Saturday, 27 September 2014

Lemon and Crystallised Ginger Brioche

There are many ways to greet people, obviously... There's the handshake; a hug; a hug and a kiss (or two or three) on the cheek; the Japanese bowing; the Thai wai, etc... Which are all fine by me. But then there's also the fist bump which makes things awkward.

I am not the kind of person who'd initiate a fist bump just so you know; and whenever someone offers the salutation, it always takes me a second to think what to do with it, how to reciprocate the hand gesture.

The appropriate way is of course to return the favour and you 'pound' it. I think that's the right terminology... To pound... I don't know. As you can tell, I am cool like that... Not! 

Anyway, recently at the end of a work-shift, a colleague offered a fist bump and after a couple of seconds of what feels like a very slow thought process, I decided to wrap my hand around his fist and I shook it. Yes, I shook it.

.....*insert favourite swearword! 

Just thinking about that moment gives me the creep. Oh Michael, WHY?!

My question of the day, what's your opinion on fist bump? Have you experienced similar awkward situation? No? Just me? Ok then...

Anyway...moving on... Let's focus on these delicious and fragrant lemon and crystallised ginger brioche buns. Brioche is one of my favourite breads. It's soft and buttery, with a rich flavour and a light texture. Thanks to the high content of butter and also the eggs which make this bread utterly sublime. 

There are several methods to making brioche dough which sometimes take a day or two. Because of the high butter content, often when the dough is made, you have to refrigerate it for several hours or overnight so that it's easier to handle and shape. My version here, I suppose is an express brioche and great for us with little patience. It is still buttery, and the dough will be soft but not impossible to handle straightaway. 

As with any enriched dough, brioche has a lot going that yeast does not like, so making a sponge starter helps achieve a light brioche. And it's nothing complicated at all. Believe me. 

The flavour idea comes from an evening of sipping lemon and ginger tea... And I just thought wouldn't it be great to be able to chew on this, and so... yeah, greed also plays a big part in the making of these brioche buns. 

I hope you give this a go... Have a great weekend! x
Lemon and Crystallised Ginger Brioche
Makes 20 brioche buns

For the sponge
40 gr strong white flour
5 gr instant yeast
65 ml lukewarm milk

300 gr strong white flour
50 gr caster sugar
5 gr salt
1 lemon, zest and juice
3 eggs + 1 for egg wash
90 gr soft butter, unsalted
50 gr crystallised ginger

Rock salt, for topping

Make the sponge by combining all the sponge ingredients in a bowl and giving them a good mix with your hand. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for few minutes to allow the yeast to grow and the mixture will become foamy and bubbly.

In a mixing bowl, add all the sponge and the rest of the ingredients, except the butter and the crystallised ginger. If you have a freestanding mixer that comes with a dough hook, do use it. At first the mixture will look runny and sticking to the sides of the bowl, but not to worry, just keep the mixer going at medium-high speed for few minutes and it will come together eventually. 

Once the dough comes together nicely, take a little piece of the dough and check if it has passed the windowpane test.  This is to tell if you've sufficiently kneaded your dough.  To do this, hold the little piece of dough and gently stretch the dough into thin translucent membrane; and if you hold it against the light, you should be able to see the light coming through (the windowpane). If you can do this without tearing the dough, that means the gluten is well-developed and you can proceed to the next step. 

Add the butter in three additions and once the butter is fully incorporated into the dough, throw in the chopped crystallised ginger and mix again for a couple of minutes. Take the dough out and shape it into a ball. Place on a lightly greased sheet pan or a big bowl and cover with cling film. Let the dough rest and proof until it doubles in size. This may take from 45 minutes to an hour depending on the temperature of the room.

Divide the dough into 20 equal size... You can eyeball it, or if you want to be precise, each ball is about 36 grams. Shape the dough into little balls and place into a lightly greased moulds. But you can shape it anyway you want... in a loaf pan, or you can circle them around in a baking tin and make a 'tear-and-share' kind of shape. Let the dough proof again for the second time for about hour or so. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 170 C. 

Before baking, brush or spray generously with egg wash which will make the brioche glisten later, and top with a little sprinkling of rock sea salt.  Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until the top is golden. Let cool a little and you know what to do next...

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Earl Grey Panna Cotta - Video

It's amazing what you can do with so little ingredients.... Milk, cream, sugar, gelatin and a flavouring of your choice and you get yourself a scrumptious, classic Italian nursery dessert... Panna Cotta. 

