Sunday, December 28, 2008

It's Christmas with a Daring Baker's French Yule Log

It's Christmas time and to usher in the spirit of yuletide, this month's Daring Baker's challenge is a French Yule Log.

You'll probably thinking huh .. yule log! Isn't it something that most families would have for Christmas, so where's the challenge! Well, that's where you are wrong! This log being called a "French Yule Log" must come from France. This is correct! In France you can buy two kinds of Yule log, either the Genoise and Buttercream type, or what is more commonly purchased, a frozen Yule Log which is very reminiscent of an ice cream cake, only often it’s not made of ice cream but rather frozen mousse of some sort. In French this is called an entremets which is sometimes loosely translated in English simply as a cream dessert. This recipe comes from Flore of Florilège Gourmand (by the way, the website is totally in French). Our darling hostesses for this month's challenge, which also happens to the last challenge to close off 2008 calendar, are Hilda of Saffron and Blueberry and Marion of Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.

This challenge is really going to challenge us all - would you believe that it comes in 6 parts. The instructions itself when posted up was more than 15 pages long! You can say it freaked me out! I read, and re-read and re-read the recipe over the next 2 days before it finally sank in. Talk about a challenge, this certainly takes the cake - it was that daunting! However I did realize that a number of variations (which added to the somewhat lengthy instructions) had been provided by Hilda and Marion so as not to make the majority of us swim in quicksand.

I for one have never made any one of the 6 elements required for this log before, let alone eaten a French Yule Log is (unless you can count an ice-cream cake as a close semblance). The more well known type of yule logs that we get here are the genoise or swiss roll types.

The recipe below is based on the flavours I had chosen for this challenge. I also did not have a half pipe mould and thus made mine using two 4" cake pans. I've also posted the elements based on the order I had tackled the 6 elements (you can opt to make the elements over a 2-day period instead of doing everything in a day.) I made all first five elements over the Sunday and did the final icing on Monday.

(Recipe by Flore of Florilège Gourmand)
(makes one 8" cake pan dessert or a 9" x 4" loaf pan dessert)

Element #1 Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)
Preparation time: 10 mn + 15 mn for baking


80g almond meal (you can use hazelnut meal as substitute)
50g icing sugar
2 Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3 medium egg whites (about 100g)
4 Tbsp (50g) granulated sugar


1) Finely mix the almond meal and the caster sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).

2) Sift the flour into the mix.

3) Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.

4) Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.

5) Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.

6) Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).

7) Bake at 350°F (180°C)for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.

8) Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Element #2 Chocolate Creme Brulée Insert
Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing + 1h baking


1/2 cup + 1 2/3 Tbsp (140g) whole milk
2/3 cup + 1tsp (140g) heavy or thickened cream
1/3 cup (25g) unsweetened cocoa powder
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
3 Tbsp (40g) granulated sugar


1) Heat the milk and cream to just boiling. Add the cocoa powder.

2) Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).

3) Pour the cocoa milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.

4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.

5) Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

Element #3 Coconut Crisp
Preparation time: 10 mn


3.5 oz (100g) white chocolate
1 oz (1/3 cup/25g) dessicated coconut
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) unsalted butter
2.1 oz (60g) rice krispies (you can use cornflakes instead)


1) Spread the coconut on a baking tray and bake for 5-10 minutes at 375°F (190°C) to toast (a different temperature might work better for you with your own oven).

2) Melt the white chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Stir until smooth and add the toasted coconut.

3) Add the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Element #4 Mango Mousse
Preparation time: 20mn


2 medium-sized egg yolks
2 Tbsp (17g) cornstarch
1/3 cup (80g) whipping cream
7 oz (200g) mango puree
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
36g water
5g (2 1/4 tsp) powdered gelatin
100g (about 3 medium eggs) egg whites


1) Beat the egg yolks with the cornstarch until thick, white and fluffy.

2) Heat the cream in a medium saucepan and once hot, pour a small amount over the egg yolks while whisking vigorously.

3) Pour the egg yolk mixture back into the rest of the cream in the saucepan, add the mango puree and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens considerably, at least 3-5 mn. Let cool to lukewarm temperature.

