Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My first two tier cake

My second cake order.. This time for one of my close friend's birthday. I would naturally made a cake for her anyway, but this time, her sister made a special order from me. I'm so happy. I'm getting sick of making chocolate cakes, so I decided this time I want to make it interesting. The birthday girl is someone who really appreciates food, so I can be a bit fancy here. At first, I want to combine raspberry with chocolate. Classic flavour combination, nothing can go wrong with that. However, I just bought a bottle of Yuzu lemon Juice that already passed it's best before date, so I need to use it right away. Ever since I read about Yuzu lemon, I was intrigued. I always thought there was only one type of lemon in this world. But now I've been hearing about Yuzu & Meyer lemon.. Of course, Australia being very remote, don't have those two fruits. So I'm on a man hunt for some kind of extract or some sort of puree. I finally found it at Simon Johnson two weeks ago. But it's price makes my jaws drop! $50+ for a 500ml bottle!!! you got to be kidding me!!

But wait! there's hope after all. when my housemate told me Simon Johnson is having a warehouse clearance, I literally jumped for joy. So off we go at 7.30 in the morning to Port Melbourne. When she told me she wants to go at 7am in the morning, I thought she was out of her mind, but it turns out to be quite packed when we got there. By 8.30am, some stuff has already run out. And yes, my Yuzu juice was on sale!! down to just $10. Fabulous!! Less to say, I couldn't keep myself composed on that sale. I was like a kid in a candy store. My biggest splurge would be the 4kg bags of Valhorna chocolates. Gosh! all that chocolates!! my mind was spinning from thinking the numerous fabulous dessert I can create with that. I wasn't the only one that went mad with chocolates. by 8am the once high piles of Valhorna chocolates was cleaned out. At $15-$20 a kilo for what normally is $50-$60 a kilo, that chocolates are a steal!

I can keep the chocolates for a while, the Yuzu juice on the other hand, need to be used immediately. I think I will have "Project: Yuzu Lemon" for the whole next month. So far, I can only think making lemon curd and lemon mousse. Any better ideas??

Back to the cake.. if I had trouble decorating for guys because I'm too feminine, this time I have trouble because there is just too many options!! I tried drawing inspirations from what I know about her. She's fashionable (a fashion desgner I might add), very feminine, likes owls, loves chocolates. Oh gosh! the options! As always, I turn to Flickr for inspiration. Then I saw a wedding cake with black and white polka dots and a fabulous flower details on them. It looks like a fashion hat. So I used that as inspiration. With every cake, I like to push myself everytime. This time, I challenge myself to make a two tier cake. Chocolate cake as the base, with lemon and chocolate mousse filling, chocolate IMBC frosting and chocolate flavoured fondant.

A little drama.. the flower decorations turns out quite brittle. I may have went overboard with the CMC therefore it's very dry and brittle. I should have used gum paste instead. One other thing, I forgot to let the frosting hardens before enrobing it with the fondant, therefore the fondant didn't have a solid ground to hold on to, that's why I can't get the edges to be sharp and the frostng actually got pushed down, creating a bulging bottom. Aside from that, I love the design. The combination of brown, green and red is very chic and gorgeous.

Chocolate mousse
Recipe taken from Delicious - June 2009
  • 300g good-quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup (55g) caster sugar
  • 1 tbs good-quality cocoa powder, sifted
  • 300ml thickened cream, plus extra whipped cream to serve
  • Grated chocolate, to serve


Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water (don't let the bowl touch the water). Stir until melted. Remove bowl from heat and set aside to cool slightly. Place eggs and sugar in a large bowl and beat with electric beaters for 5 minutes, or until mixture is pale, thick and doubled in volume. Fold in cooled chocolate and cocoa powder until combined. In a separate bowl, whip cream until thickened (be careful not to over-beat). Use a large metal spoon to carefully fold the cream into the chocolate mixture, trying to keep the mixture as light as possible.

Yuzu Lemon Mousse
Recipe taken from Delicious - June 2009

  • 1 eggs
  • 100ml of Yuzu lemon juice
  • 1tbs finely grated lemon rind
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 150ml thickened cream


Place eggs and sugar in a large bowl and beat with electric beaters for 5 minutes, or until mixture is pale, thick and doubled in volume. Fold in juice and rind.
In a separate bowl, whip cream until thickened (be careful not to over-beat). Use a large metal spoon to carefully fold the cream into the lemon-egg mixture, trying to keep the mixture as light as possible.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Asian night

What better ways to spend an evening catching up with an old friend over a hearty bowl of laksa lemak. It's wholesome goodness packs a spicy punch to a chilly evening. I went all out creating a three course asian dinner started with fresh oysters with asian soy dressing, laksa lemak and a refreshing mango pudding with strawberry pearl and condensed milk for a sweet touch at the end of the meal.

