making macarons (#4) – (bubble bubble) toil and trouble.

11 Jul 2012 § Leave a comment

After the previous successful attempt, I just HAD to try again to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. After leaving the egg whites to dry in the fridge for 2 days, I decided to make another batch two nights ago.

Everything started off well, numb fingers from pressing the almond powder through the sieve notwithstanding. It was only when I had completed the macaronage and started piping that I realized I had over-mixed the batter. My batter was runny, and the peaks were flattening out too fast. Nevertheless, I continued piping all four trays.

The next thing I noticed were little air bubbles forming at the top of the piped macarons. It’s the first time I’ve actually seen air bubbles on the piped macarons – even when I failed to produce feet during my first and second attempt, the batter was always smooth – and I had to spend a good couple of minutes pricking the bubble with a toothpick.

The batter also took slightly longer to dry and form a skin. After 30 minutes, I was so feeling so impatient that I decided to put the first tray in the oven. Obviously a bad idea. I’d preheated the oven to a temperature of 145 degrees Celsius (which was fine for my previous batch), but the skin had not formed properly on the first tray which led to cracked shells and no feet!

The whole gang decided to visit: cracked shells, footless, sticky bottoms

The second to fourth tray fared better as I reduced the temperature to 140 degrees Celsius and baked it for 18 minutes. However, the feet was really low (at least I HAD feet!), and the bottoms of the macarons were slightly stickier than attempt #3.

Out of the 80 macaron shells that I piped, I only managed to make 20 macarons with smooth domes, 15 macarons with cracked domes (but still edible), while I had to throw away the remaining ones – some were misshapen as I couldn’t control the flow of the batter well, some had really bad cracks, and some got stuck to the baking paper.

I was so tired at the end of the whole process that I even messed up my first batch of chocolate ganache! Halfway thru mixing it, the oil began to separate and I was left with a grainy mixture with oil floating on top. Ugh. It was too late at night by then to find a way to salvage it, so I made a second batch, hurriedly piped the filling onto the macaron shells and called it a night!

Lessons learnt?

1. Do not make macarons at 10pm at night, after work, if you need to wake up early the next day!

2. Keep an eagle eye on your batter during macaronage. It’s better to undermix than overmix.

3. Rest, rest, rest the macarons! From these two attempts, the ideal resting period is definitely 1 hour for a proper skin to form.

On the bright side, I’m quite confident that I’ve figured out the hot and cold spots in my oven now. I may change the configuration of the macarons so that I have less macarons at the side, which is hotter (and therefore, more prone to cracked shells).

So yes. Macaron baking is now strictly reserved for Friday and Saturday nights!

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this is the best way to sleep.

10 Jul 2012 § 1 Comment

With her hand holding mine, she pulls my arm above and around her as she turns on her side with her back facing me. She scoots backwards till her back is pressed against my body. I bury my face in her hair and breathe in the faint scent of shampoo – literally the scent of victory after a hard-won battle between morning cartoons and a shower.

I can see her eyelashes fluttering as slowly drifts off to sleep.

She murmurs, “Have a good sleep, mommy.”

I think to myself, and then aloud, “This is the best way to sleep.”

She must have heard me as she turns back and in her typical fashion, asks, “Whaaat?”

“I said, this is the best way to sleep, darling girl. Hugging you like this.”

She pauses, as if she’s considering my words, then nods and repeats what I said back to me.

“This is the best way to sleep, mommy.”

And we both fall fast asleep together, her fingers entwined in mine.

It really IS the best way to sleep.

*****************************

Two hours later, I wake to find her feet firmly planted in my back.

there’s no such thing as too much chocolate.

9 Jul 2012 § 2 Comments

A yearning for good chocolate chip cookies led me to Google, which eventually led me to this blog, Delectable, that had a post entitled ‘The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies (EVER)‘.

How could one resist?

