A light and airy version of a classic

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It was 2009 and I was sitting in the lobby of my London hotel with a friend.

We were waiting for something – I no longer remember what – but while we waited, an array of premium Ben & Jerry’s ice creams stared at us, beckoning us from within phosphorescent glass.

Bored and tempted, we walked towards the humming vending machine. All the flavours were a blur to me – all except one: milk and cookies.

In went the coins and out shot a pot of one of the greatest, most classic flavour combinations around. I didn’t want that tub to end.

For years, my family kept cookies & cream ice cream in the freezer and it was always devoured quicker than any of the other flavours. We don’t buy ice cream much nowadays and I don’t often eat a lot of cookies & cream flavoured things now either – it just sort of disappeared after a while.

It may be this marked absence that explains why this particular flavour combination came to me so strongly when I decided to try out my very first mousse.

I couldn’t find a recipe that gave me what I wanted so I decided to marry two recipes together to create a silky, airy vanilla mousse speckled with chocolate cookies.

Use your favourite chocolate cookie recipe, or here’s how I made mine:

  • 3/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup (113g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • A pinch of salt

*Sourced from foodnetwork.com. I halved the original recipe and this was enough to make about 12 small to medium sized cookies.

How to:

  1. Preheat oven to 160C.
  2. Cream butter and sugar together until light in colour and fluffy. Beat in egg and incorporate fully, then mix in vanilla extract. *If you’re increasing this recipe to make more cookies, beat in each egg individually.
  3. Sift in the flour, cocoa and salt and mix until just incorporated.
  4. You can refrigerate the dough for about an hour or you can do what I did and just bake it straight away – separate the dough into small balls and squish them gently onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.
  5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Take out of oven and let cool on a rack.

For the mousse, I found a wonderful recipe for vanilla bean mousse on sugarlaws.com and made my own additions and modifications:

I used:

  • The equivalent of 1 vanilla bean from my vanilla bean grinder
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 120g creme fraiche

How to:

  1. In a mixing bowl, beat together the creme, vanilla bean and 1/4 cup sugar with electric beaters until the creme forms soft peaks.
    *If this makes any sense, I usually whip cream until the ripples created from the beaters stay in place and look nice and thick, kind of like cake batter.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/4 cup of sugar, tablespoon by tablespoon, while continuing to beat the eggs until thick and glossy.
  3. Crumble 2 or 3 cookies into the cream mixture and fold in. Then fold the egg whites into the cream until everything is just incorporated.
  4. Pour or spoon into serving dishes (I used drinking glasses) and top mousse with crumbled cookies. I used about 2 cookies for each mousse but this will depend on how big you make your cookies and how much you want on top ūüôā
  5. Place in fridge for about 6 hours, or overnight.

This makes 3-4 servings. It’s quite a sweet dessert for my taste but it just melts in your mouth and the cookies I made had a bitterness to them, which cut through the sweetness of the mousse really nicely.

The real positive aspect of making this was how much easier it was than I thought it would be. I’ve always hated beating egg whites and my attempts at making things with egg whites – meringue, souffle – haven’t really turned out that amazingly. In comparison, this was pleasantly successful without being stressful, complicated or time-consuming.

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

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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

 

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

Food in brief for the weekend of 8/9 June

You know a particular food is good when I, a lover of ribs and bacon, choose a vegetarian dish over one with meat in it. I’ve developed an intense love for falafels, probably because one of the restaurants I go to with Andrew does really amazing falafels and hummus AND flatbread. Also, I can’t believe I hadn’t discovered the deliciousness of Turkish apple tea earlier than 2 weeks ago – shame on me!

One day I want to recreate this falafel sandwich wrap below plus find some place in Auckland that sells Turkish apple tea since the supermarket doesn’t…

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Last night, I made dark chocolate souffl√©s and I think I realised as I was eating it that I actually don’t like making or eating stuff where the main ingredient is beaten egg whites. I just felt that the effort required to make the souffl√©s wasn’t entirely worth the ultimate experience. There was a general consensus around the table that the choc fondants I made on Friday night were a lot better, although this was also the first time I had made souffl√©s so I may not have made them as well as I could have.

The recipe¬†I followed seems great though, so if anyone is interested…!

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

I’m not sure what my next cooking/baking attempts will be but I have quite a lot of heavy cream left, a request for onion and cheese pie and another for sushi. What to do, what to do…..

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…

Chewy Cookie Quest

On Thursday I caught up with my friend in town and we went to Moustache, a milk and cookie bar that’s been, rightly, all the rage lately. I decided to try the Oreo and marshmallow cookie – chocolate cookie imbedded with bits of crunchy Oreo biscuit and gooey marshmallow pieces (I know, I’m drooling a little just thinking about it). Like many others, I love my cookies to be chewy on the inside and crispy on the edges like the ones you get from the bakery, rather than rock-hard like the ones you get from the supermarket; that cookie was chewy, gooey, crispy and oh so delicious. And so sparked my cravings for more irregularly-shaped perfections of sugar, flour and butter and the beginnings of my endeavour to try and discover the right recipe.

As per usual, I found a popular, highly-rated recipe online: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/best-big-fat-chewy-chocolate-chip-cookie/ and I made some minor adjustments. I made 14 cookies out of:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 150g unsalted butter, softened – less than the 170g required but I didn’t have quite enough butter left and couldn’t be bothered going out just to buy butter
  • 1 cup loosely packed brown sugar – reflecting my preference for less sweetness
  • 1/2 grated palm sugar – instead of white sugar. See my shameless endorsement of palm sugar in my carrot cake post
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • A pinch or two of cinnamon
  • 1 cup Whittaker’s 72% cocoa Dark Ghana chocolate slab chopped up into rough 1-3cm bits – replacing semisweet chocolate chips, reduced amount of chocolate as suggested by reviewers

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I more or less went by the method as per the recipe, following these recommendations from reviewers:

  1. Beat in the egg and egg yolk one at a time, making sure the egg was more or less incorporated into the mix before adding in the yolk
  2. Refrigerated the dough for 45-50 mins before baking
  3. Baked exactly for 15 minutes and took each batch out just as the edges were slightly toasted
  4. Left the cookies to cool on the tray before transferring to wire rack
  5. Hand mixed ingredients rather than used an electric beater

The reason I highlight the last point is because, unbeknownst to a complete beginner like me, this would make a huge difference in result between my first and second attempts at this recipe. The first time I tried this I used my electric hand mixer and my cookies turned out very cake-like; they were essentially flat muffins in both look and texture:

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The second time I made these, I mixed everything by hand and this resulted in more cookie-like cookies:

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Taste-wise they were great but after a night stored in an air-tight container, I’m still not 100% satisfied with the result. To reiterate, my goal is to find a recipe for cookies that are chewy on the inside and slightly crunchy on the edges. These cookies were the tiniest bit crunchy on the outside and then soft everywhere else. I’m not sure if it’s the way I’m storing it or something I did during the baking process but they’re still very nice cookies, despite not turning out how I had hoped.

I guess more reading and practice is in order – if anyone has any tips, I would be happy to hear them!