4) Make an Italian Meringue: Cook the sugar and water on medium heat until temperature reaches 244°F (118°C) when measured with a candy thermometer. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, test the temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water. If it forms a soft ball, you’ve reached the proper temperature.

5) Beat the egg whites until foamy. Pour the sugar syrup into the whites in a thin stream while continuing to whisk vigorously (preferably with a mixer for sufficient speed). Whisk/beat until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The meringue should be thick and glossy.

6) Soften the gelatin in cold water and let sit for about 3 minutes. Then zap the gelatin mixture in the microwave for 1 or 2 seconds.

7) Put the melted gelatin in a mixing bowl and, while whisking vigorously, pour the lukewarm mango cream over the gelatin.

8)Carefully blend the Italian meringue into the mango mixture. Cool the mousse and put it into the fridge.

Element #5 Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert
Preparation time: 10mn

Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream. It may splatter and boil.


4 Tbsp (50g) granulated sugar
2/3 cups less 1 Tbsp (135g) heavy or thickened cream
135g dark chocolate, finely chopped
45g unsalted butter softened


1) Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month’s challenge).

2) While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.

3) Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.

4) Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.

Element #6 Dark Chocolate Icing
Preparation time: 25 minutes

Note: Because the icing gelifies quickly, you should make it at the last minute.
For other gelatin equivalencies or gelatin to agar-agar equivalencies, look at the notes for the mousse component.


1/2 Tbsp (4g) powdered gelatin
1/4 cup (60g) heavy or thickened cream
5 Tbsp (60g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (50g) water
1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder


1) Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.

2) Boil the rest of the ingredients and cook an additional 3 minutes after boiling.

3) Add to the chocolate mixture. Mix well.

4) Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

How to Assemble the Log:

Depending on whether your mold is going to hold the assembly upside down until you unmold it or right side up, this order will be different.

Your assemble of the log will depend on the mould you are using. As I was using a cake pan, my assemble would be in the below order:

1) Cut the Dacquoise into a shape fitting your mold and set it in there. If you are using an actual Yule mold which is in the shape of a half-pipe, you want the Dacquoise to cover the entire half-pipe portion of the mold.

2)Pipe one third of the Mousse component on the Dacquoise.

3) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.

4) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.

5) Cut the Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.

6) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Crisp Insert.

7) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.

8) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight eidge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.

9) Close with the last strip of Dacquoise (you can omit the dacquoise on the top if you wish).

10) Freeze until the next day.

If you are doing the assembly UPSIDE DOWN (eg using a loaf pan or a half pipe tube, your assembly would be in the below order:

1) Mousse
2) Creme Brulee Insert
3) Mousse
4) Praline/Crisp Insert
5) Mousse
6) Ganache Insert
7) Dacquoise
8) Freeze the assembled log over night before applying the icing.


1) Unmold the cake (or log) and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan. Cover the cake with the icing. Let set. Then return to the freezer for a couple of hours.

2) Decorate your cake however you wish. The decorations can be set in the icing after it sets but before you return the cake to the freezer or you may attach them on top using extra ganache or leftover mousse, etc...

3) Transfer to the refrigerator no longer than ½ hour before serving as it may start to melt quickly depending on the elements you chose.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We would like to wish you and your family a very blessed Christmas holiday and a Happy New Year! myspace graphic comments

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Gingerbread Cookies

I made these cookies a week ago and kept them in the refrigerator without icing them first. I iced them this afternoon as I was intending to give them tomorrow to friends as part of my Christmas baked give-aways. I must admit that I wasn't too thrill when they were first baked but the taste of the spices developed in the next few days and the cookies were really delicious and soft.

This is my first attempt at icing cookies so it was somewhat amatuerish. I also used two of the Christmas cookie cutters that I had bought recently just for Christmas, a snowflake and Christmas tree cutter.