It's definitely not mango season here in Melbourne, but I can't find anything better to end the night. So I substitute the mango puree with a fresh mango sorbet from Jones the Grocer. Well, I thought of making some egg tarts, but I want to try my hands on Molecular Gastronomy inspired by chef Ferran Adria from the renowned restaurant il Bulli in Spain. And again, I am just to lazy to make pastry. When doing last month's DB challenge on cheesecake, I was in awe looking at what Pretty Tasty Cakes manage to put together. She then referred me to Michael Laiskonis from La Bernadine who taught her how to create the pearls. I don't have a picture of the mango pudding or the pearl i'm afraid. The stupid pudding didn't set properly!! But I promise this won't be the last time I play around with fruit pearls.

You can find the recipe for Laksa Lemak here.

Asian dressing

Soy sauce
Rice wine vinegar
fish sauce
Lime juice

chilly, thinly sliced
cucumber, thinly sliced
tobiko (red, black or wasabi)

Combine all the sauce ingredients according to taste. I like mine sour and acidic, so I put extra vinegar and lime juice.
When ready to serve, pour about 2tsp (depending on the size of each oyster) of sauce in each oyster shell, top it with chilly and cucumber. Put generous amount of tobiko on top.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Japanese Night

A Japanese friend once told me "Oyako" in Japan means "parent and child" (I always thought it meant egg - silly me). In the Oyako don that you usually get from your normal Japanese eatery, this dish usually consist of chicken and egg - hence the "parent and child" combination. In this dish however, it would refer to the salmon and the salmon roe.

As a child, my dad used to take me to this fabulous Japanese restaurant at Kempinski Hotel in Jakarta. Their specialty was "Kamameshi" combined with fabulous grilled Yakitoris which basically means satay. Due to its minute size compared to the usual satay skewer, I always refer them as "mini satay". Kamameshi itself is basically rice steamed in a cyprus container with some sort of beef, seafood or vegetables. The rice itself is very tasty and full of Japanese flavours.

Ever since I moved to Melbourne, I have only found one Japanese restaurant that does this dish, but it's hardly something to rave about. So I guess I have to have a go at creating this myself. I don't know where to get the cyprus container nor would I even know where to begin looking for it here. After turning to my trusted friend, Google, I found a recipe at RecipeZaar that uses rice cooker to cook it. Brilliant! I say. Here I thought I will get to use my new claypot dish I bought from the courtesy of my mum's credit card (tee hee hee - in my defense, the eftpos machine wasn't working that day at Essential Ingredients, with no cash on hand, I only have my in-case-of-an-emergency credit card's). So I just use it to serve the rice at the end.

I adjusted the recipe for 2 and to use salmon instead of chicken. Please excuse the crappy photos, I left my SLR at M's house, so I had to use M's crappy camera.

Salmon Oyako Kamameshi
Original recipe taken from RecipeZaar

1-2 cups rice
1 cups chicken broth
1 cups of dashi (made from 1 cup of boiling water to 1-2 tbs of dashi powder)
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup shiitake mushroom, chopped
1 fillet of fresh salmon, cut in 4 slices
Red tobiko for garnish
a handful of boiled edamame


1-2 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 tablespoons sugar
1-2 tablespoon sake
1 tablespoon mirin

Wash rice until the water almost clear. Drain. Mix all the sauce ingredients with the broth. Put the rice and shiitake mushroom in the rice cooker. Pour in the liquid and cook. In the meantime, boil a handful of edamame in a slightly salted water for about 3-5 minutes. Remove the pods from the skin. Once the rice cooker finish cooking, put the salmon fillets on top of the rice and let it steam no longer than 10 minutes. Remove from the rice cooker, stir in tobiko and edamame. Serve with a glass of sake, extra edamame, Japanese pickles or a simple Japanese salad of beanshoots in rice wine vinegar and a dash of soy sauce.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My first cake order - Madagascar theme cake

Baking can be quite an expensive hobby sometimes. Especially when you're a self thaught novice where mistakes and wastage are inevitable. Especially in my case, where the number of recipes that I want to try my hands on doesn't really balanced the level of consumption of me and the people surrounds me. I'm running out of people to be treated as "lab rats" or probably nicer to say "taste testers". So, when my friend ordered a cake for her nephew's second birthday, eventhough i'm in the middle of two major assignments, I just couldn't say no. My first official order? The first time I actually getting paid for doing what I love? How can I possibly say no.

