Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Year of Cakes...I can't believe it worked Martha!

Last Friday, the day had arrived. The baking challenge was on. Martha vs Tiff & Nicky. From this humble bowl of lemons, we hoped to recreate Martha’s Meyer Lemon Anniversary Cake, or shall we call it Martha’s Meyer Lemon Marathon Cake….cos this really was a test of our baking endurance. 10 hours from start to finish!

What is a Meyer lemon we asked? We weren’t really sure…so we took a bit of lemon licence. All we knew was that we needed a lot of them. And eggs. Two dozen, in fact. 16 egg yolks for the lemon curd alone! We decided early on that this cake was going to be a heart attack waiting to happen. And don’t get us started on the separation anxiety I experienced after separating two dozen eggs! Thank goodness we took some cake licence as well and made only one tier, not the three tiers in the original recipe. Oh, and a bit of shape licence…round not square!

The cake consisted of 5 main components: the lemon cake, lemon simple syrup, lemon curd, Swiss meringue buttercream and candied lemon slices. At 10am, we started with the lemon curd. When a recipe says to whisk “constantly” for 8-10 minutes, much groaning is usually heard. So I start whisking my life away, but wait a minute, the curd’s already thickened and it’s only been 3 minutes, is this right…oh, and what are these brown specks throughout…oops, think that’s the burnt curd from the bottom of the saucepan. Drats! But hey, it tastes fantastic…let’s use it, not gonna waste 16 egg yolks….no one will see it between the layers! Much licking of saucepan follows and blaming of the whisk for not getting into the corners of the saucepan….

Meanwhile, Tiff is working on the lemon cake. We decided to make the two cakes required (to get 4 layers) in two batches for fear my Kitchenaid would choke on that much batter…or was that butter?? Anyways, no real dramas here, apart from some extra cooking time required. Here is a pic of one of the pre-baked cakes:

After a quick break for lunch to re-energise, we started on the lemon simple syrup while we let the cakes cool. And simple it was indeed. Thanks Martha.

Next up were the candied lemon slices. Ok, so here we had a few little hiccups. How do you get paper-thin slices when you have lemons full of pips? Is there such thing as a pip-less lemon? Maybe we should have hunted down these Meyer lemons after all. So, what we ended up with were several lopsided holey slices. We’re sure Martha wouldn’t approve. But they still candied up nicely:

And now to the final component, the Swiss meringue buttercream. Neither of us are big fans of buttercream. Something about the bland way-too-much-butter creamy texture. Ugh. But away we went, whisking our lives away again over the stove, guessing the temperature of the mixture with my finger (not recommended!) and questioning what Martha means when she asks for “stiff, but not dry” egg whites. Not dry….hmmmm. The interesting part came with the yellow food colouring. Having never food coloured anything before, we started cautiously with 1 drop. No change. 2 drops. Still no change. 3 drops, 4 drops, 5 drops, 6 drops, how about another 7 drops etc etc. And so, about 60 drops later, we finally got the pastel lemon shade we were after!

At last…we’re ready to assemble. Thanks to a hot little Martha
tip, we cut 4 even layers. Believe me, we thought this alone was a major milestone. Each layer was then soaked with lemon syrup and spread with a generous layer of lemon curd. Check out our work-in-progress:

This was followed by a layer of buttercream all over, which had to be chilled, then a second layer of buttercream which needed more chilling (meanwhile, we have ducked out for dinner @ my local Japanese). Finally, finally…we can decorate with our candied lemon slices and some camellia leaves (ok, so we couldn’t get our hands on lemon leaves, we had to improvise!). Here is our finished masterpiece next to Martha’s:

Martha's perfect 3-tier version:

And our humble 1-tier version - oops, sorry about the crumbs!:

And here’s a comparison of a slice of the cake:

Martha's slice:

Our slice:And the taste you ask?? Absolute lemony deliciousness!! We can’t believe it worked. We are rather chuffed. We have been quite cynical about dear Martha in the past, but now have a new-found respect for the domestic diva. And a new-found confidence to take on more baking challenges!

At 9pm, the day ended tired and sticky…but we loved this yummy resolution. Can’t wait til next month! N

Monday, January 30, 2006

Month of Softies- Jan 2006

Nicky & I have a t-shirt range and we stock some of them in a store called Hudson (Melbourne, Victoria)... and this is where we first discovered the world of Loobylu. We were standing outside peering into the windows, excitedly pointing and asking "How much is that softie in the window?".

Little did we know that we were also about to enter the big bad world of blogs... Hours later after we both had emerged from the time sucking vortex of blog reading, we decided that we really wanted to contribute to the Month of Softies... a monthly excuse to create a sweet little treat that we could cuddle! Yahoo!

So here are our firstborn(s) in the theme of fairytales... 3 bears who love porridge, but aren't really keen on girl's that have golden hair. T

Kwaii!!!... meets Chinese New Year!