This has to be one of the easiest desserts to make... In a sentence: heat the milk and cream, add sugar, the soften gelatin, pour into moulds and let it set in the fridge. That's really it. Also best thing is, you can make this in advance for a dinner party or for a sole-indulgence moment after a long day. But you should make this in advance anyway, at least for few hours for the panna cotta to set and become fridge cold. 

However, what I find really important in making "the perfect panna cotta" is the consistency. It should be soft-set but firm enough to be unmoulded without collapsing. To achieve this, you do need to follow the exact requirement for the setting agent. 

Instead of using gelatin, I use agar-agar here because it was easier to find back in Indonesia and also it's vegetarian friendly (agar-agar is extracted from seaweed after all). But whichever one you're using, make sure to follow the instructions. Gelatin sheets need to be soften first in cold water before adding it to the warm cream and milk mixture; whereas agar-agar powder reacts to heat in order for the setting to occur. 

Flavour-wise, you can do anything you want really... Vanilla is traditional but you can be as creative as you want... This time round I'm giving my panna cotta an Anglo-twist and infusing mine with Earl Grey tea which I absolutely love. It's light and fragrant with a distinctive bergamot flavour. 

I could happily have the panna cotta by itself, but the same principle that it's always good to have some greens (or some reds in this case) with your meal, I feel a scatter of berries around the panna cotta is appropriate. The strawberries are macerated in sugar and a touch of balsamic vinegar which may sound odd, but believe me and give this a go. The balsamic vinegar brings out the beautiful colour of the berries, making it glisten and truly enhances their strawberry-ness.
And guess what... This is another video recipe! Yay... Please enjoy...
Special thanks to my friend Vincent for filming and editing the video. Vincent is also a brilliant photographer and you can check out his work on Instagram @vincentwilfred.

 Have a delicious day!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Sicilian Pasta with Tomatoes, Garlic & Almonds

Hello friends, how's everyone doing?! 

It's been two weeks since I moved to the Cayman Islands to start my new job as a pastry cook and it's been... Hmmm... I don't know... interesting, I guess...

I am still adjusting to my new life here on the island. To be honest, I have not seen much of it yet... The tourist attractions and all, but I have plenty of time for that later. The day after I got to the island, I went straight to orientation which lasted for three days. Then I've been working since (I'll get to more details about my new job in a bit). I did have a day off last week but it was moving day for me. After staying in a hotel for a week, I finally found a new home. I also have a housemate/workmate who is also new to the island and it's nice that we're on the same boat and discovering new places together.

It's so hot and humid here, and you know how I feel about hot and humid places... But I'm gonna keep my whining short... So, moving on...

Now, the new job as a pastry cook... I thoroughly enjoyed my first couple of weeks and what can I say, it's brilliant! I work in the bakery section and we bake so many wonderful breads everyday... From focaccia to sourdough, wheat bread, fruit and nut bread, and my current favourite is the fennel and raisin rolls. Ah, it's so good! I thought it was a strange combination at first but wait until you taste it. I posted a picture of it on my Instagram (@michael_toa). 

I have a great mentor and she is so good! She is fast with dough, highly organised, knowledgeable and most importantly she keeps me in line! It takes a different attitude and organisational skill to bake in a professional kitchen compare to baking at home... And it's something I'm still getting used to. 

The transition has not been an easy one if I'm being honest. I get nervous at times surrounded by these professional chefs with years of experience and I'm just a home baker, previously working in an office dealing with immigration issues. I got weird looks every time I'm asked about my working experience. 

Of course I want to do a great job and I try my best to not make a fool of myself but it's all too late... I am not clumsy, but the other day, I was just doing a simple task of rolling a pastry sheet and I wanted to, you know, do it quickly and efficiently like all the other chefs, and somehow my pastry sheet ended up on the floor in front of everyone. *insert swear word here* !!! I was mortified. What an amateur! 

*sigh... It's my day off today and I'm taking it easy. Relaxing at home and looking forward to catch up with my blog reading list. And for lunch I made Nigella's Sicilian pasta with tomatoes, garlic and almonds which is incredibly easy to make. You only need to boil the pasta to al dente and the sauce is done in a food processor. 