Gingerbread Cookies
(Makes 24 large cookies)


5 cups all-purpose flour
5 tsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (I used ground nutmeg instead)
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
226g unsalted butter
2/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large (60g) eggs
2/3 cup molasses

Royal Icing:
Makes 6 cups
(Recipe from Martha Stewart)

450g icing sugar
5 Tbsp meringue powder or 1/4 cup pasteurized egg whites
2 Tbsp water
Food coloring

Combine icing sugar and meringue powder (or egg whites) in a mixing bowl and beat on low speed. Add water drop by drop. The amount depends on whether you used the powder or the egg whites, and on the temperature and humidity in your kitchen. Add the water slowly and do not let the mixture get runny - you will probably not use all of it. Beat until the mixture holds a trail on the surface for five seconds when you raise the mixer from the bowl. If you like, you can tint the icing with a few drops of food coloring.


1) In a large bowl, sift and combine the flour, spices, salt and baking soda. Stir well to mix.

2) Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until well mixed, about 1 minute.

3) Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating smooth after each addition. Scrape down bowl and beater.

4) Lower speed and beat in about half the flour mixture. Beat in all the molasses then scrape bowl and beater. Add the remaining flour mixture, about 1 cup at a time, and beat after each addition until it has been absorbed.

5) Remove the bowl from the mixer and give the dough a final mixing with a large rubber spatula. Scrape half the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and press it to about a 1/2" thickness. Wrap the dough securely and repeat with the remaining dough. Chill the dough for at least 2 hours or for up to 3 days. (If you are rush for time, do like what I did, stick the dough in the freezer for about 20 - 30 minutes)

6) When you are ready to bake the cookies, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 176C (350F).

7) Unwrap one of the pieces of dough and cut it in half. Rewrap one of the halves and return it to the refrigerator.

8) On a floured surface, roll the dough until it is about 1/4" thick. Use a floured cookie cutter to cut the cookies. As they are cut, place the cut cookies on the prepared pan lined with parchment paper with about 1" between them on all sides. Repeat with the remaining dough. Save, press together, and reroll the scraps (they don't need to be chilled agian before rerolling).

9) Bake cookies for about 11 minutes or until edges of cookies are lightly browned. Remove from pan and cool completely on wire racks.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chocolate Hazelnut Nutcraker Cake to usher in the Holiday Spirit!

I've always loved the month of December. I guess it's to do with the festivities, get-togethers with family and friends, "pigging out", delicious baking and Christmas lights and decorations. It also signifies that a year would be coming to an end, a time to reminence on what's been achieved and what is still outstanding, a year to reflect what could have been done differently ... it's all this and more!

As with most other bloggers busy baking for Christmas, I too have my fair share of baking to do this month. So too is the Cake Slice Bakers group! Our cake for this month of festivities is called a Chocolate Hazelnut Nutcraker Cake ... I know the title of the cake is already quite a mouthful.

This cake is delicious any time of year but it was specially designed for the Christmas holidays – The Nutcracker is a play on the hazelnuts which are a key ingredient and a play on the popular ballet associated with this season. The layers can be baked in advance but the cake is best served the day it is assembled, allow it is best to leave it 6-8 hours before serving to allow the flavours to meld together and the crème to set up. I made a few changes at my end when doing this challenge. Instead of baking this cake as a 9" triple layer as in the original recipe, I two thirds the ingredients to come up with a 6" tripler layer cake. I also omitted the rum syrup and replaced it with an orange citrus syrup using orange juice, orange zest and orange extract.

Chocolate Hazelnut Nutcracker Cake
Makes one 9" triple layer cake


1 cup skinned hazelnuts (113g)
10 whole graham crackers (156g), broken into pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
57g unsweetened chocolate, finely grated
10 eggs, separated
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (I didn't have this so I substituted with all spice)
1 tsp baking powder
Dark chocolate curls for decoration


1) Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter the bottom and sides of three 9" cake tins. Line the base with parchment paper and dust the sides with flour, tap out any excess.

2) Spread the nuts onto a baking tray and toast for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned. Leave to cool completely. Increase the oven temperature to 180C.

3)In a food processor, grind the graham crackers to crumbs. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Add the toasted nuts to the processor (no need to wash) and add1/4 cup of sugar. Pulse until the nuts are finely ground, but do not blitz too much or else it will form a paste. Add the nuts, graham cracker crumbs and grated chocolate together in the bowl and mix.

