French Flair

ImageA few months ago I discovered Rachel Khoo’s Little Paris Kitchen and immediately fell in love with the simple, yet delicious recipes she had on offer! Every Thursday night I would rush to my TV with pen and paper in hand, frantically scribbling down her recipes, and giving cross looks to anyone who dared to speak or ask questions (for the duration of the episode my family was sworn to silence!) Every dish was a beautiful celebration of Parisian culture and fresh ingredients and I can honestly say that I sat licking my lips for the most part! I was absolutely devastated when the series finished, and also somewhat disappointed at the BBC’s poor efforts of uploading recipes to their online website (she has a cookbook though which I plan on investing in very very soon!)

One of my favourite must try recipes though was her Chocolate Mousse, which was by far the most decadent, light, creamy, fluffy mousse I have ever tasted! While Rachel served hers with cocoa nibs I made some chocolate bark to top it with, but either option would work perfectly. Sadly I was too excited to eat the mousse to take any pictures of the process so you will have to trust me when I say MAKE THIS DISH!! Especially if you like chocolate, and even if you don’t it will change your mind! It’s not overly sweet but perfectly balanced. Be warned, you’ll only need a little as it is very rich!

So here it is, Rachel Khoo’s Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients

For the crème pâtissière (pastry cream)
  • 3 free-range egg, yolks only
  • 50g/2oz caster sugar
  • 20g/1oz cornflour
  • 250ml/9fl oz whole milk
  • 1 heaped tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
For the chocolate meringue
  • 3 free-range eggs, whites only
  • 50g/2oz icing sugar
  • couple drops lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
  • 150g/5½oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 200ml/7fl oz whipping cream
To serve
  • 2 tbsp soft butter
  • 50g/2oz cocoa nibs

Preparation method

  1. For the crème pâtissière, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and thick, then whisk in the cornflower.
  2. Add the cocoa powder to the milk and bring to a boil then switch off the heat.
  3. Pour the milk in a slow stream onto the egg mixture, whisking vigorously all the time. (Pour slowly to avoid scrambling the egg.)
  4. Return the mixture to a clean pot over a medium heat and whisk continuously. Make sure to scrape the sides and the bottom, otherwise it will burn.
  5. The cream will start to thicken. Once it releases a bubble or two, take it off the heat.
  6. Pour into a shallow bowl. Cover with cling film (pat the cling film so it sticks directly on to the cream) and refrigerate for at least an hour before using.
  7. For the meringue, put half the egg whites into a clean glass or metal bowl. Add the sugar, lemon juice and salt and whisk until white.
  8. Add the rest of the egg whites and continue whisking until the meringue forms stiff peaks when the whisk is removed.
  9. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie (a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water) or in the microwave on a low setting.
  10. Whip the cream until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed.
  11. To make the mousse, beat the chilled crème pâtissière to remove any lumps before stirring in the melted chocolate. Mix in one third of the meringue, then gently fold in the rest followed by the whipped cream.
  12. To serve, brush 4-6 glasses or ramekins with soft butter. Add some cocoa nibs and roll them around the sides and bottom of the glasses until evenly coated.
  13. Divide the mousse between the glasses and chill for at least an hour, but ideally four hours. Serve chilled, sprinkled with cocoa nibs. The mousse is best eaten the same day and should not be kept for more than two days (due to the raw egg whites).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-KWWKGJK1U

Enjoy and Happy Baking!!

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Patisse Cooking Class

Last weekend I finally got to go and take a cooking class with one of my favourite Sydney Patisserie schools, Patisse (located in Chippendale)! I have ALWAYS wanted to do more cooking classes, especially those for the sweeter things in life, so I was so excited when I was given this as a gift for Christmas. My class was called “High Tea Treats” which I selected specifically because I love high tea and also because I felt that this class would allow me to learn a wide variety of new techniques. That being said I am already planning another class, the only problem being that I can not decide which one! Prior to arriving, I felt a little nervous; I was going to a class, alone, where I had no idea really what would be expected of me or what the other members of my class may already know. To be honest, I was afraid of making some monumental mistake, to which my peers would probably think “gosh, what’s she doing here” but I could not have been more far from the truth!!

