31 January 2009


Ces derniers temps, je suis obsédée par la couleur violette.
Lately, I'm obsessed with the color purple.

D'abord, j'ai employé trois teintes de violet pour cet pot céramique. Le violet + le jaune = formidable! (mai 2008)
First, I used three shades of purple on this ceramic pot. Purple + yellow = gorgeous.

Je suis allée en Provence et j'ai vu champs plein de lavande. (enfin, j'ai développé mes photos couleurs d'été 2008!).
I went to Provence and I saw fields full of lavender. (I finally developped my color photos from summer 2008)

elles sont en plein floraison pour juste un moment.
they are in bloom for just a moment.

l'automne dernier, j'ai créé cette boucle d'oreille avec le cordon violet.
last autumn, i made these earring with a purple ribbon.

mon vieux mobile est mort. donc, j'en ai reçu un nouveau. et il est violet!
my old cell phone died. so, i received a new one. and it is purple!

j'ai tombée amoureuse avec un manteau violet à taipei... c'est parfait.
i fell in love with a purple coat in taipei... its perfect.

la bouteille thermos que j'ai achetée! je l'aime je l'aime je l'aime. je utilisais une bouteille plastique, mais j'étendrais beaucoup d'avertissement pour le cancer, donc j'ai décidé acheter une bouteille métal.
the termos that i bought! i love it i love it i love it. i used to use a plastic bottle, but i heard too many warnings about cancer, so i decided to buy a metal thermos.

les plis + une robe + le violet + un nœud noir = la robe parfait pour le mariage de mon amie en mars! ou, parfait pour sortir avec un garçon!
folds + dress + purple + purple bow = perfect dress for the marriage of my friend in march! or, perfect for going out with a boy!

beaucoup d'erreurs en francais, je sais... mais au moins, j'apprends de nouveau vocabulaire!
lots of errors in french, i know... but at least i'm learning some new vocabulary!

and i'm not sure when this purple phrase will be over. but i do love it!

edit: and poo! i just realized this is post #14 for january. i was going for 16, to try and beat my september record. but it wasn't meant to be - and it probably won't happen as school is starting to gear up.

28 January 2009

genoise cake

I made this a few weeks ago, it was to practice making a génoise cake, which is essentially a spongecake. it is of course, a pierre herme recipe from mes desserts preferes.

emphasis on practice cake.. lots of mishaps with this one, so it is very ugly, but I tried to look decent by using a star stenci to make stars out of almond powder on the top.

random things to remember.
-a génoise is made without any leaveners, so it gets its volume by whisking eggs into a voluminous mass. and it helps if the eggs are warm.
-get a large bowl, fill with hot water. then put a smaller bowl and whisk your eggs in them in the other bowl - but do not accidently spill the eggs into the hot water... actually, if you've never done it before, it won't be too bad because it kind of looks cool when the eggs fall in the hot water.

-then you fold in the flour portion in parts carefully so you don't deflate the whole thing
-if you're using baking rings... wrap them in parchment paper so they don't seep out while baking... not fun.
-it's a very dry cake, so it helps to soak it in something... like a liqueur or syrup.
-when i attempt it again... i will write a better guide to it, but right now this is all I have to share.

27 January 2009

new toy

a new toy... literally. a hula hoop. my new years resolution: finally learn to hula hoop, and work it.

and while i'm on the topic of goals, let's go back to my favorite goal: languages! nov 18th is the last day for me to start learning german. start. which means i need to really improve my french until then. i want to be strong in french before i attempt another language. and i picked the 18th, the day before my birthday, as the date so i could say "i started studying when I was 22" instead of "i started studying it when i was 23"..........

and of course, EVERY girl has the weight resolution, but that's boring. i'm no different. just a few pounds is all I ask, but it's a bit tough with all the love i give to the oven.