4) In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar using an electric mixer until well blended. Add the oil and vanilla slowly, beating until ribbons begin to form on the surface of the mixture. Then, fold in the chocolate nut crumbs.

5) Place the egg whites in a clean bowl and beat until thick and foamy. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, continuing to beat until the whites form stiff peaks. Fold a third of the egg whites into the yolk mixture and mix well to slacken the mix. Sift over the flour, spice and baking powder and fold in. Gently fold in the rest of the egg whites until no streaks remain but do not over mix.

6) Divide the batter between the three pans and bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire wrack to cool completely.

Rum Syrup:

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 water
1/4 cup dark rum

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Place over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the rum. Allow to cool before using.

Crème Chantilly:

2 cups heavy cream
3 Tbsp icing sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the cream, sugar and vanilla in a chilled bowl and whip until the cream is stiff but not too thick or buttery.

To Assemble the Cake:

1) Place a layer on a cake stand, flat side up. Sprinkle it with a third of the rum syrup and let it all soak in for 1-2 minutes. Using a star tip, pipe individual stars by using 1/3 cup of the crème Chantilly over the top, working from the outer ring to the centre of the cake. Repeat with the remaining layers, letting the syrup soak in before adding the crème.

2) Use silver balls on the tip of the stars, only for the top layer of the cake. Finish off with some Feraro chocolates as final decorations.

Note: This cake can be stored in the fridge for 3 days.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Apricot and Ginger Chutney

I decided this year that I would not buy presents for friends and that I'll give home made goodies instead. It would be so much more of a personal touch. I don't know about you but sometimes I find it very difficult to come up with a gift for some one and have to think "did I give them this 2 years ago?" Well, this change will certainly solve all this.

One of the goodies I decided to try my hand at this year is a chutney. Sounds wonderful doesn't it. I think these are such nice presents especially if they are packed away into pretty jars with ribbons and gift tags. I picked this particular chutney recipe because I had a couple of unopened packets of dried apricot sitting in my kitchen cupboard. I think I bought these a while back with the intention of making some apricot brioche ... hmm never got to it. No worries cause they would now come in real handy.

This is a chutney with a bit of zing, perfect with cold meats and cheese. It'll go well with a sandwich as well. I'm thinking that you could even add a dollop on top of an Italian salad dressing. It's so good that you likely finish all of this in one sitting!

Apricot and Ginger Chutney
(Recipe modified from Good Food)


1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
175g dried apricots, finely chopped
60g sultanas
1 Tbsp of freshly grated young ginger
150ml orange juice
1 Tbsp of olive oil
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
2 Tbsp light brown sugar
1 tsp of cinnamon powder
1 star anise, optional
1 small stick of cinnamon, optional


1) Heat the oil in a small non-stick pan, then cook the onion and garlic for 5 minutes until soft. Add in the star anise and cinnamon stick and cook for another minute.

2) Stir in the apricots, sultanas, ginger, orange juice and vinegar, then bubble gently for about 15 - 20 minutes until the apricots become pulpy and most of the liquid has been absorbed.

3) Stir in the sugar and cook for another 2 - 3 minutes until the chutney is sticky. Then season and cool.

4) Fill sterilized bottles (should be sufficient to fill about 2 small jars) and place them into the fridge. This chutney will keep for a week. Can be served either cold or bring to room temperature.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Xiao Long Bao - Shanghai Steamed Dumplings

If you were to individually segment out the Chinese word of Xiao Long Bao (小笼包), it would literally mean small for “xiao”, basket for “long” and bun for “bao”. And how right the name can be as these little dumplings are traditionally steamed in bamboo baskets.

Xiao Long Bao originated in Shanghai over a hundred years ago and has now become an iconic symbol of Shanghainese cuisine. They were originally created by the Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant in China and they continue selling these dumplings to this day. These dumplings are filled with a hot soup and meat and/or vegetarian fillings, as well as other possibilities. The fillings are wrapped in something like a jiaozi (wanton-like) wrapper that turns almost translucent after being steamed. Xiao Long Bao can be recognized by their unique design, as the filled wrapper is gathered up into fine folds (something like pleats) at the top, prior to steaming. (Although it's my first attempt I think I got the hang of the pleating part.)

