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Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Little Diva (not me, it's Macaron) went to Bangkok!


I had an impromptu short trip to Bangkok last month. My sister had a promotional ticket through Royal Orchid Plus at a half price. I only bought ticket a month before the trip and stayed in Bangkok for few weeks (I also went to Macau and Hong Kong for five days during that time, which I’m hoping to write a post about it).

My family and friends in Bangkok regularly asked me to bring back me-made macarons. These little beauties are so tempting that they so want to try. Macaron fever is slowing catching on in Thailand. They are more likely to be found in luxury hotels’ and/or high-end bakeries/cafes.  I had some macarons from Plaza Athenee Hotel while I was there. Umm, let me say they were far, far from good.

Macarons from The Plaza Athenee

I had few weeks to make macarons before the trip. I made one batch (with one or two flavours) every week and freeze them (minus my and S’ consumption). So, I ended up with six flavours to take back to Bangkok; chocolate peanut butter, cumquat, green tea, cherry, lemon and raspberry macarons.

Macarons freeze well. There are little, if any, degradations provided that they are defrosted properly. Some macaron flavours/fillings also freeze better than others (chocolate ganache and almond/nut butter in particular).

Yes, in general, they freeze well. However, in this case, I was taking them across two continents, travelled over 7,000 kilometres to get from Melbourne to Bangkok. They went across two climate zones with temperature fluctuations in between; from –18c in the freezer to 11c ambient temperature in Melbourne and to 32C (with high humidity) in Bangkok. Those poor macarons had been through a lot before they were presented to my family and friends. Anyhow, they still tasted great (though some of them were a bit soft and too moist as a result of condensation). They received lots of praises from the eaters. It was also wonderful to share these heavenly morsels with others.  

Note to self:
If I am to take macarons to travel long distance again, I would make ones with chocolate ganache or butter-based fillings. It would be less prone to condensation.

After the long trip, the little diva (mon macarons) needs a good rest in the freezer to firm up before consumption. The hot and humid weather in Bangkok did some damages to the little beauties.

All in all, it works quite well. Not that macarons enjoyed the long distance travel but they coped relatively well.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pear Danish - fruits for breakfast, check!


Pear has been in full season for few months and I have been having them in many different forms; fresh, poached and baked, in many different dishes; pancake, salad, cakes…and today, with Danish. I love cooking with seasonal produces. Not only that they taste better, they are also more economical and take less food miles to get to my plate.

These danishes were made using the croissant dough with natural starter. It can also be made with any croissant/laminated dough of your choice. The pastry was filled with crème patiserrie (pastry crème) and top with poached pears. I roughly followed the recipe from Bourke Street Bakery cookbook. I changed the recipe slightly by using my own poached pear recipe and different croissant dough.


It was the first time I made Danish. At first, the shaping was a little challenge. They kept springing back and shrinking. I finally got the hang of it after few tries.

These Danishes were heavenly, seriously good. They were moist, buttery and flavoursome. Crème patisserie and poached pears added dimensions and flavours to the pastry. They were perfect for breakfast and/or afternoon tea.  It didn’t make us feel so bad to have buttery pastry for breakfast, given that there were some small pieces of fruits on them J. Well, at least, we had fruits for breakfast.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dan Leapard's Crusty Potato Bread



The recipe came from Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf that I bought few months ago. I haven’t got around to bake anything from the book until now. Too many baked goods I want to try, so little time.

I made potato bread several times with mash potato and baked potato but never made one with grated potato which was used in this recipe. I was curious to find out. I was tempted to tweak the recipe a little by including rosemary, olive oil, nigella seeds and/or garlic as but I remembered the word of wisdom, “not to tweak the recipe when you make it the first time”. So, I struck with the recipe, well sort of. I replaced some of the bread flour (15%) with rye (5%) and whole wheat flour (10%). I also increased the hydration a little.

The dough was rather wet as grated potato continued to release its water into the dough which was somewhat a challenge to work with. I had to do stretch and fold in the bowl several times to achieve proper gluten development.  In hindsight, I should have struck with Lepard’s original hydration (50%) or may increase the hydration to 55% instead of 60% in this recipe. Umm, I just couldn’t help myself to tweak the recipe.

The bread was nice and moist. Grated potato was cooked and disappeared into the dough and gave the moisture to the crumbs. Honey (about 5% in term of Baker’s Percentage) gave slight hint of sweetness. The crust was browner than usual due to honey (I believe). The brown caramelised crust also added flavour to the bread.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Croissant with Natuaral Starter - the new PB


Another winning recipe from Suas’s Advance Bread and Pastry cookbook, Croissant made with Natural Starter (sourdough starter). So far, I have made croissants using four different formulas; one with preferment, one with poolish, whole wheat croissant and the latest into the repertoire, croissant made with natural starter.

