Saturday, September 13, 2014

The show-stopping Dobos Torte

I always believe that if you're going to make a comeback, it better be good. I'm embarrassed to say that I've been away from this blog for more than two months. And before that, my posts have been sporadic to say the least. 

I'm not going to list down my excuses for being absent - nobody really wants to read about excuses. But I've found a perfect cake to bounce back on - the Dobos Torte, a Hungarian seven-layer sponge cake, with chocolate buttercream and a caramel layer on top. 

Doesn't that sound divine. Sponge, chocolate, caramel. Layers and layers of sponge, chocolate and finally ... caramel.

Being a TV freak, it isn't surprising that the idea to try this cake came from a TV show - the Great British Bake Off (season 5, ep 6). As soon as the show ended, I went online and started reading up about this decadent cake and bookmarked two sites: Joe Pastry and Smitten Kitchen. 

A traditional Dobos Torte is round and has seven layers but I kinda liked the non-traditional rectangular cake made by Smitten Kitchen and I added a couple more layers. So it's a derivation from the classic (of which there are apparently over 100 variations), but the flavours are the same. Well, kinda. The chocolate buttercream is more of a ganache but heck, it's delicious so I'm certainly not complaining.

I was psyched. I read through both recipes and checked to see if I had all the ingredients - apart from the standard flour, sugar (confectioner's sugar), vanilla extract, chocolate and butter, you will also need eggs. A lot of eggs. About 13. 

Check, I had them all.

I decided to start it on a Saturday morning, bright and early because this cake takes at least three hours to make, from start (assembling the ingredients) to finish (frosting the cake and photographing it).

In all honesty, it's not a complicated cake to make but it takes time, some patience, attention to detail and ... did I say patience already? But the recipes on both Joe Pastry and Smitten Kitchen are fabulously precise and clear which made it a lot easier.

But let me warn you, there's an awful lot of washing up to do. 

That's only half the equipment you'll use. 

But, do try it. No, seriously. Try making it and then try eating it. And then try stopping yourself from eating it all at one go because it tastes even better the next day, all chilled.

I'm not going to include the recipe in this post as you'll get a better idea of the process on Smitten Kitchen's website (she has gorgeous photos of the process - I was too stressed to stop and photograph each step. Heck I didn't even know if it'd turn out) but I will point out a few of details/technicalities you will have to be prepared for.

Not to scare you from making it or anything, just to prepare you.

1. There are lots of eggs to separate. About 13. And you will be left with 3 egg whites to use elsewhere. I made an egg-white omelette and felt really healthy (even after two large slices of the torte).

2. You will have to bake seven layers of thin sponge, each for about 6-7 minutes (which means you really can't leave the kitchen for about an hour). Achieving almost the same thickness for all seven layers was the hardest part about making this cake - you can weight each portion but I just winged it and it turned out pretty fine, although my sponges were a little thin - perhaps I should have stuck to seven layers. Next time. 

3. You will have to clear some kitchen space as you will need to lay each layer out to cool before even thinking of assembling the cake. I inadvertently cleaned my kitchen in the process, so I guess it was a bonus.

That's about it really. The rest are pretty standard baking protocols.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Warm Farro Salad (with Roasted Vegetables and Red Pepper Pesto)

Knowing how OBSESSED I've been with grains, Jane (The Wayward Oven) bought be a packet of Farro from her holiday in America some time back. I was thrilled. It's strange how I get more excited about ingredients and food items then I do about make up or jewellery. We can't find Farro in Malaysia and I've read about it and was curious about how it'd taste. So, yes, I was super excited with my souvenir (?).

Like quinoa and millet (and rice, actually), I cooked the farro in water following a 1:2 ratio (1/2 cup farro: 1 cup water/stock). Farro however takes a teensy bit longer to cook than millet or quinoa - about 15 minutes (as opposed to 10) and is a bit more chewy and definitely more nutty.

I admit that it took a few chews before I totally fell in love with it. You see, I've been convinced that millet is, by far, the tastiest grain I'll ever eat. But farro ... well, it's a close call. It's more filling, I'll give you that.

I made a warm salad with the farro, with roasted cauliflower and brussel sprouts and instead of a dressing or sauce, I went with a red pepper pesto.

If you haven't tried red pepper pesto, you've got to. It's super delicious. Roasted peppers + walnuts + cheese + basil + olive oil. Easy. The sweet and slightly smokey taste of the roasted peppers with the nuts and cheese is just rich. Not too rich for I only added a little cheese. But rich in flavour.