The biggest question here is not what design or what flavours should I make the cake, it was how much should I charge? With little to no experience on pricing strategies nor business strategies for that matter, I would just have to guess it this time. I still feel inadequate to charge for my time. With the quality control being inexistent, I still feel very scared of how people might think of my rates. I'm happy enough if people exchange me for all the expenses of buying the ingredients. The most expensive ones would be the chocolates. I thought by using the supermarket brand, it would be much much cheaper. But I was wrong. The couverture chocolate sold in the supermarket is actually almost doubled the price of my fancy Lindt couverture chocolates I bought at Essential Ingredients. I guess buying in bulk really pays off sometimes. I thought of using compound chocolates, but for the chocolate ganache, it will go through several times of reheating. And to my knowledge, compound chocolates are not meant to be reheated. Couverture in the other hand will be fine. I may be wrong on this, but the limited time that I have will not allow me to do a trial and error.

I want to try using a lighter chocolate cake this time. I'm not a big fan of mud cakes or any dense cake in that matter. Ideally, I'd go for a sponge cake anytime. But I know, sponge cakes cannot suffice the weight of the icing, it needs a dense cake. I just realized by doing this cake that I actually don't have a basic chocolate cake in my recipe repertoire. You would have think for someone who bakes as much as I do, chocolate cake recipe should have been one of my staple recipe. I found a recipe of a chocolate cake that I found interesting. So based on that recipe, I start calculating my cost. Give and take here and there (I can't really measure the cost of my flour and sugar as I buy it in bulk and was too lazy to calculate how much it cost per 100g) I ended up with a couple of options. $45 for choc cake with choc buttercream, $55 for choc cake with choc mousse filling and choc buttercream, $65 for choc mud cake with choc ganache. To serve 30 people, I think that's a very good price. I absolutely have no idea whether those prices are good or not. More experienced cake decorator out there, please help me out.......

I ended up over budget since the chocolate cake recipe said it would serve 15, but it ended up not rising and quite short, so I have to make 3 times the recipe instead of 2. My friend opt for the cheapest option, which uses choc buttercream. It actually work to my advantage, one, I get to try Cake Journal's IMBC (Italian Meringue Butter Cream) recipe and two, I don't have to sacrifice my chocolates even more, because even at $65, I don't think it will cover the cost of the chocolates. There must be a better way.. I need to do more research.

The birthday boy loves sponge bob, Alex the lion from Madagascar, and Thomas the Tank. So naturally, that's what he wants for his birthday. At first, the thought of modelling all the Madagascar cast seems very daunting, and Thomas the Tank has navy blue and christmas red colours (the two colours that are hard to produce in icing). So I pushed the sponge bob idea. But it's very unlike me to turn down a good challenge. After hours of looking at Madagascar pictures, I decided to go ahead with the madagascar design. In one of my cake decorating books, I found a cake design where it looks like a round jungle with animal heads popping out between the trees. This is perfect for my Madagascar cake. I only need to model the heads of the cast, I don't need to do their bodies.

Out of the four (well, Melvin the Giraffe has to be singled out as I ran out of time), I think my Gloria the hippo looks the most like the real one, with the Zebra (I forgot his name) being the hardest one to sculpt. The feedback from everyone has been fantastic. They loved every bit of the cake. The flavour, the look, everything. It's a job well done!

Step-by-step chocolate cake (for this cake I made 3 times the recipe)
Recipe taken from Notebook - September 2007, page 136

125g butter, chopped
2 tsp instant coffee powder
3/4 cup (185ml) water
100g good-quality dark cooking chocolate, chopped
1 cup (200g) brown sugar
1/2 cup (75g) self-raising flour
1/2 cup (75g) plain flour
1/4 cup (30g) cocoa powder
1/4 cup (30g) almond meal
1 egg, lightly whisked

Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease and line the base and side of an 18cmround (base measurement) cake pan.Place the butter, coffee, water, chocolate and sugar in a saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until butter and chocolate melt and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly.Transfer mixture to a bowl. Sift the combined flours and cocoa powder over the chocolate mixture and add the almond meal. Use a balloon whisk to gently fold the flour into the chocolate mixture. Add the egg and stir to combine.Pour cake mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from oven and set aside for 30 minutes before turning on to a wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

DC May 2009 - Ricotta Gnocchi

The first ever daring cooks... YAY!! soo excited.