26 January 2009

recettes élémentaires / basic recipes

recettes élémentaires

from mes desserts préférés by pierre hermé, the back of the book contains all the basic recipes i'm going to do. if there's a strikethough, it means i've done it!

génoise - a basic sponge cake. check.
la meringue - i've made this for macarons, but never alone.
la pâte à biscuit cuillers - ladyfingers.
pâte a biscuit chocolat sans farine - a flowerless chocolate cookie?
la pâte à tarte ou pate brisee - pie crust
la pâte sucrée - tart dough
pâte à la cannelle - a cinnamon sweet dough?
pâte feuilletée inversee - inverse puff pastry.
crème anglaise - sweet pouring custard
crème pâtissière à la vanille - yellow pastry cream. (filling for choux, eclairs)
crème au beurre à la vanille - buttercream? I hope it's not like american buttercream!
crème au citron - lemon cream
pommes de vingt heures - 20 hour apples? i'm nmot sure if these are to eaten by themselves or used in a recipe. possibly both.
le jus de fraise - strawberry sauce!
la sauce au chocolat - chocolate sauce
glaçage au chocolat - chocolate icing
glaçage transparent - clear icing?
le sirop a imbiber - a soaking syrup?
dorure à l'œuf - an egg glaze, i think

i love this. i kill 2 birds one with stone: improve my baking skills/learn new baking things PLUS improve my french. can't be beat! i love combining the things i love. AND a third bird is, its for school as well since I've decided to use edibles as my medium to work with for art :) there will be beautiful (edible) creations made....

Almond Financiers

in between my attempts at making puff pastry, i got so frustrated that I had to make something easy. and, a way to use up my 5 egg whites leftover from making creams. So I turned to my favorite book for inspiration, Grand livre de Cuisine: Alain Ducasse's Desserts and Pastries.

And in it, on page 365, I found the perfect recipe. Financiers.

250 g almond powder
250 g sifted flour
750 g powdered sugar
625 g egg whites
625 g brown butter
vanilla extract

Such simple materials, such lovely results.

But.. brown butter? What's that? I'd never heard of it. So I did some googling, and found out it was just butter that had been heated until it turned brown (surprise, surprise) and had a nutty smell. That's exactly what I did. Except, I may have burned it as there were particles near the bottom. But I used them anyway as I love the taste of burnt things :D

I sifted together the almond powder, flour, and powdered sugar into a bowl. (I highly suggest never sifting almond powder by itself. It tends to clog up the seive, so life is much easier when you sift it at the same time with sugar or flour.) Then I gradually folded in the egg whites in about three parts. Then I added the brown butter once it had cooled a bit, along with a bit of vanilla extract.

The texture was like a thick molasses. It couldn't hold it's own shape as a solid, but it definitely wasn't runny runny. It just moved s-l-o-w-l-y. I poured and scraped it into a ziplock bag in a bowl so i could pipe it later, and then refrigerated it.

Once cooled, I piped it 3/4 full into little pineapple cake molds. But any mini loaf pan, or cupcake holders, or anything small, will do. Make sure to butter the sides for easy release! Then I topped it off with a whole almond.

About 10 minutes later in a 410F/210C oven, these little babies popped out!

And they were delicious! I like them because they have a crusty outside texture that contrasts against the soft and chewy inside. Yum yum! (actually the real reason is because they are perfect for using up extra egg whites!)

I also love them because of the amount of variation one can do. They can easily be turned into hazelnut financiers, or jam can be stuck on top instead of a nut, or a different extract... just a few ingredient swaps, and you will have something tasting completely different! But hopefully delicious as well. Check out this site for really awesome inspiration for changing up the recipe. It is in French but the pictures say a lot :)

And a history lesson on the origin of the name financier. According to here, financiers were created in the 1890s by a patissier named Lasne who wanted to make a pastry to satisfy the taste buds of men working in finance which would not leave them with dirty hands. It also seems financiers were at first oval shaped, but when some Swiss nuns of the visitandine order decided to make them, they changed the shape to the gold bullions to avoid being accused of plagiarism. So some patisseries still call them visitandines. Rectangular and color of gold, financiers are enjoyed with a cup of tea, or in my case, milk! (I hope I translated the article correctly... my French is not perfect, so if I misinterprted anything from that site, please tell me!)