I had some leftover salad and the next day, I took it out of the fridge and put it into the skillet - yes, still cold, and stir-fried it, Asian-style, with an egg. Forget fried rice; go with day-old fried farro. And yes, I still ate it with the pesto because it was just so good!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Pumpkin, Spinach and Caramelised Onion Quiche

It's been a while since I made a quiche for myself. You see, I've kinda been fascinated by millet - my new favourite ingredient (a post on millet will soon be up) which I cook for myself almost three times a week, sometimes five. :) Yeah, I guess I am obsessive that way - I find an ingredient I love, eat it till I'm sick of it and then, move on to the next best thing.

But I was reminded of how much I actually love quiche after Ivy of showed me photographs of a slice of quiche she had in Sydney recently.  It was a pumpkin and mushroom quiche - she sent me photos of the quiche through instant message while she was having it - talk about the wonders of technology, huh? - and all she said about it was was: "so yumm!". Now that speaks volumes, surely.

What a brilliant idea - pumpkin in quiche.

I wasn't going to Sydney anytime soon, so I decided I just had to make a quiche with pumpkin in it myself.

I resisted adding mushrooms to my pumpkin quiche though. I tend to use mushrooms as my go-to ingredient many of my dishes as it's a sure-thing, really - how can you go wrong with mushrooms, right?

Well, unless you're my husband who hates not only the taste but the smell of 'shrooms. So yes, I omitted them so that he could (and would) taste the quiche too.

I used spinach and caramelised onions instead. Sure, that meant more prep time as caramelising onions does take some time - but I roasted the pumpkins as the onions were slow cooking and also sauteed the spinach with garlic.

For the crust, I added some finely chopped hazelnuts - you should try this too (in any other quiche you may make) cos it added not only texture but flavour to the buttery pastry.

The result? It was, as Ivy puts it, so yumm.

* Check out this earlier post for a basic quiche recipe and replace the fillings with roasted pumpkin and anything else you fancy. For cheese, I used mozzarella.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Tea: Victoria Sponge

Before I try my hand at making a classic cake, I do a lot of research first. This pleasant Sunday (it was muggy, but I was so glad it wasn't scorching like it was during the week) I decided to make the classic Victoria Sandwich, also known as the Victoria Sponge, for tea. 

I read at least a dozen recipes and incorporated tips from the best of them to make my own version of the dessert - Mary Berry, Dan Lepard and Felicity Cloake had my three favourite recipes. I was sure I'd end up with a superb cake. 

I did. It was very, very fine. So fine that I actually had a sit-down tea - just me, my tablet, my cake and a cup of freshly brewed spiced tea. 

The husband? Sleeping upstairs. You snooze, you loose, buddy! 

The key to making a great Victoria Sponge is getting the sponge cake right. Since Felicity Cloake (in her 'How to make the perfect ...' column in The Guardian) had already done the hard bit by testing various techniques out, I followed her recipe ... almost to a T. You can view her recipe here.

The secret? You have to measure the eggs (in their shells) first. Then, using the weight of the eggs as a guide, you measure equal portions of flour, sugar and butter. My three eggs weighed 192gms and so I measured 192gms (or thereabouts) of self-raising flour, sugar and butter. 

For the method though, I referred to master baker Dan Lepard. I was intrigued by his technique which I'd never come across before.

The usual method I use when making most cakes is pretty straightforward: first cream the butter and sugar till light and fluffy; then add the eggs one at a time till incorporated and then fold in the flour, baking powder and salt (sieved and whisked together). 

Lepard uses a different method. 

He creams the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. But ... BEFORE adding the eggs, he adds 1/3 of the flour (minus the baking powder and salt). This, he says, is an old baking technique that makes the cake a little more moist. Once the flour is mixed into the butter and sugar mixture, you add the eggs and then the remaining flour + baking powder + salt.

More moist? I had to try it. 

My cake turned out super moist! Lovely.

The next step to a fabulous Victoria Sandwich is the jam. Traditionally, raspberry jam is used. I used strawberries - they're cheaper and just as delicious.  

To make the jam, I washed and hulled the strawberries and then combined them with some sugar and a little water and cooked them over low heat until the fruit and it's juices become one gooey, sweet mush. 

Now Lepard's Victoria Sandwich has only jam as a filling. Some versions use cream. I decided to use jam and buttercream because ... well, I had some leftover buttercream from a cake I made a couple of days ago and also because buttercream lasts longer than cream. 

I may like the cake but I wasn't going to eat the whole thing in a day. Not even two. So, it needed to keep.

Just a little buttercream. A thin layer of sweetness to counter the tart jam (my strawberries were not all that sweet).