I was less excited when reading the first challenge I'm afraid.. gnocchi - good, ricotta - BAD! I'm not a big fan of ricotta. I prefer my cheese to be gutsy, full of flavour with a hint of smokiness or tartness. Ricotta in my opinion, feels no different than tofu.. tasteless and very mushy. I was contemplating to use a good Greek Fetta or a blue cheese instead of the Ricotta, but for the first challenge, I think I better stick to the brief. I never made a gnocchi before, so I don't want to be a smart ass and end up wasting good cheese. I did change the sauce. Adding a creamy sauce and an aioli that turns out beautifull with the gnocchi.

I have a lovely salmon fillett in the freezer so I made a salmon, oregano cream sauce - with heaps of parmiggiano regiano of course. For a lighter version, I also made a truffle infused garlic aioli with roasted cherry tomatoes and roasted garlic. Not sure if this will be something I will enjoy, I decided to make just half of the gnocchi. It still produce quite a lot. Enough for 3 meals for me. I'm eating the last batch as we speak. I personally love it with the cream sauce, the parmigiano helps to add more flavour to the gnocchi. I'm still not a convert i'm afraid. I do like the texture of the gnocchi. It is much nicer and creamier than potato gnocchi. It has that melt in your mouth feel to it. It's not very attractive though.. or maybe that's just my lack of gnocchi-shaping experience..

Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi

Source: From The Zuni Café Cookbook.

Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)

Prep time: Step 1 will take 24 hours. Steps 2 through 4 will take approximately 1 hour.


- If you can find it, use fresh ricotta. As Judy Rodgers advises in her recipe, there is no substitute for fresh ricotta. It may be a bit more expensive, but it's worth it.
- Do not skip the draining step. Even if the fresh ricotta doesn't look very wet, it is. Draining the ricotta will help your gnocchi tremendously.
- When shaping your gnocchi, resist the urge to over handle them. It's okay if they look a bit wrinkled or if they're not perfectly smooth.
- If you're not freezing the gnocchi for later, cook them as soon as you can. If you let them sit around too long they may become a bit sticky.
- For the variations to the challenge recipe, please see the end of the recipe.

Equipment required:

- Sieve
- Cheesecloth or paper towels
- Large mixing bowl
- Rubber spatula
- Tablespoon
- Baking dish or baking sheet
- Wax or parchment paper
- Small pot
- Large skillet
- Large pan or pot (very wide in diameter and at least 2 inches deep)

Videos that might help:

- Judy Rodgers Gnocchi Demo
- Making fresh ricotta demo
- Making ricotta gnocchi

For the gnocchi:

1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

For the gnocchi sauce:

8 tablespoons (227 grams/1/4 pound/4 ounces) butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water

Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.

If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.

To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.

Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.

Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.

Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.

Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).

Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.

Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.

With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.

At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.

Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.

If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.

Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Step 4: Cooking the gnocchi.

Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously.

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).

When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.

Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now.

With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.

Variations: For the gnocchi, you can flavour them however you wish. If you want to experiment by adding something to your gnocchi (i.e., caramelized onion, sundried tomato), feel free to do so. However, be forewarned, ricotta gnocchi are delicate and may not take well to elaborate additions. For the sauce, this is your chance to go nuts. Enjoy yourselves. Surprise us!!!

Freezing the gnocchi: If you don’t want to cook your gnocchi right away or if you don’t want to cook all of them, you can make them and freeze them. Once they are formed and resting on the flour-dusted, lined tray, place them uncovered in the freezer. Leave them for several hours to freeze. Once frozen, place them in a plastic bag. Remove the air and seal the bag. Return to the freezer. To cook frozen gnocchi, remove them from the bag and place individually on a plate or on a tray. Place in the refrigerator to thaw completely. Cook as directed for fresh gnocchi.

Salmon Oregano Cream Sauce

30-40g of parmigiano regiano
200ml of thick cream
1 salmon fillett
2 tbs of dried oregano

Cook salmon for 20-30 seconds. Add the cream and let it boil. Put in the cheese and oregano, stir until the cheese is melted through. Set the flame to low, cook until the sauce thickens.

Trufle infused garlic aioli

1 stalk of vine ripened cherry tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic
white truffle infused olive oil

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees. Combine all the ingredients on a baking tray. I usually don't bother peeling the garlic when roasting. drench with olive oil. Seasoned lightly with salt and pepper. Roast untill the tomatoes are wrinkled.