When I arrived I was greeted warmly by Aren (our teacher) and the other members. We sat down at a set table and were offered fresh coffee and beautiful teas, accompanied by delicious mini chocolate Eclair (a hint of whats to come perhaps!). Once we had all introduced ourselves to eat other, donned our aprons and washed our hands we got straight into the good bit..cooking! I was really surprised because I had anticipated that we would be broken into smaller groups to complete sections of recipes that would be combined at the end of the class. However, Aren explained that each of us would make every component to every recipe that we would then each get to take home with us at the end of the day! In front of us then was a booklet (a very fat booklet I might add) of the day’s recipes, a small portable stove (which was shared with the person standing opposite you) and the measured out ingredients for the first recipe (if only cooking was this easy all the time!). Our recipes included Gougeres a la bechamel (bechamel filled profiteroles), peanut brittle chocolate tartlet, lemon meringue tartlet and mini chocolate eclair. By this stage, I was bursting with excitement!Image

First up we needed to tackle our pastries which included a sweet shortcrust dough and a choux pastry. Aren first demonstrated the recipes, one at a time before allowing us to have a try. It was also helpful because there were two additional pastry chefs who would wander around to give you tips and check on your progress. Honestly, I haven’t felt that relaxed in a kitchen in a long time! Despite the fact that I have made both types of pastry before, I picked up so many fantastic tips and techniques! The choux recipe that we were given was also slightly different from the one I used to make my Croquembouche at Christmas time (where the buns went soggy), however this recipe produced beautiful, firm buns that were cooked completely through! I can’t believe I’m going to say this (let alone write it on the internet!) but I really cant wait to give that Croquembouche another go! Aren also explained that overcrowding the oven can cause the buns to go soggy and debunked the old myth that the pastry needs to cool down before beating in your eggs. Fantastic! Once our pastries were finished, piped, placed into tart cases and in the oven we moved onto the chocolate creme patissiere (chocolate custard). Again, Aren demonstrated first before allowing us to make the recipe with our partner. Again, I’ve tried this one before at home but I was so pleased to see and produce a beautiful, shiny, thick, chocolatey patissiere! So yummy I actually can not describe it!Image

After this it was time to stop for lunch, which I did not realise was also provided for us. Aren and his team had cooked us a beautiful ham, spinach and gruyere cheese quiche, served with a green salad and a glass of wine! Yum yum yum! best quiche I have ever eaten in my life, hands down (sorry mum!). For dessert, Aren used the leftover choux pastry to make us donuts which were light and fluffy and just plain yummy! And then it was straight back to the kitchen to finish off!

We moved onto lemon curd next, which I have always wanted to try at home but was too afraid to waste all those eggs! The beauty of this class I think was that it really showed me just how simple baking can be, when you use a logical and methodical approach. Within about 5 minutes I had made a rich, glossy lemon curd, and not one person in the class curdled theirs either! This went into the fridge to chill and it was onto bechamel. Aren made a large batch of peanut brittle (the best brittle I’ve ever sampled) and chocolate ganache for us all to use as well as the italian meringue for our lemon meringue tarts.

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The final stage of the class was assembly time! We received all of the bits and bobs that we had created throughout the 4 hour class (yep we made all that in under 4 hours!) and were instructed on how to put it all together to get a beautiful finished product. Aren and his assistants were really fantastic, putting all the mixtures into piping bags for us and assisting wherever needed. They tempered chocolate for us to then dip our chocolate eclairs into which we later topped with crushed pistachios and freeze dried raspberries. I had a few extra choux buns which I made into chocolate profiteroles! And finally, when I looked down, I was done! I actually can not believe the end result that I saw on my bench in front of me. It was like something out of a Patisserie, most definitely not something that I had made by myself! We each received a box to put all our goodies into and then sadly we were off!Image

Overall, I had such a fantastic day and I can not wait to go back again and try out some more courses! Would highly recommend giving it a go. A fantastic, friendly approach to baking that is suitable for all skill levels. On top of that I met some lovely fellow bakers who all had a passion for food, cooking and eating! Totally exceeded my expectations and I had a wonderful day! 

Death by Croquembouche

ImageI have a slightly unhealthy obsession with conquering the Croquembouche. I think it all started about a year ago when I first saw the challenge set on one of my favourite cooking shows, Masterchef. Since that time I’ve had about four attempts at the French Wedding Cake, each with varying levels of success and often resulting in burnt fingers and a few tears (this is probably one of the only recipes that angers/frustrates/delights me to the point of crying!). I’ve always used the same recipe (Adriano Zumbo’s Masterchef challenge recipe, which has now “officially” been removed from their website but a similar one exists here http://tvnz.co.nz/masterchef-australia/croquembouche-3069656) and every single time I always promise myself never ever to attempt it again…and yet here we are!