And there you have it. A lovely cake that's perfect for a lazy Sunday!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Seeded Sourdough Bread

Have you ever seen anything so beautiful? Well, when you're nervously trying to culture your own leaven and make your first sourdough loaf, this is indeed a sight to behold. This leaven was alive and active and ready for action. 

This is my second attempt at making sourdough bread. 

Six months or so ago I started making my own leaven but because I neglected to care for it and feed it regularly, it kind of died. I threw it out and put off trying to make one again.  

So when Jane, the sourdough expert in my circle of friends, offered to give me some of her well-matured leaven, I accepted without hesitation and promised to care for it and feed it well.

I did. I fed it for three days and used it on the fourth day.  

[If you want instructions of making and feeding your own leaven, I suggest you read Jane's very detailed post on her blog, The Wayward Oven].

[A sourdough starter isn't difficult to make but it requires time and attention. All you need is a clean jar with a lid, some flour and water. And some patience for you have to feed and replenish it daily for six days or seven before it is ready for use. As it develops, the starter will collect the spores of airborne yeast which is what gives the starter it's character and flavour.]

I was very nervous, making sure I read the recipe (I adapted Jane's recipe for a seeded Sunflower Bread which she adapted from a Dan Lepard recipe) carefully and followed it closely.

I'd only ever used commercial yeast before and while I am confident when making breads with dry, active yeast, this was my first go at using a leaven. I wasn't sure what to expect - how would the dough rise, how long should it take to rise, how should it look when it's risen enough?

So, yeah, I followed the instructions of the recipe to the T.

[Of the started you create, you use only a small portion - about 100g or so, depending on the recipe - for the bread. The remaining 100g or so you keep and feed for future use]

I had to knead the dough briefly in two ten-minute intervals before leaving the dough to rest for an hour, to rise.

After an hour, the dough barely rose and I was panicky. Was it not working? Worried, I decided to just continue on - I was to shape the dough into a round and place it in a proofing basket or a floured kitchen cloth and place it in a deep bowl to rise further, for 1.5 hours.

I waited. Anxiously. Peeping in every 30 minutes or so. Yeah, I was a Nervous Nelly alright.

[I must mention that I woke up at 5am to start on my bread. It was 8am and I couldn't wait to see the dough after the second rise.]

I peeked inside the cloth again and was pleased to see it had risen. Not as much as I'm used to with the dough that uses commercial yeast, but it had risen. Surely that was a good sign. Perhaps leaven takes longer to rise, allowing the flavours to develop slowly?  [I consulted Jane later and she confirmed that for a bigger rise, more time is needed. So I made the loaf again later in the day and let it rise for longer - about 4 hours - and true enough, the rise was significantly more and the flavour superior.]

Pleased with the moderate rise (or rather, because I couldn't wait to taste this bread), I proceeded to bake it.

I preheated my oven to 220C. Instead of placing the shaped bread on a baking sheet, I decided to bake it in my saucepan (I've done it before and it comes out lovely). So I placed the saucepan (stainless steel) in the oven to heat up. 

After 10 minutes, I removed the pot and carefully transferred the shaped dough into the pan, seam side down. I put it in the oven and waited. It took about 30 minutes for the bread to be baked. 

Whoooopp! Yup. I think I half-yelped as I took the pot out and saw the lovely crusted dome in the saucepan. What do you know! It looked beautiful. Nice and crusty [the sourdough crust is part of what makes it so popular and sought-after - nicely crisp and crunch] ... and it smelt divine. I couldn't wait to cut it open and peer ... no, gaze ... no gawk at the inside of my bread.

I cut it while it was still hot (after photographing it, of course) and it was glorious. It was still steaming and it smelt .... yes, once again, divine. Delicious. I knew it would taste great too. I just knew it would.

And it did. The pumpkin seeds (the original recipe called for sunflower seeds but I love pumpkin seeds and decided to swap) were a yummy addition and added crunch and flavour to the already tasty bread.

For the recipe and the very detailed instructions, head on the The Wayward Oven.

I called Jane immediately (well, a little later as I didn't think she'd appreciate a call from a howling, screeching me so early) and thanked her profusely for her starter and her recipe.

Even Mojo, my 12-year-old dachshund kept sniffing at the bread on the dining table and though he's on a strict diet (the vet says he's 1.5 kg overweight - for a small dog, that's a LOT) I gave him a tiny piece of the bread. He loved it (but then again he loves anything edible. Or even inedible).

The bread didn't last a day - I let a few friends and colleagues sample some and I ate the rest for dinner. It was too good to keep!

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