In english, I think we just simply call them teacakes.

20 January 2009

(mis)adventures and experiments in puff pastry

Puff pastry. Or in french: pâte feuilletée. Not to be confused with cream puff dough or phyllo dough, puff pastry is the flaky and buttery goodness you find in turnovers and napoleons/millefeuilles. I was first hooked on it when I made these pinwheels from Cherrypeno. They were so easy and tasty that it easily became a "go-to" recipe because it had a 100% chance of people liking them (seriously, every time I make them, everybody likes them. That's rare for a savory!). But, a part of me always felt bad because I was using something I had no idea how to make - the puff pastry. I'm okay with shortcuts if you already know the long way, but I had no idea how to make puff pastry that didn't require going to the grocery strore and swiping my credit card. So the more I was making pinwheels, the larger the urge to make my own puff pastry grew.

And I finally attempted! Emphasis on attempt. And, I didn't realize this at the time, but I chose to make a fussier method of puff pastry, the pâte feuilletée inversée. Puff pastry, in short, is made up alternating layers of dough and butter. The original method has the dough wrapping the butter, but this method has the butter wrapping the dough. Which is a very sticky mess because with the butter on the outside, it is even more sensitive to the warmth of our hands.

I definitely don't feel confident enough to write a tutorial about making puff pastry, but below are the notes and observations and things learned by a first time puff pastry maker. I find when I write things down, I remember them better for the next time. But you can always skip to the end to see how I ended up doing :)

I used this recipe from Cannelle et Vanille as well as a recipe from Pierre Hermé's gorgeous Mes desserts préférés to help guide me. This recipe had lots of helpful notes as well.

Cannelle et Vanille's recipe calls for (which is an adapted Hermé recipe):

Butter block
400g unsalted butter, room temperature
175g all purpose flour

Dough block
185g water
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white vinegar
420g all purpose flour
115g butter, melted and cooled

Pierre Herme's recipe calls for:
Butter block
400g unsalted butter, room temperature
175g flour

Dough block
185g water
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white vinegar
420g farine gruau (voire un peu plus suivant les qualités)
115g butter, melted and cooled

I decided I was going to use the book's recipe, but follow Cannelle et Vanille's instructions - this way, I got the best of both worlds! I wasn't sure what "gruau" meant, so I looked it up, and found out it meant "wheat." So I ended up using wheat flour for my first attempt, which is why my dough looks so dark and different.

Making the 2 parts was easy. For the butter block, I chopped up some butter, softened it in 5 second stints in the microwave, creamed it using the mixer and then added the flour. I patted it into a nice large square, wrapped it up in plastic wrap, and stuck it in the refrigerator to cool.

For the dough block, I first mixed the water, vinegar, and salt together. I then dumped my flour into the mixing bowl and added the melted butter as the paddle attachment spun around. It eventually became a lumpy mess, and so I added very slowly and gradually, the water mixture. I added it until the dough started coming up off the bowl and coming together. I patted this into a slightly smaller square, wrapped it up, and stuck it in the refrigerator as well.

Not bad - yet!

Here is where the fun begins. Keep in mind I'd never made puff pastry, nor seen it made before, so many things I did, I wasn't sure if it was right or wrong.

#1. I guess my fridge is colder than Cannelle et Vanille's, because my blocks came out HARD. However, I just used brute strength and rolled them out between sheets of parchment paper to avoid stickyness.- which led to cracked edges in my dough. Every time I folded the dough, the edges cracked and what was underneath peeked through. And although I felt that that shouldn't be happening, I kept going.

For my first batch of puff pastry, I ended up with a splotchy thing with thick layers as well as crazy height (about 3/4" tall!) because I hadn't rolled it thin enough.

So when my remaining dough, I decided to make more folds, and try to make pinwheels. Peanut butter, almond slices, and blueberry preserves where spread out on a puff pastry sheet, rolled up, and sliced.