I considered this batch my new PB (personal best) as it gave the most wonderful and flavoursome croissants, and the best looking ones tooJ. Contrary to what you might be thinking, that sourdough starter will produce sour taste croissants. This is not the case at all. The amount of starter was small enough not to give the acidic taste, but in the meantime, it was enough to enhance the flavour. If you have sourdough starter, I encourage you to give this recipe a go. Though there is a little extra step to prepare the starter dough (using natural starter), it is very well worth it.



Because Suas’ book gears towards professional, adjusting the recipe to a domestic batch size involved some math works. The recipe also didn’t include roll-in butter (for lamination). Converting the recipe to the homemade batch size resulted in tiny amount of egg used in preferment and half-egg in the final dough mixing. I omitted the egg in preferment altogether and used half of one egg in the final dough and the other half for egg wash.

The dough was a breeze to work with in the rolling and laminating departments. I'd like to believe that having sourdough starter and preferment contributed to the pallable and strong dough. Making croissants might sound daunting and involved but it is achievable and the results are truly rewarding. Fresh homemade croissants will beat any great commercial croissants. It made the perfect weekend for us and I'm sure it will make yours.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wheaty Sourdough with cracked wheat, wheat berries and wheat germ


I picked up a bag of bulgur and wheat berries from the grocer few weeks ago and plan to make multigrain bread from it.

Seeing wheat berries somehow made me feel connected to the food source. It was also interesting to see that most grain seeds looks almost identical, to name a few, wheat, rice, barley, etc.


I wanted to make bread with many forms of wheat in it. Wheat products I got in my pantry were wheat berries, wheat germs, bulgur, whole wheat flour, wheat brans (that I didn’t use in this bread). Most of them were included in this recipe. Yes, you’ve got that right, another baking week with toasted wheat germ!



Thursday, July 7, 2011

Focaccia with Rosemary and Tarragon herb oil


There seem to be many similarities between pizza, focaccia and ciabatta. Apart from one obvious similarity which is ‘they’re all Italian bread, they have the same dough consistency with the same hydration (water to flour ratio). They are all rustic and somewhat lean bread (with or without olive oil in them). Some of the cookbook also used the same recipe to produce these three breads and shape them differently.

I bake pizza often but hardly make focaccia. This was only the second time I made them. I used Peter Reinhart’s recipe from American Pie. The dough is prepared a day before and baked the next day. The recipe and process is somewhat similar to his pizza recipe in Bread Baker’s Apprentice. It called for cold water and overnight retardation straight after the mixing. The dough was relatively easy to mix by hand (I did this in a bowl with wet hands). The dough came together and the gluten was developed quickly, which I believe resulted from high level of water in the dough. Kneading dough with olive oil by hand was enjoyable. My hands and the dough were so soft and supple as a result.


From time to time, I had trouble shaping pizzas to the desired shape, size and thinness. The trouble also extended to transferring the pizza from bench to the baking stone. Making focaccia eliminates these issues as the dough is shaped and baked in trays or pans. Focaccia and pizza are similar in more ways than one. You can use the same dough to make focaccia or pizza. Toppings also work interchangeably between the two.


 I also adjusted the recipe a little by including 200 g of sourdough starter and reduce the amount of yeast by half (from 1.5 % to 0.75% in term of Baker’s Percentage). I made pure sourdough pizza before. Though it tasted great, it wasn’t as light as I wanted. In my opinion, the sourdough starter didn’t have enough power to rise against the topping. I decided to include both starter and yeast in this recipe for both flavour and rising ability.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ciabatta with toasted wheat germ and olive oil – wheat germ obsession continues



I have an obsession with wheat germ. I love its aroma and taste, especially when it is toasted and used for bread. I’m so obsessed that whenever I saw the recipe with wheat germs, I would jump to it.

Flipping through Bread cookbook by Jeffrey Hamelman, I came across Ciabatta with wheat germ and olive oil. The recipe is in the pre-ferment dough section that deserves more attention than I gave to it (I generally bake more with sourdough starter, and less with yeast). The flavour profile sounded promising, wheat germ and olive oil with high hydration dough (high water percentage to flour).

This was the second time I made Ciabatta. The first time, I used recipe from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice cookbook. Reinhart’s shaping method was rather different from others. He shaped the dough by folding it into three-fold, like a letter fold. From my understanding, one of the characteristics of Ciabatta is random large-holes, which requires gentle shaping to retain the air pockets. This would mean minimum shaping, if any. I did some more searches on the shaping and reconfirmed (from Susan@Wild Yeast’s video and Jeffrey Hamelman instruction) that ciabatta need no shaping at all. Instead, ciabatta dough is gently patted into big rectangular dough piece and cut into a long wide strip. The big strip is then placed onto heavy floured baker’s linen to proof. The purpose is to not deflate the dough and retain the air pocket produced during fermentation.