The sauce is really fresh with the cherry tomatoes, nice bite from the garlic, salty and tangy from the anchovies and capers, but also a little sweet, courtesy of the sultanas. Though I actually use golden raisins in mine. Whichever you have in your pantry. And the almonds and the olive oil bind the sauce together in the same way when you make a pesto. Toss the pasta with the sauce, adding a little pasta cooking water if it needs it. The only thing that's missing is a little strew of fresh basil on top of the pasta, but it's not the end of the world.  And should you have some in your fridge, pour yourself a nice well-chilled wine and enjoy...

Sicilian Pasta with Tomatoes, Garlic and Almonds
Recipe by Nigella Lawson

For complete list of ingredients and instructions, click here.

Monday, 21 July 2014

I am moving...

Hello friends! How's everyone doing? I hope you are all well and eating deliciously...

I am taking a quick break from packing and this time it's the big suitcase that I need to pack because I am moving... 

A couple of months ago I applied for a job which I thought suits my passion and it also sounds like a great opportunity for me to continue growing and learning.  After waiting for few days, I was thrilled when I received a feedback regarding my application so quickly. They wanted to know more about my working experience which I happily explained; and a couple of correspondence later, I was invited for an interview... 

The interview was done over the phone... I was so nervous that day, waiting for that phone call. Finally it's 9PM my time. For the interviewer it was the morning because of the time difference. The interview itself went really well but still I didn't want to get too sure that I was gonna get it.  I mean, I've been to a job interview before where I thought it went extremely well and ended up not getting the job. 

After the interview, I waited for few days... don't you just hate that feeling of waiting... Just tell me already please... I checked my email constantly, refreshing the inbox on my phone like every fifteen minutes... until that email came. I went into my room, I took a deep breath and I opened that email which says "...I would like to go ahead and offer you the pastry cook position...". I was over the moon happy. 

For the past few weeks I've been doing all the paperwork for the working permit and travel documents and it's finally all done last week and I am ready to go and I can tell you where I'm heading to. Next week, I'll be boarding the longest flights in my life... a total of five flights and an approximately 38 hours journey. From Medan to Singapore and up north to Taipei, then cross the Pacific ocean to LA then to Houston where I'm going to take my last connecting flight to my destination at Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. 

To say that I am excited is an understatement. Not only I am excited to see parts of the world I have not been before, but also of course, for the job and the new adventure. And I look forward to sharing my experiences with you all :) 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Parmesan Shortbread with Smoked Paprika and Black Sesame Seeds

Happy Sunday friends! How is everyone doing?

I am currently taking a break from packing and I want to share with you a little something tasty for your next dinner party. These Parmesan shortbread are so good to pass around for nibbling with pre-dinner drinks/cocktails. And I do love to nibble before dinner, you know, little bites to whet the appetite.

I often make this 'plain' with just the Parmesan, but the addition of smoked paprika gives the shortbread a bacon-like flavour... and as Ina Garten would say, how bad can that be?! If you want some heat, you can also add a little cayenne pepper. And I chose black sesame seeds really just for aesthetic purpose. You can omit that if you don't want to risk having black sesame seeds stuck between your teeth, especially when having a party.

The shortbread dough is incredibly easy to make and the great thing is, once the dough is made, you can roll it straightaway without having to chill it in the fridge first. You can also make this a couple of days in advance and they keep well in an airtight container. Just be sure to keep them away from sight because they won't last long :)

Have a great day everyone!   

Parmesan Shortbread with Smoked Paprika and Black Sesame Seeds

150 gr butter
1 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/s tsp ground white pepper
1-2 tsp smoked paprika, depending taste
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
175 gr freshly grated Parmesan cheese + extra for sprinkling
250 gr plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten for brushing
2 tbsp black sesame seeds

In a bowl, using a free-standing or a hand-mixer, cream the butter, sugar, salt, pepper and smoked paprika until light and fluffy.  Add the one egg and one egg yolk and mix again to combine, followed by the Parmesan cheese.

In another bowl, sift the flour and baking powder. Now, using a spatula, fold in the dry ingredients into the buttery cheese mixture until it becomes a dough. 

You can roll the dough on a well floured surface, but I find it easier to roll it in between two non-stick parchment paper.  Roll the dough to the thickness of half a centimeter. Cut it with a knife into bite-size rectangles or use a cookie cutter. Arrange the shortbread on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Preheat the oven to 160 C.

Brush the shortbread with the lightly beaten egg and sprinkle with extra Parmesan and the black sesame seeds. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, rotating halfway through. Let the shortbread completely cool before storing in an airtight container.