Since I had all the ingredients ready at hand, I decided to try out the recipe last Thursday night after work. Needless to say, I went to bed at the end of the day smelling of chocolate and butter…mmm…

Here’s the recipe from her blog (with my comments in italic):

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie via Cooks Illustrated

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose unbleached flour
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp baking soda (I used 1/2 tsp)
  • 14 tablespoons butter, divided into 10 tablespoons + 4 tablespoons (I used unsalted and added 1/2 tsp sea salt)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, well packed (I used muscovado sugar, compacting it well in the measuring cup before pouring into a bowl. You’ll know if you have packed it well if it holds its shape when its turned out from the measuring cup.)
  • 1 tsp table salt (I used sea salt)
  • 2 – 4 tsp vanilla extract (I used 3 tsp vanilla bean paste)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 cups chocolate chunks – (I used a 100gm bar of Lindt chocolate – I think it was 85% chocolate and the rest were made up of dark chocolate chips)

Preparation:

1. Measure the flour and baking soda and pour into a bowl.

2. Measure the light and dark brown sugar and pour into another bowl.

3. Melt 10 tablespoons of butter in a pan. The original recipe mentions that “once melted, keep on heat, swirling constantly, until the butter has browned well, and is toasty and nutty. You want it browned and caramel-y and dark and gleaming, but not burnt”. I couldn’t get it to brown much (plus I didn’t want it to burn), but it had the toasted smell, so that was enough for me. Do remember to use a stainless steel pan though – do NOT use a black-bottomed pan since you won’t be able to see if the butter has turned brown. Once done, pour into a heatproof bowl (which you will use for whisking, so make sure it’s big enough), and add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter, mix till melted.

4. Add in sugar, salt and vanilla essence/paste and whisk. Add the egg and the egg yolk and whisk again.

5. This step is apparently very important: Let the mixture stand for about 3-5 minutes, and whisk again for 30 seconds. Repeat this 3 times in total. The mixture should thicken and have a stiff, liquid caramel consistency. When I did this, the mixture did thicken somewhat, though for me, it was more of a thick cake batter consistency.

6. Mix in flour until just combined. Let the mixture rest for a minute then mix in the chocolate chunks/chips. I was abit worried at this point as the chocolate to dough ratio looked wrong – there seemed to be wayyy too much chocolate! But since I’ve come this far, into the oven they shall go!

7. Let the mixture rest again as you preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Line a cookie tin with baking paper (TIP: if you don’t have a flat cookie tin, ie. without sides, just turn your current cookie tin upside down and voila! Flat cookie tin for free!).

8. I managed to get 22 pretty big cookies out of the mixture – I guess the size of the cookies really depends on your own personal preference!

9. Bake for 7-9 minutes or until just browned on the edges (mine took 9 minutes). It’s best to bake it one sheet at a time for even baking. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring it to the wire rack. My cookies were still slightly soft at the top when I removed it from the oven, but it became slightly crunchier after I left it to cool down on the cookie tray for a short while.

The cookies came out crunchy on the outside and just slightly chewy in the middle. I realized that there’s really no such thing as too much chocolate – the ratio came out absolutely perfect. What I truly love about the cookie, though, was the slightly salty undertones (from the butter?) – just a slight tinge but it somehow balanced out the sweetness of the cookie and chocolate chunks!

This recipe’s definitely a keeper, though the next time I make it, I think I’ll go for smaller, Famous Amos-sized cookies that aesthetically looks less sinful compared to these giant ones!

nostalgia: A&W drive-thru @ pj state.

4 Jul 2012 § 2 Comments

Any kid who has grown up in Petaling Jaya will probably have memories of dining at the A&W 24-hour drive-thru restaurant at PJ State. Opened in 1965, this restaurant is fast reaching its half-century mark and has long since been a landmark at PJ State.

I remember my parents bringing me here when I was very young for burgers and root beer floats. With the convenience of the ‘drive-thru’, it was such a treat to sit in the car to eat – the staff would bring the food on trays that could be clipped on the windows and my mom would pass the food to me as I sat at the back of the car.

When I was slightly older, I used to attend or perform at concerts that was held at the nearby PJ Civic Centre and this was where we would go for a quick bite before heading over to the auditorium. While we did frequent other A&W outlets (there used to be one near Globe Silk Store right in the heart of town – this was where my mom and I would arrange to meet my dad after my mom was done shopping), this one outlet somehow found a place in my heart.

Many years later, this was where a group of us congregated after we’d finished our driving test at the road ministry’s test centre that was located directly opposite. Really, an ice-cold root beer float never tasted that good after waiting for hours in the sweltering heat for your turn only to fail the test by knocking over a cone on your first try at parking the car.

My last recollection of this place was a visit there with my bunch of school friends during those one to two months after college where we were finally free from exams, before we embarked on our individual journeys to our respective universities in UK. I faintly remember sitting somewhere towards the back, and showing off the huge bruise that had developed on my left leg (caused by stomping off after an argument with my then-boyfriend and crossing the road without looking, which resulted in being lightly hit by a slow-moving car).

It’s funny, the random things you remember.

