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 ๐Ÿ™‚
  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

Mon Cheri

“…put the bowl on the table and, with a large spoon and unchecked greed, crack through the sugary carapace and delve into the satin-velvet, vanilla-speckled cream beneath. No more talking: just eat.”

– Nigella Lawson, Nigella Bites

While I may be guilty of gluttony in some cases, I most certainly do not associate myself with greed. Except, maybe where creme brulee is concerned. It’s full of fat and cream but it’s my favourite dessert – it’s simple but so delectable – and I agree with Nigella’s instructions: creme brulee is meant to be indulged in and desired with no restrictions.

The recipe I followed is by Nigella and involves no baking – just heat up the cream and vanilla (I used vanilla paste instead of a vanilla bean), whisk up some egg yolks and sugar, combine it together and pop everything back onto the heat to thicken. This, of course, is before you get to revel in some short minutes of feeling like a professional chef with your mini blowtorch when burning up the sugar for the crispy caramel top. You would not believe how excited I was when blue flame gracefully unfolded out of the blowtorch for the first time since I got it as a birthday gift two years ago.

You also wouldn’t believe how long it took me to figure out: a) that the can of butane gas doesn’t attach to the bottom of the blowtorch; and b) how to turn on the torch.

I need more practice burning the sugar but I think I did a fair enough job – each topping responded with a resounding ‘crack!’ when we got into them. It was a-ma-zing.

The texture of the creme was a bit strange to me and I’m not sure if it’s something I did or if it’s just how it is without having been baked. I’m planning on making a variation soon and I’ll bake that to see if there’s a difference.

Of all the desserts I’ve made so far, these creme brulees have set a record for being devoured the fastest and with the most variations of “Yum!” comments. It makes me so happy to be able to help people realise that creme brulee is actually the best dessert in the world, ever ๐Ÿ™‚

Ingredients and tools for creme brulee. Photo: Tao Lin

Ingredients and tools for creme brulee. Photo: Tao Lin

Panna cotta fail

“It’s like cold custard, no, porridge. It tastes like porridge.”

– My boyfriend of my attempt at panna cotta last night.

So my green tea and vanilla panna cotta wasn’t the best dessert I’ve ever made mostly because the consistently was completely off. I read hereย that panna cotta is meant to have the “quiver of a 17th century courtesan’s inner thigh”. Mine was more like the thighs of a heptathlete.

I followed Jamie Oliver’s recipe for green tea and vanilla panna cotta, which, might I add, is actually a really lovely combination of flavors, but instead of using gelatin, I opted for agar agar. It’s obviously not used in the same amounts as gelatin and from some research, I’ve found that agar agar sets quicker and stronger than gelatin. I used 1/2 teaspoon of agar agar and I think that was too much, given that it started setting before I’d even put it into the ramekins (I don’t actually know if that was the real reason it set so quickly but just hazarding a guess).

The taste was fine but the consistency did sort of resemble porridge. I’ve had panna cotta once and it was really smooth, whereas my one was a bit grainy.

Anyway, no pictures because it looked crap. I’ll try it again soon and hopefully get it right…