in your mouth is a rubbery, chewy, downright nasty slab of greasy meat.

Desserts too rely immensely on correct timing, where one minute could mean the difference between serving your guests a molten chocolate cake that oozes when you dig in with a spoon or just another chocolate cake.

I was faced with this scenario when my friends and I gathered for a potluck dinner. Tasked with dessert, I chose to recreate my previously successful chocolate fondant with the addition of some almond biscuit crumble and vanilla mascarpone cream. I erred on the side of caution with my timing and failed to deliver exactly what I wanted.

The recipe I followed for the cake was one by Nigella Lawson. I used less chocolate – about 300g, whereas the recipe calls for 350g – and it was very rich but I think I would use the recipe again. It tasted really nice and it was really easy to put together, PLUS no left-over egg parts!

I also used a muffin tin because I didn’t have enough ramekins of the same size to serve everyone. I repeated what I did the first time I made these cakes, which was to brush melted butter in every dish and then sprinkle with some cocoa powder. This helps immensely when it comes to removing the baby cakes to serve.

The cakes only needed about 10 or 11 minutes but I cooked them for about 13 minutes. They had been sitting in the fridge for a few hours so I thought they would need those extra couple of minutes but it was too much and they ended up only being a little bit gooey in the middle with no molten flow of chocolate whatsoever – disappointing!

For the almond crumble:

  • 125g unsalted butter, chopped, warmed/slightly melted
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 150g almonds, chopped coarsely

Simply squish the butter with the flour and sugar until it resembles bread crumbs. Add the almonds and stir together

I got this from a recipe cooked on the latest season of My Kitchen Rules. In hindsight, this made way too much crumble and it was a bit tasteless so I would decrease the amount of butter, flour and almonds by maybe 50g and keep the same amount of sugar.

For the mascarpone cream, I just whisked together 200g of mascarpone with about tsp of vanilla extract, ground vanilla bean (I have pure vanilla beans in a grinder) and about a tbsp of icing sugar. This goes great with a rich dessert like chocolate fondant.

There was a lot of silence during dessert time and plenty of compliments about the taste, which makes me very happy but there’s no denying it: they were hardly chocolate fondants.

Chocolate fondant, lava cakes or molten cakes lose their identity without that melted centre and it can be a gamble to get them out of the oven at the right time in order to achieve the right consistency. That’s just how it is with cooking I suppose and it is a bit of a mix between a fine art and sheer luck to get the food just right. It’s all a matter of trial and error – I’m sure my friends won’t mind being taste testers!

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

 

Tickled pink

Today is Jenny’s birthday – baker extraordinaire and a close friend of mine since primary school. For a few years now, she has made some visually stunning and taste bud-tantalising birthday cakes for our circle of girlfriends, as well as a number of other cakes for various other people and occasions. The time, effort, imagination and love she puts into each and every single one of those cakes is truly astounding and I hope she knows how much we appreciate her thought, generosity and talent.

Last night, we celebrated her birthday in stylish settings by the beach, where she unveiled her creation for her own birthday: chocolate cake with wonderfully pink raspberry buttercream icing.

Enjoy.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Use all the sugar? Definitely not.

Fudge, brownies and various slices are things that I generally don’t choose to eat and my mind doesn’t give these items much more than a cursory acknowledgement of their existence whenever I come across them. I’m not 100 per cent sure of why that is but it might have something to do with the fact that I find them incredibly rich, sweet and not very filling. 

I did, however, have a fair bit of evaporate milk left over from when I made pumpkin pie and I wanted to use it up before I inevitably spill the can all over the inside of my fridge. A quick Google search gave me this recipe for chocolate marshmallow brown sugar fudge, which surprisingly tickled my fancy (I think it was the marshmallows ;)). 