I’m pretty sure I must’ve gone back there at least one or twice between then and now but strangely enough, my last memory of A&W stops somewhere in August 1996.

When the boyfriend told me recently that KUB, the current business owner of the A&W franchise in Malaysia, was planning to close down the outlets, we were both hit by a wave of nostalgia and on a particularly free Saturday night, we drove out to this outlet at 1am for a late night snack. Surprisingly, there were still quite a number of patrons enjoying their meal there.

Sadly, the counter was very short-staffed – with the slow service and a menu that doesn’t seem like it has been updated for ages, it’s no wonder that the outlets are not doing well. It’s such a pity though, as I remember how much I used to love their burgers – I was such a firm champion of A&W burgers that I actually refused to patronize McDs when I was young (I didn’t like the burgers there as it had sesame seeds on the buns and mustard inside).

Well, on that night, we ordered a coney dog (for him) and curly fries and waffles with honey and butter (for me). I’ve gotta give it to them…even after so many years, their waffles still remain one of the nicest (and most consistent) that I’ve ever had. It’s light and fluffy and I polished off nearly 3/4s. And of course, we shared a large root beer float, with two scoops of ice cream! Mmmm!

I don’t know if this particular outlet will survive the chop – the article I read mentioned that the company ‘will retain only outlets that have heavy traffic based on the increase in sales’. It would be sad, though, to see this restaurant being torn down to make way for something modern. While I wouldn’t call it ‘heritage’, at close to 50 years, it definitely IS a landmark and I’m sure it has a special place in our hearts, especially for the 70’s babies.

If you used to stay in or around PJ and have memories of this place, do share!

going organic: opika @ 1utama.

3 Jul 2012 § 1 Comment

Let’s take a break from all that macaron posts and go organic today!

Healthy living seems to be the buzzword these days with organic cafes and restaurant popping up around Klang Valley.

We found ourselves at Opika Organic @ 1 Utama last weekend after hearing some pretty good reviews about it. For some reason, organic food gives me the impression that I’ll be consuming lots of grains, beans and lentils, however reviews of this restaurant are coupled with photos of delicious looking Swedish style meatballs, pasta dishes and nasi ulam with ayam percik!

To be honest, I’m not much of a food blogger – I have a very limited palate and I don’t bother noting down the price of each dish, much less the individual ingredients on the plate. I’m more concerned with how the whole dish tastes, heh! Hence, I’ll let the photos do the talking.

I like the layout of the place – simple decor, spacious with the kitchen right smack in the middle. Very Scandinavian-ish.

Menu

From soups to meat to pasta to local food. I presume the little circles on the left shows the percentage of organic food that makes up the whole dish.

Quinoa salad – this came served with prawns, mango cubes and a slightly spicy sauce

Nordic style prawn salad

Linguine with pan-seared salmon

Braised shitake mushroom and organic chicken, served with brown rice

Confit of chicken with mashed sweet potato

Dessert! Tiramisu (surprisingly good!) and Blackforest with brandy in the background

Overall, I think the salads were really good, and my main dish (braised shitake mushroom and organic chicken with brown rice) was absolutely delicious. The chicken was tender and it had a wholesome, home-cooked taste that went perfectly well with the rice.

Our whole meal which consisted of 2 salads, 5 mains – 2 were not shown here – 2 desserts and 3 drinks amounted to RM280, which I think was pretty alright considering it was an organic restaurant. I definitely won’t mind returning for a second visit on days when I feel like having some light, healthy food!

Opika Organic Market & Restaurant
LG 105-106
1 Utama
Petaling Jaya
03-77322581

making macarons (#3).

1 Jul 2012 § 4 Comments

In spite of failing to make proper macarons in my previous attempt, I decided to try again after reading Eat. Live. Travel. Write.’s blogpost. Her recipe is adapted from BraveTart, but she ages her egg whites as well as rests the macaron batter prior to baking.

To cut a long story short, I finally found success with this and I’m going to document the process here – hopefully it will help anyone who stumbles across this post while researching how to make macarons.

The recipe is adapted from Eat. Live. Travel. Write., the method is based on how I made it.