Xiao Long Bao can be eaten at any meal in Chinese culture, and are often served in restaurants that have dim sum service. To eat these dumplings you would need to peel them off the lettuce or cabbage leaf onto which they sit prior to steaming, taking care not to break the dumpling skin. The straight forward way of eating this is to just dip the dumpling directly into a side dish of black vinegar and thinly shredded fresh young ginger. Take a small nibble of the skin, allowing some of the broth to drain. Make sure that your dumpling is sitting on a spoon before you take a nibble as some of the soup inside it may squirt out. It ever happened to me once and I got some of the soup on my business suit, not very nice I can tell you. Then eat the rest of the dumpling from the spoon. Doing so will allow you to savor the taste without scalding your tongue. In Singapore there are some restaurants (example Din Tai Fung) that just specializes in dumplings and you can have a full menu displaying the different types of Chinese dumplings available. There are even steamed dumplings the size of a regular tea cup and the amazing thing is the restaurant would give you a drinking straw with the dish … and I do mean a straw! The whole idea is for you to stick the straw into the dumpling and sip the soup out slowly.

If you've never tried Xiao Long Bao, you’ll probably wondering why is there a soup. Well, the soup keeps the whole dumpling moist and it is one of the important elements to this dish (besides the juicy filling and the skin wrapper.) Just to let you in on a secret - I tried making xiao long bao a few weeks ago, using a short cut method and omitting the soup. The dumplings turned out dry and was not tasty at all! I learnt from that lesson and decided to attempt this again using the “traditional” way.

How is the soup made? It’s made from slowly simmering chicken bones and fatty pork in a pot until it reduces to less than half it’s original content. Then a small amount of gelatin is added to the soup and cooled to become a block of “soup jelly”. The “jelly” is then cut into small cubes, added to the meat filling of the dumpling and then wrapped in the skin. Once the dumplings are steamed, the heat will melt the gelatin turning it into a soup, thus creating a soup base inside the wrapped dumpling. These dumplings can be eaten on it’s own or part of a main course. Alternatively you could serve this as a starter for an Asian-fusion meal. By the way I can easily eat 6 or more of these in one sitting!

I halfed the below recipe and came up with enough dumplings to serve 3-4 persons. Also if you don't want the hazzle of making the gelantized soup, you can omit it and not add it with the filing. Instead make the dumplings as per below recipe without the "soup jelly" and then cook the dumplings in a plain chicken or vegetable soup". What you have would be chinese dumpling in a soup broth. (Also instead of using pork, you can use minced chicken instead. It's all up to you how to play around with the ingredients.)

Xiao Long Bao – Shanghai Steamed Dumplings

Ingredients for the Aspic/Gelantized Stock:

1 pound chicken wings
2 chicken backbones
1 pork trotter (foot) or a large piece of pork skin (I used fatty pork belly with skin)
3 1/4 inch thick slices of ginger
4 green onions
4 cloves of garlic
1 star anise
8 cups of water
Salt to taste

Ingredients for the Wrappers:

3 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cups hot water
2/3 cups cold water
Pinch of salt

For the Filling:

1 pound ground pork (I added some chopped cilantro. You can vary this by adding in thinly sliced shitake mushroom, roughly minced prawn and small cubes of waterchest nut, if preferred)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice wine
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp sugar
2 cups gelatin stock, chopped into small pieces

Method to Make the Gelantized Soup:

1) When working with pork feet make sure to wash it well, then boil it twice in a change of water to get the smell, bacteria, and scum out. If you're using raw chicken wings and backbones, it's best to boil those once too to get any scum out. Add the pork feet to a pot (large saucepan, stock pot, Dutch oven whatever works) and cover them with water and bring it to a boil. Boil for a minute, drain, and rinse off any scum on the feet in cold water. Wash out the pot as well or use a new pot because there will be scum on the side. Return the pork feet, and the raw chicken wings and backbones to the pot and fill with cold water and bring back to a boil again and boil for a minute. Drain and rinse off any scum and wash the pot again