The process, as I followed it, wasn’t complicated at all. The most time consuming part was chopping all that chocolate up. And by “all that chocolate”, I mean only half the amount of chocolate as required by the recipe (recipe asked for 300g of milk chocolate, I used just under 150g). I also used less than half the amount of brown sugar (130g as opposed to 300g) and much less than half the amount of marshmallows (two handfuls rather than 225g).

The fudge turned out lovely and creamy and very, very sweet. It makes me feel a bit sick to think how much sweeter it would have been if I had followed the recipe exactly. I have a massive sweet tooth but how does anyone stomach THAT much sugar? 

Fudge does have its merits though – apart from being a guilty pleasure, it also makes for an enticing little gift for friends who might be in need of a bit of comfort:

Flowers, chocolates and fudge (lower right-hand corner) for comfort! Photo: Jenny Lee

Flowers, chocolates and fudge (lower right-hand corner) for comfort! Photo: Jenny Lee

Despite not being the biggest fan of fudge, I enjoyed learning how to make it and actually learning what ingredients are in it, something which I had no idea of a day ago. 

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Life is just full of surprises…

Little gooey dark chocolate surprises! In my pre-fondant baking post I was resigned to the likelihood that my chocolate fondant wasn’t going to turn out great because my mixture was quite solid, much unlike that made by Gordon Ramsay:

I followed a recipe by Gordon that I found online, which is linked in my “pre” post. I started off by preparing the ramekins, which I buttered and dusted with freeze-dried coffee – which I had to rub between my hands to get it more powder-like – and icing sugar. I know the point was to make it chocolatey but I didn’t have any cocoa so I improvised.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Next I chopped up some 70% dark chocolate

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

The recipe said chop it up into small pieces, so I did, and it really helps when it comes to melting it later.

I prepped all the other ingredients and it was around about the stage where I had to mix together the  melted chocolate and butter with the flour, etc that it started looking a bit wrong. It became quite hard and started looking – and tasting – like chocolate mousse, but without all the air. It didn’t pour at all – I had to use a spoon to scoop it out into the ramekins.

Needless to say I was bit deflated at this point but I popped them into the fridge anyway, hoping they would turn out edible, at least.

When it came to baking, I only had them in the oven for about 10 minutes – I looked for the tops coming away from the sides of the ramekin – before it was the moment of truth: would they turn out how I wanted them to or would they be a complete flop? Would they even be edible??

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Can you imagine the elation as I tentatively dug into one to find the cake exterior break away and reveal molten chocolate flowing out? It was literally a jump up and down kind of moment.

A lovely little dessert like this really deserves better presentation than I have managed in my photos but for now, I’m happy with it being made well and tasting delicious. Maybe a liqueur variation next time? 🙂

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Chocolate fondant that will probably just turn out to be cake

Has it really only been something like 3 months since I first started my postgrad course? It feels like it’s been much longer given how much work we’ve all had to complete over the past couple of weeks. Today was the last day of the first semester and I felt a small wave of relief as I walked away from uni having handed in my last assessment.

Alas, as I sprawled myself over the floor of my living room, I realised that I had in fact stuffed it up. Not majorly, but considering how simple it was, it really annoyed the hell out of me. I’ll have to sort it out at some point but right now, I’m just hoping my dark chocolate fondants turn out alright when I go to bake them.

I went to a Japanese-fusion restaurant, Ebisu, a while ago with my boyfriend and parents and I had my first chocolate fondant (the Feature Image). It was served with cherry compote, vanilla miso and macademia nut ice cream, all of which tasted fantastic.

The only things I knew about fondant before this meal was that it’s baked so it’s cake on the outside and melted chocolate on the inside, and it’s really crucial to get the middle gooey, otherwise Masterchef/My Kitchen Rules/Top Chef judges will be incredibly disappointed.

Based on this understanding, the fondant I had at Ebisu would have really “wowed” the judges. Unfortunately, based on how my own  mixture turned out just now, my chocolate fondant will probably turn out more like cake. The mixture looked more like mousse – oops!

Anyway, I (kind of) followed this recipe. Outcome to follow later…