Chocolate Macaron Recipe (French)

Ingredients (makes about 40 macarons if none of the shells were to crack):

  • 115g ground almonds
  • 230g icing sugar
  • 15g cocoa powder for chocolate macarons
  • 144g aged egg whites
  • 72g caster sugar

Preparation:

  • Aged egg whites – I used four medium size eggs and separated the egg whites by cracking the egg and cradling the egg yolk in my palm while letting the egg whites flow through my fingers into a bowl. I find this to be a fail safe method (unless you accidentally crack the egg too hard and break the yolks) instead of passing the egg yolks between the shells. Use cold eggs (apparently it’s easier to separate), and three bowls – one for the egg white, one for the egg yolk and one to store the separated whites. The latter is to prevent the separated whites from being ‘contaminated’ by the egg yolks in case you accidentally break one yolk while separating. Four medium sized eggs yields slightly more than 144g of egg whites. I poured the egg whites through a sieve into a bowl before covering the bowl loosely with clingfilm (I cut a few holes in the clingfilm) and placing it in the fridge. My egg whites were aged about 2 days (from Wednesday night till Sunday night) and I let the egg whites come back to room temperature before beating. It’s VERY important not to have a trace of fat in any of the utensils or dishes that you use for the egg whites else you’ll never be able to beat it till it turns stiff.
  • Almond powder – Sift and sift again. You’ll be surprised how much almond powder is still left behind after sifting. I don’t have a food processor, so what I did was to sift a pack of almond powder (almost 400g) twice. It does take some time and you do have to press the powder through the sieve sometimes, but it looks like the only way to produce a finer powder. Sift first THEN measure out what you need.
  • Icing sugar and cocoa powder – mix both together and pass it through the sieve as well.
  • Measuring – it’s best to use a digital scale as I came across many posts that emphasizes the importance of accuracy when it comes to measuring out the ingredients for macarons. Attempt #2 was done with a normal weighing scale, this time around, I bought a RM49 digital scale from Aino @ Empire Shopping Centre.

Method:

1. Cut out your parchment paper to the size of the baking trays you are going to use. Trace the circles out on the parchment paper (Ikea used to sell plastic table mats that had circles printed upon it as a pattern, I bought two and use those as a template). Stack two baking trays onto each other – this will prevent the base of the macarons from cooking too fast.

2. Prepare a piping bag with a plain tip. I use plastic piping bags, and I place it in a tall glass with the top of the bag folded over the lip of the glass – this will make it easy to fill the bags.

3. Combine the sifted almond powder with the icing sugar and cocoa. Most recipes call for processing these ingredients in a food processor before sifting but just sifting worked out fine for me.

4. Place the egg whites in stainless steel bowl – apparently using stainless steel bowls helps with the beating and stabilizing of the egg whites.

5. I used my KitchenAid during attempt #2, but this time around, I decided to use my trusty hand beater. I find that I have a better ‘feel’ for the eggs and am less likely to overbeat it.

6. When the eggs have become frothy and the whisk starts leaving marks in the foam, add in half the caster sugar. Continue beating and adding in the rest of the sugar over the next minute.

7. Increase the speed of your beater and continue beating until the egg whites are stiff (ie. the peak stays up instead of dropping down). Be careful not to over beat – what I did was to stop every 30 seconds or so to check.

8. Fold in the dry ingredients in two batches. This is the part which is called ‘macaronage’. You basically slip your spatula to the bottom of the bowl, then bring it around and up again and ‘dump’ the ingredients on top of the mixture while pressing down slightly to deflate the mixture at the same time (this video shows the proper macaronage technique at 1:45 mins):

Once the ingredients are incorporated, continue folding until the consistency of the batter is ‘lava/magma-like’. This is the word that is most often used to describe the consistency of the macaron batter – basically, it flows off the spatula in ribbons but is still slightly thick whereby the ribbon of batter is not immediately absorbed back into the batter. The mixture will be slightly glossy as well. The best way to ensure you don’t overbeat is to stop after every few strokes to check.

9. Transfer the batter to the piping bag – I do this in two batches as it’s easier to pipe with a half full piping bag.

10. Pipe four tiny dots of batter under the corners of the parchment paper to ensure it doesn’t move while piping.

11. Pipe your macarons based on the template that you’ve drawn previously. Pipe it slightly smaller than the circle that you have drawn as the batter will spread slightly. My way of piping – I place the opening of the piping bag in the middle of the circle and press out the batter without moving the tip. The batter will spread and when it’s close to the edges of the circle, I stop and pull the piping bag upwards quickly. This leaves a small peak which will settle during the resting period.

12. Once done, rap the tray about 2 times on a hard surface, turn it 90 degrees and rap again. Continue till you’ve turned the tray four times. Rapping the tray will bring up any air bubbles in the batter.