2) Add 2 teaspoons of oil to your pot over medium heat. Smash the ginger slices and green onion with the side of a knife and add to the oil and until they are fragrant, then add boiled and rinsed off chicken wings and pork feet, 1 star anise, and 8 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil then simmer gently uncovered, skim any scum on the surface, for 6+ hours. (I cheated here and simmered the soup close to 3 hours. I then added about 1/2 teaspoon of gelatin into the stock and poured it into a container to set. Once cooled I placed the container into the fridge to solidify)

3) Never let the soup boil again because it will cloud. The stock is ready when it can solidify at room temperature. Test the stocks gelling ability by spooning some of it into a small bowl and allow it to cool down to room temperature. If it solidifies then the stock is ready. Strain soup and season it with some salt. Set aside 2 cups for the dumpling filling. Save any excess for adding to sauces or soups. Let the soup cool to room temp then transfer it to the fridge. The soup can keep for up to 3 days in the fridge. You can scrape off any fat that solidifies on top or mix it into the filling.

Method to Make the dough (for the wrappers):

1) In a large bowl, add 2 1/2 cups of flour. First add the 1/3 cup of very hot water and stir that into the flour.

2) Then add the 2/3 cup of cold water and stir it into the dough. Bring the dough together and knead while incorporating additional flour if you need to, until the dough is not sticky. Don’t overknead or it will be too tough and gluteny to work with. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest for an hour while you prepare the filling.

Method to Make the Filling:

Mix the ground pork with all of the seasoning ingredients and set aside. Keep the filling in the fridge until the dough has finished resting.

How to Wrap the Dumplings:

1) Divide the dough into 3 portions. Work with one portion and keep the other two covered. Roll the dough into a long snake. Then cut a small cylindrical piece off of the snake. Flatten with your palm and roll the dough out into a 2 1/2 inch diameter wrapper. I used a small wooden rolling pin that is about 6 inches long and about an inch in diameter.

2) Here's a quick tutorial on How to Make Xiao Long Bao. Unfortunately it is all in Chinese but you can refer to the pictures as guide. Another good reference would be Jaden of Steamy Kitchen. You want the wrappers to be a bit thicker than wonton wrappers. If the wrappers are too thin, the soup will dissolve it and leak out.

3) Place about a teaspoons of filling in the center of the wrapper. Slightly flatten it and then place a small cube of the gelatin stock in the centre. Wrap the edges of the filling around the gelatin cube.

4) Then hold the outer edge of the wrapper with the thumb and index finger of your dominant hand. Using the other thumb and index finger, hold the edge of the wrapper and bring it to your dominant hand to pleat. Pleat around the circumference of the entire wrapper, turning the dumpling as you go, and seal the tip to close. (It took me ages to make the wrappers. I think it’s a skill in itself and certainly lots of practice involved.)

Steam and serve:

1) Bring some water to a boil in a wok or large pot with a steamer insert. Line a bamboo or metal steaming basket with cabbage leaves or damp cheesecloth. Place the dumplings in the basket and steam on high for 5 – 7 minutes.

2) Serve hot with ginger slivers and black vinegar.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mini Passionfruit Cheesecake

I recently bought a new cookbook tittled "Favourite Cupcakes and Cheesecakes" because it had some interesting recipes. Also the pictures inside were really beautiful. So as an "opening ceremony" I decided to bake a mini cheesecake for my husband. He'll love this simply because he's a one dessert-man .. anything with cheese only - full stop!

This cheesecake uses passionfruit. Surprisingly I've yet to bake anything that calls for passionfruit. The one and only time I've had passionfruit was with a cup of plain yoghurt. I dare say that it's really an unusual fruit and is sourish. It's a real simple recipe that can be whipped up in no time at all. Also if you don't fancy passionfruit, don't be put off, you can always substitute it with any other fruit such as strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, mango.

Mini Passionfruit Cheesecake
Serves 4

For the base:

60g digestive biscuits, finely crush
30g butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar

For the filing:

500g cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup passionfruit pulp, strained
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
4 fresh passionfruit


1) Preheat oven to 165C.