So about a month ago I received a Croquembouche cone for my birthday, which undoubtably was a sign that I would just have to attempt to make it one final time (as if!) and I of course decided that the most perfect occasion would be Christmas Dinner. On the four previous occasions that I’ve made it, I had progressively gotten better. The very first attempt resulted in very large choux buns of all different sizes served on a plate (I was too exhausted after the process of making the buns that I couldn’t be bothered to make the toffee or put them together). The next two attempts did have more consistency in bun size and shape and even included the toffee. The tower however, was still slightly unattainable without the proper cone, collapsing into a heap on my second attempt and leaning like the tower of Pisa in the third. My fourth attempt (made for my boyfriends birthday) was my best so far where I came up with the genius idea of using a bowl lined in cling wrap as my mould. Unfortunately I forgot that hot toffee melts plastic but after a few disasters I managed to get a tower shape, slightly uneven but with spun toffee. It was all very impressive! For this attempt though I was very determined. Success would finally be mine, I could just feel it!

So on Christmas eve I set about baking my choux buns. In previous attempts I’ve noticed that once filled and refrigerated, the buns go soggy quite quickly so to counteract this I planned to bake the buns a day ahead, and construct the tower the day of. I really took my time making sure that each batch were evenly cooked through, and completely dried out. I’ve previously had issues where the buns didn’t dry out completely, but read somewhere that you should cook for 10mins at a higher temperature, before turning your oven down for the remaining time. This seemed to work very well, and I managed to turn out perfectly cooked, coloured choux buns that had a nice hollow sound when tapped on the base (thats a sign that they are cooked through). I also saw, on another cooking show, that once removed from the oven, the buns should have a small “x” cut into the base. ImageThis has two purposes; the first is to allow the heat/steam to escape from each bun, preventing them from going soggy and secondly to provide a hole to pipe the custard into later. Once this process was complete and the buns were cool I put them into an airtight container, readying myself for the great build the next day!

So I must admit that on this occasion I cheated on the custard (or creme patissiere if you want to be technically correct) and bought an extra thick store bought one, which worked really well for a time pressed and egg-short me! I also enlisted my sister to help me build the great structure, which was probably wise as she kept me sane throughout the process. Now this was the first time that I had ever used the actual cone to help me build it and if I’ve learnt one thing its INVEST IN A CONE!! It was so much faster and easier and less stressful then I’d ever envisaged. I really don’t know why I didn’t do it the first time. After some research though, I’ve read a few websites that make their own cone shape using baking paper and also use chocolate instead of toffee for a bit of a modern twist. While I’ve never personally tried either of these options they both sound worthwhile with much less risk of being burnt. ImageAfter about 15mins though, we had our tower and now for the moment of truth, turning it out! With all my fingers crossed I prayed to the gods of baking and did the magic flip, hearing the beautiful “clunck” sound of the croquembouche detaching itself from the mould! As I lifted it away I was presented with a perfectly shaped Croquembouche and about time too!! It was possibly, one of my proudest baking moments.

Now this dessert wasn’t to be eaten for a few hours so I turned it back into the cone and transported it to my Aunties house where I made one of my most amateur decisions ever….not to refrigerate the Croquembouche. So here’s another lesson I learnt on Christmas day, you must refrigerate the Croquembouche!!! Sadly for me it was all too little, too late. When it finally came time to serve up, I turned out what was once my perfectly formed Croquembouche only to have it all collapse before my eyes! To say I was devastated was an understatement. In the end though I was consoled with two thoughts; one that it would still taste just as good and two that I had already taken a picture of its success. I must say though, that it still did taste really good. So with all that said and done, here are the things that I’ve learnt when it comes to making a Croquembouche. Hopefully someone out there will learn something from my mistakes and create a beautiful, flawless Croquembouche, first time around!Image

The Do’s and Don’ts:

1. If you’re not confident with a piping bag then make a template of circles on a sheet that you place underneath your baking paper so that all of your buns are the same size

2. Do cook your buns at 200 degrees C for the first 10 mins then turn your oven down to 180 degrees C

3. Do cook your buns all the way through, even if this is longer then the recommended cooking time. They should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom and will be quite coloured. This is a good sign!

4. Do cut an “x” in the base of each bun with a sharp knife and cool completely

5. It’s ok to use store bought custard, just make sure you use one thats “extra thick”

6. Do invest in a Cone or make your own using baking paper. Spray the cone lightly with cooking spray and DO NOT use cling wrap

7. Make and serve your Croquembouche at or around the same time and in the interval REFRIGERATE!! Even if its a cool day!

And finally,

8. Do try again if it doesn’t work the first time. It’s a challenge after all!!

Happy Baking xx