13. Let the batter rest while you preheat the oven. My kitchen has a ceiling fan and I usually bake at night when it’s cooler and not so humid, and after 30 minutes of resting, a skin did form on the macaron batter – ie. the batter no longer sticks to my finger when I touch it gently.

14. Place in the middle rack of the oven and bake. Some recipes require you to turn the tray halfway through, but I left it in the oven throughout the baking time. The feet started forming about 7 minutes into the baking time. These are my observations based on the different resting times (since I could only bake one tray at a time) and temperature (do note that this will differ depending on your oven as well, so it’s alot of trial and error unfortunately):

  • Tray 1 – Rest for 30 minutes, 150 degrees Celsius, 16 mins: some cracked shells (only those at the sides of the tray), some shells were hollow, the bottoms were quite sticky
  • Tray 2 – Rest for 50 minutes, 145 degrees Celsius, 16 mins: less cracked shells than above, less hollow shells too, shells in the middle of the tray had sticky bottoms, the rest around the sides were ok.
  • Tray 3 – Rest for 70 minutes, 145 degrees Celsius, 17 mins: almost no cracked shells, less hollow shells too, shells in the middle of the tray had sticky bottoms, the rest around the sides were ok.
  • Tray 4 – Rest for 90 minutes, 145 degrees Celsius,  18 mins: almost no cracked shells, less hollow shells too, shells in the middle of the tray had sticky bottoms, the rest around the sides were ok.

My conclusion from the above is that I need to rest the batter for at least one hour and bake it at 145 degrees Celsius for at least 18 mins. My oven probably has hot/cool spots – I’m guessing the fan causes the middle of the oven to be slightly cooler, hence the stickier shells in the middle of the tray.

15. Test if the macarons are done when the cooking time is almost up – I tested mine at about two minutes before the allocated time as I didn’t want them to overcook, and then again after 1 min. When you can peel the shell off the parchment without leaving the base/feet behind, it’s time to take it out of the oven!

16. Once done, remove from oven and let the tray sit for a few minutes on a cooling rack.

17. Slide the parchment paper away from the tray and onto a cooling rack and let the macaron shells continue cooling down while you place the next tray into the oven.

18. Gently peel the parchment paper away from the shells. Yes, you read correctly. I found it easier to lift the parchment paper at an angle and slowly peel it off from the shell than the other way around. Try to pair up the shells as you peel them off, it’ll save time when filling and assembling the macarons later.

19. Leave the cooled shells on a baking tray feet side up (I found that if you put it feet side down, it’ll stick slightly to the tray) if you are assembling it on the same day, else store in an airtight container.

20. You may find the shells to be abit too crispy, don’t worry about that as the process of filling the shells and keeping it for 24 hours before eating will allow the flavor of the filling and the shell to marry – trust me, my macarons tasted much better after one day, it had the crispy-gooey texture that was missing when I first made it.

21. Once you’ve made your filling (chocolate ganache and salted caramel in this case, recipes below), pipe it onto the shells and place another macaron on top. ‘Twist’ it slightly while pressing down gently to pair up the macaron shells.

22. Voilà! You’re done!

Chocolate Ganache recipe

This is a simple recipe I often use from a book by Gordon Ramsay. All you need is an equal amount of dark chocolate and heavy cream (35% fat). In this case, I used 100gm of each, it was more than enough to fill 20 shells. Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Bring the cream to boil. Pour it onto the chocolate and leave it to sit for about 1-2 minutes. Use a spatula and slowly stir the mixture in one direction till it’s smooth. I placed it in the fridge for a while for the ganache to harden slightly before piping. Some recipes call for butter, but since the ganache will be sandwiched in between the macaron shells, I didn’t bother adding butter to make it glossy.

Salted Caramel recipe

I used the recipe by BrownEyedBaker and it came out perfect on my first try. I didn’t want to risk burning the sugar, so I used an instant thermometer, but you can do without it if you’re familiar with working with sugar. This recipe produces about 2 cups of salted caramel, more than enough to fill the macarons. My only problem with the salted caramel is that it becomes rather soft at room temperature and unless you’re quick, the filling starts leaking out of the macaron shells. One blog recommends whisking the caramel till it reaches a buttercream consistency; perhaps I’ll try that next time.

I found that my macaron shells came out slightly on the pale side as I didn’t add any coloring since I wanted to ensure that I get the base recipe right this time around. I’ll definitely be experimenting with different flavors after this tho! Drop leave me a comment if you have any questions – I’ll try my best to help!

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