2) To make the base, combine biscuit crumbs, butter and sugar. Line four 10cm springfrm tins with baking paper, then press mixture evenly onto the bottoms of the tins. Bake the base for 5 minutes.

3) For the filing, combine cream cheese, passionfruit pulp, vanilla and sugar in an electric mixer. Mix on medium speed until well combined. Divide filing evenly between the bases.

4) Bake for 25 minutes. Cool before removing from tines.

5) Decorate with fresh passionfruit and serve. You can serve this cold as well.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Macarons with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache

I’ve never had a macaron before in my life and you could say that I was somewhat intrigued by the beautiful pictures that I’ve seen posted on a number of blogs I’ve visited. Especially so are the delicious looking pictures that seem to reach out to me from Helen of Tartelette. Her pictures are amazing as well as the perfection she has created!

It was this intrigue that led me to research further on these French desserts. From what I’ve read there are 2 methods of making macarons i.e. the Italian or the French method. However the few rules of thumb that keep surfacing was: use day old egg whites, process the almonds or any other nuts and powdered sugar finely, do not overbeat, do not under-beat, sit the macaroons before baking, oven cannot be too hot, temperature must be right, must have feet. For someone who has never made macarons before, let alone eaten one, you can imagine what I was thinking by then. The more I read, the more confused I was! And what the hell is feet ….??? Why is there so much DO’s and DON’Ts for a recipe that calls for only 4 ingredients? I decided that I’d shelf the idea of journeying down macaron- land, it was too troublesome. But somehow the macaron genie doesn’t want to go away, it keeps taunting back at me. It’s exactly like telling someone not to touch something, and lo and behold what do they do, they go ahead and touch. Well, that’s exactly what happened and how I got sucked in!

My first attempt was using the Italian method. This method calls for a hot syrup that’s slowly poured into stiff egg whites being beaten on medium speed. One thing that I didn’t do (and I’ve learnt from this) in my first attempt was to process the almonds and powdered sugar. I did a “lazy man” trick by just shifting ground almonds and powdered sugar two times – I thought this would suffice at that time. I even went as far as drawing circles on the parchment paper just to ensure uniformity in each piped macaron. The macarons were sat for about 20 minutes and by this time, they had spread further into bigger blobs. (2nd mistake which I now know is attributed to over-mixing the batter). I placed the tray into a pre-heated oven of 180C for about 15 minutes (3rd mistake here, as the oven should preferably be 160C and should be baked for about 10 minutes). I eagerly peered through the oven window as the macarons baked. I was excited when I saw the little feet forming but that excitement was short-lived as the tops of the macarons started to crack. By the time they had done their turn in the oven, majority had cracked tops and crevices. But they tasted great though! I made a simple lemon curd which was used to sandwich my somewhat dejected looking macarons. Here’s what my 1st attempt looked like.

It was about a month and half before I decided to attempt macarons again. This time round I deligently processed my ground almonds with the powdered sugar. I sat the macarons for an hour plus baked them in a preheated oven of 160C. Again the little feet started appearing and this time, yeah no cracks! However I should have piped my macarons a bit smaller … (next time). Being somewhat of a slight perfectionist, I am still not satisfied and I do understand that it takes lots of practice to come out with perfectly round and smooth macarons. I sandwiched these little creations with a bittersweet chocolate ganache.

If you are planning to add this to your list of “to do’s”, check out "Making French Macarons - Instructions and Recipes" (with links to other blogs) by David Lebovitz.

Macarons With Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache:
(Recipe from Tartellete)

For the Macarons:

3 egg whites (use 1 day old egg white)
50g granulated sugar
200g powdered sugar
110g ground almonds
2 Tb powdered food coloring

For the whites: the day before (24hrs), separate your eggs and store the whites at room temperature on a covered container.


1) In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry and your macaroons won't work.

2) Combine the ground almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and give them a quick pulse. It will break the powdered sugar lumps and combine your almonds with it evenly.

3) Add them to the meringue in 2 batches, give it a quick fold after each addition. Add 2 Tb food coloring and fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon.

4) Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.

5) Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip with the batter and pipe small rounds (about 1" to 1.5" in diameter depending on your size preference) onto parchment paper baking sheets.

6) Preheat the oven to 160C. Let the macarons sit out for an hour to harden their shells a bit and bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool.

7) If you have trouble removing the shells, pour a couple of drops of water under the parchment paper while the sheet is still a bit warm and the macarons will lift up more easily do to the moisture. Don't let them sit there in it too long or they will become soggy. Pipe or spoon some ganache on one shell and sandwich with another one. (If you are using silicon paper, I've noticed that the macaroons can be easily removed without using any moisture at all)

Note: If you use fresh whites, zap them up in the microwave on medium high for 20 seconds.

Bittersweet Ganache:

3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup bittersweet chocolate

In a heavy saucepan set over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the stove and add the chocolate to it. Let stand 2 minutes and then stir until fully combined. Let cool in the fridge until firm enough to put in a small piping bag.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bake a Bread and Feed Africa - Focaccia Bread

I was tagged recently by Shibani of Any One Can Cook for The Breadline Africa (a charitable organization located in Cape Town, South Africa) Worldwide Blogger Bake Off Challenge. Breadline Africa carries a strong purpose of being an African based charity organisation that can help break the cycle of poverty within Africa by helping communities to help themselves. By doing so it encourages communities to achieve long term self-sustainability and basically "stand on their own feet".

The purpose of this baking challenge is to try and raise US$1 million in funds to help alleviate poverty in Africa. The funds raised will be used to convert shipping containers into food production and distribution centers. These centers will act as community kitchens which will provide warm meals, hope and a sense of security to the poorest of the poor. Breadline Africa Worldwide Blogger Bake Off challenge aims to use each donation towards feeding the poor of Africa while spreading the word of compassion through blogs and internet users.

Please click to the below links for more information on this worthy cause.

Join our campaign.
Submit your bread baking recipe.
Make a donation to Breadline Africa.
Vote for your favourite recipe.
Bake a loaf of bread and blog about it.

Bake many loaves of bread and host a bake sale.

So in reading this message and you feel that you can help in one way or another, please do so. I think all of us are blessed that we don't have to worry when or where our next meal will be or what it would be! We have choices. We are able to taste the fruits of our baking and cooking when majority of those in need of help may not even have tasted a basic butter cake before. So for this worthy cause, I decided I’ll bake some bread and also spread the word around via my blog.

I had been wanted to make focaccia bread for some time now and I guess this would be the most opportune moment. To search for a worthwhile recipe I even went to my usual data-source i.e. the library and checked out a recipe book purely on focaccia. However the recipes published inside it, although mouth-watering, seemed somewhat time consuming as it called for a starter dough and a bread dough – also the instructions seemed complicated and a bit unsequential. So the next reference source had to be the internet. I finally narrowed my search to a "no knead" focaccia recipe - wow how simple can this get! Plus proofing time takes less than an hour

Focaccia Bread
Makes: 8 servings


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 envelope Fleischmann's® RapidRise Yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2/3 cups water (120°F to 130°F)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoon of dried garlic flakes
1 1/2 tablespoon of Italian Herb Seasoning
½ teaspoon of sea salt


1) Mix flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add olive oil and water, stirring until well mixed. (The dough will be extremely sticky but don't worry.( Pour into greased 13x9-inch pan. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. (If you are using a cling wrap or cloth, try not to let it touch the top of the dough. My mistake here as I had such a hard time peeling the cling wrap off.)

2) Using the handle of a wooden spoon (lightly grease the handle first), push multiple holes into the dough.

3) Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over dough. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, garlic flakes and Italian herb seasoning. Sprinkle the top with sea salt. (In fact you can use whatever topping or seasoning on this bread eg. sundried tomatoes, sliced pitted olives, etc and it’ll taste great)

4) Cover and let rise additional 15 minutes while oven preheats to 375°F. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until lightly browned.

5) Cool slightly and cut into slices. Serve with a hot bowl of soup or alternatively dip it into a saucer of balsamic vinegar and good olive oil. Best eaten on day it is baked.

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