I ended up getting layers galore as well as incredible width because I still hadn't rolled the my puff pastry thin enough. So there were layers, but no puff.

And another thing to note: none of these were coming out flaky. They were all rather soggy.

Then the genius in me (not) decides to poke holes in it and put an eggwash on it to see what would happen.

The holes made it rise even less. And I fail at coating things with eggs too, apparantly.

frozen store bought (left) vs. my poorly made version (right)

On a whim, I pulled out the frozen store brought puff pastry and baked it alongside my sad homemade one. And the differences galore! The store bought one was everything expected: puffy, crispy, melt in your mouth. Mine: too tall, too dense, no puff, chewy rather than melty,.. but at least pulling out the frozen one refreshed my memory on what puff pastry should taste like.

I finished my baking experimentation with the first batch. Result = edible, but not what I really wanted.

I made new batches of dough. But this time, it was late and I didn't want to deal with French, so I just used Cannelle et Vanille's ingredient list. So, my dough no longer had that wheaty look. I made the 2 blocks, stuck them in the fridge, and went off to do other things to clear my head for the night.

Day 2: Try again!

On the left is my second batch attempt, and the right is the store bought. On the top is raw, and on the bottom is baked. Much better results than the first time, I was happy!

This time when I rolled out the dough, I let it soften after taking it out from my fridge. This way, the dough would stretch as I rolled it instead of cracking. However, it still cracked - but I made sure to go slow, and everytime I saw one, I would rub the edges together to heal it. I wasn't going to have splotchy layers - they were going to be right, this time! I also did the correct amount of folds this time. No extra folds for me. Another thing I deviated on: I didn't let the dough rest for the full 2 hours in between folds, 40-60 min was enough for me. But by being gentle with the dough and not allowing the cracks to become too large, I got results!

But... not happy enough. Because, although it flaked, had puff, and looked right, it didn't taste right. So I reread the instructions and discovered an important part I'd subconsciously ignored: the cooking time. I'm always afraid of overcooking things, and so many cake recipes that I'd done before always make you take the cake out of the oven before it looks done because it will still cook a little more once out of the oven. I had been sticking my puff pastry in there for maybe 15-18 minutes, and taking it out the moment I saw puff. Which, as I discovered later, is not the thing to do.

I did something different: I coated the top of the puff pastry with sugar. Then I stuck it in the preheated 450F oven that was immediately lowered to 375F as I slid the baking sheet in for exactly ten minutes along with an empty pizza pan. After the 10 minutes were up, I then placed a sheet of parchment paper on top along with the hot empty pizza pan. I waited another ten minutes, so at this point had been twenty minutes, took off the pizza pan, and flipped my puff pastries. Then I let it sit in the oven for another five minutes. So a total of twenty five minutes. And it hit the spot. It was everything I was hoping for and had looked for!

Flaky. Crispy. Crunchy. Melty. Perfect Height. Perfect layers.

Here is a comparison of my attempts - 2 attempts in making dough, and 2 attempts in baking methods.

Left: First batch, where it was the folding that made this dough not puff up. And possibly my underbaking times as well.
Middle: Second batch, but I had stuck it in the oven with no sugar, flipping, no pizza pan on top, and with a too short oven baking time.
Right: Second batch baked correctly, with caramelized sugar on top. The end result! Everything I'd learned resulted in this one.

I was happy making rectangles, but then I decided it was too much work to cut and measure them the same size. So I instead made ovals using a cookie cutter.

And voila! My little ovals came out perfectly. However, I did not slice off the edges to reveal the layers because it would make my puff pastry tiny - and I didn't feel like sacrificing size. So I think the key is to either bake a large sheet of puff pastry and cut it to size after baking, or cut out your shapes larger than normal before you bake, and trim the edges after it's been baked. Or, if you prefer to not show off the layers and want less mess and fuss, it still looks good without any trimming! But it's just one of many options that I've thought about.

(The filling is crème pâtisserie and blueberries)

For my next napoleon/millefeuille, I made rectangles and trimmed them after baking, which resulted in a large mess but very tasty snacks.