Happy Year of the dog! Being Eurasian & Nicky a full-blooded Australian born Chinese (ABC) we get to celebrate another new year... the Chinese Year of the dog. According to tradition anyone born in this year is supposed to be loving & loyal... but to us it means feasting with family, Yum cha feasting, lion dancing, did I mention feasting (?) & handing out money!

that's right money! As soon as you get married you have to dispense lucky money in red packets to all the unmarrieds who in return have to wish you luck for the year. Yes, we enjoy a moment of high popularity when even the surly teenage cousins greet you with a big smile! It sure is good not being married around this time of year!

Here are some of the gorgeous red packets and postcards designed to celebrate this time of year, that I discovered in Tokyo. I have found them very hard to part with and have had to keep a few of them stashed away with my other kwaii (super cool cute) Tokyo treasures... hopefully each month I will delve into my box and post some of my other Japanese sweet little treats up....

Wishing you all prosperity & good fortune for 2006! T

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The millefeuille mission - Part 1

For many a first timer’s trip to Paris, there are usually a few must-see sights on the list. Eiffel Tower. Check. Notre Dame. Check. The Louvre. Check. Champs Elysees. Check. But this last October, being my 5th time in the city I love, I was armed with a must-see list of a different kind. I will call it the “SBS” list. Sights by Stomach. It goes something like this. Laduree. Check. Gerard Mulot. Check. Poilane. Check. La Grande Epicerie. Check. And so on. I once asked Tiff how many patisseries one can consume in a day. The answer: It depends on the quality. Well, due to the sheer quantity of QUALITY Parisian patisseries, foodie emporiums and the like, one cannot restrict oneself to merely 1 sweet little treat per day. We’re talking at least 3 or 4…. multiply that by a 5-day visit & that comes to….whatever. And of course, this doesn’t count the dessert following dinner….or the souvenir treats to take home. Why? Don’t know, they just don’t count.

And this is where we come to Pierre Herme. The darling of the Parisian patisserie world, Pierre Herme designs desserts like designing fashion. Apart from the “classic” treats, we’re talking seasonal collections here. We’re talking queues each day that run outside his jewellery-like boutique in the St-Germain area. We’re talking immaculately presented salespeople in black suits. If Armani had a patisserie, it would look like this. For many years, I have been on the hunt for the perfect millefeuille (“1000 leaves”). The hunt came to a halt a couple of years ago when Tiff had a millefeuille epiphany (and several since!) at PH. The best ever I was told.

Finally I was here…..on entering the queue-less (!) store one Tuesday morning, the PH collections glistened before me. But I managed to stay focused enough to order what I was looking for. The friendly man behind the counter placed my millefeuille in a white box, into a bag along with a napkin and two clear plastic spoons. They must know that we patisserie-hunters can’t wait and must consume right away. So thoughtful. And so, off the patient hubbie & I went to the nearby Luxembourg Gardens to devour our treat. Well…Tiff was spot on. Imagine layers of crispy flaky pastry layered with the most sublimely smooth crème patissiere (vanilla pastry cream), with one layer consisting of crunchy praline bits and the top, a layer of caramelised pastry. Such tasty textural perfection. Yummo. Much licking of box and fingers followed. It was sooo hard to share, and there’s a reason I had to….but we’ll save that for another time… N

Pierre Herme
72 rue Bonaparte
75006 Paris
Metro: St-Sulpice

Open: Tues-Sun 10am-7pm (Sat til 7.30pm)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ooh-la-la....a traveller's tasty tales

“Ooh-la-la!”…..this expression has been exclaimed many a time on my travels overseas….usually when standing outside a patisserie wondering why my baking endeavours don't look that perfect or admiring a beautiful display of confectionery inside a confiserie’s window. It is usually accompanied by much pointing, more ooh-la-la-ing and deliberation over what goodies I need to have right now…followed by “Can you take a photo, I’m going in” to my hubbie, before yours truly disappears inside….only to exit with a smirk on my face & a beautifully-wrapped package waiting to be enjoyed....

And so, through this series of posts, I hope to share some snippets & tasty tidbits from my travels, the joy and sensory overload on discovering something truly amazing….foodie or otherwise. So let the journey begin…. N

Might be like Martha- Let the baking begin!

Nicky & I are weekend bakers. Any suggestion of a get-together or a special occasion and you'll find us with our respective red Kitchen Aids in a baking frenzy.

Just before Christmas we spent 4 days in the sweltering Aussie heat baking from Martha Stewart's holiday cookie collection (who would've thought that converting from imperial to metric could be so dicey!). We were pretty chuffed with the results, even if the chocolate & vanilla bulls eyes looked more like cat's eyes!

Maybe we are still on a sugar high, but this experience has inspired us to push our baking to "another level".... We are aiming high! To the Queen of occasion baking... Martha Stewart.

"Start the new year with a positively yummy resolution- to celebrate each month by making a cake." Martha Stewart Jan 2006. Sounds enticing doesn't it! We think it is a much easier resolution than going to the gym! In the current issue of Martha Stewart's Living we discovered the "Year of Cakes" and each month you will be able to see our attempts to reach Martha perfection! Hence, the title "might be like Martha"... because the results may show that we might not!

As soon as we figure out the whole blog & photo thing we would love to see anyone else's attempts at the "Year of Cakes" and we will post them up.

We look forward to showing you our January attempt with the ridiculously difficult looking Martha's Meyer Lemon Anniversary cake.