And construction wise, 2 subtle differences. I added another cream, a chantilly cream, and decided not to pipe it on top of the fruit. But I realized that was a mistake because the puff pastry layers just slid off since there was nothing to stick to.

Just another view because I love looking at the layers.

I had some scrap dough, so I decided to try making palmiers. I got a bowl full of sugar and cinnamon, and coated both sides of the dough.

Rolled it into shape, and then kept rolling it in the sugar and cinnamon mix.
If you want to make a lot, it is easier to do this in a sheet, roll it up, and slice. I only had enough dough for 3 so I just made mine from strips. But it's nice because I don't get perfect uniform palmiers, they are all subtly different!

Stuck it in the oven, and 10 minutes later, bam! Lovely palmiers.

Conclusion: What fun...! I can't wait to do it again. I know that shouldn't be my reaction, but it really was worth it - and I just love layers. And I loved how once you got the dough down, the things and shapes you make afterwards are endless. Aside from the forms, the taste can also change since the dough itself as no sugar, it is perfect for savory things. So maybe next time I will play with the savory side of puff pastry.

17 January 2009

des nuages de la france / clouds of france

I know I just got back from Taiwan, but all I've been doing is immersing myself in French dessert cookbooks, so I find myself missing France at the moment.

Of course I miss the people, language, food, etc, but what I really miss are... the clouds, les nuages.

they were always so poofy and large. but more importantly, they were so low that I always felt I could touch them as long as I just raised my arm. in texas we have clear skies most of the time, and the clouds are tiny, thin, and very high up in the sky.

i just miss feeling close to the sky and the idea of clouds being only inches away from me. I was also very lucky because not once did it rain in Paris for me. My host there told me that Parisians are already grumpy, and when it rains, they become even grumpier. But I actually didn't experience any grumpy Parisians, so I think I would enjoy the rain in Paris :)

PS: puff pastry. millefeuilles. madeleines. financiers. genoise cake. chantilly cream. <------ this is what happens when you don't have an oven for 5 weeks. pictures soon, yay!

14 January 2009

reunited with my oven

the joy of traveling backwards in time! I had to switch planes 2 times, which is always a pain, but it had a very nice plus: I was able to see 2 sunsets and 2 sunrises in four different cities within 24 hours. Taipei sunrise, Tokyo sunset, Los Angeles sunrise, and Dallas sunset. All very beautiful.

More importantly, I am home. A home that has an oven. An oven I have missed very much! I was twitching in Taipei because my grandmother's kitchen doesn't have an oven. So I had to get my bake on immediately once I was back home.

a traditional taiwanese treat, called "tai4 yan bing" - more on this later.

I was feeling lazy. So one destroyed vanilla cake (box mix)...

and lots of destroyed kiwis and bananas... (PS, I recently discovered that the skin was edible. at first I was hesitant, but now I'm used to it and my life is much easier because i don't have to eat kiwis with a spoon anymore!)

and a box of vanilla pudding with gelatin added...

tada! a trifle in cake form! i guess the official name would be "vanilla pudding cake with kiwis and bananas."

this was all yesterday. right now, i'm making puff pastry, the inverted pierre herme way. I hope it turns out okay!

11 January 2009

goodbye, taiwan

i've been here for 33 days... (note, don't go over like I did or you will have to pay 5000NT like I did to get an extension)

and i've enjoyed every moment, savored every bite, and although i am leaving my new friends, i'm exciting to be returning to my old ones.

it doesn't here if I am here for 1 week or 1 month, it always feels too short when I leave.

HOWEVER, i am also happy to once again know what an empty stomach feels like. mmm, microwaved frozen meals... (how i've missed you, amy's palak paneer and matar paneer!) and to go jogging and push those lungs while dropping some kilos.

But I am ready to tackle my last semester of college! (and finally get to watch Benjamin Button)

I also seriously underestimated how much I stuff I bought. I hope it doesn't go over too much..

I'll be back for sure! And I still have many stories and photos to share, so this little blog will still get lots of Taiwan moments.