Monday, May 14, 2012

recipe: baked custard tart

years ago, fresh out of hospitality school armed with lofty ideas to take on the f&b industry i'd stay up late watching cooking programmes for inspiration, for whats up and coming, and combing through technical books for recipes and ratios of ingredients. soon, this behaviour turned into a pathological need to make one particular dish/dessert/bread et al. until i was satisfied with the result. my mother will kindly fill in the details of this rather unfortunate period. she was so patient and supportive of these racket-ous middle-of-the-night endeavours.

so if this is in fact a "medical" condition i thought i had rid myself of, i am mistaken because it is just half past one in the morning (on my day off too, i should add), and i am perched on my kitchen stool waiting for my custard tart to cook. this really has got to stop!

(in my (feeble) defense, i am conducting a very important experiment! i am investigating how the ratio of milk to cream affects the consistency of baked custard.)

those who have visited our cafe off late may have realised baked custard tarts have made their way to our display over the past weeks (this is the condition of repeating a recipe over and over again as mentioned in paragraph 1). these included flavour variations like: belgian chocolate, lemon white chocolate, banana, vanilla with fresh berries.

below is the master recipe for the baked custard tart that i have been making which you are welcome to adorn with fresh fruit, berries and chocolate. or a humble sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg if you are a traditionalist (or english).

sweet shortcrust pastry (adapted from one of ramsay's books)

125g unsalted butter
90g caster sugar
1/2tsp salt
1 large egg
250g flour

he uses a food processor for this recipe but i use my kenwood benchtop mixer. start with mixing the salt, sugar and butter until no visible lumps of butter are present then add the egg and mix some more until just incorporated. add flour in one lot and mix till everything comes together then  pat dough into a disc and allow to rest in the fridge until it gets firm - this should take about 30 minutes. i'd like to add that at this stage you can go straight to patting the dough into a fluted tart tin then allowing it to rest for an hour before blindbaking in an oven preheated to 180C for about 20 minutes. it certainly expedites the preparation process and does away with the need for a rolling pin.

vanilla custard (milk:cream; 1:5)
this recipe i have repeated with success and will yield a firmer custard in comparison to the darn-tart (chinese egg tarts). delicious velvety texture when warm and denser texture when chilled.

500g cream
100g whole milk
60g sugar
1 plump vanilla pod, split and seeded
110g eggs
50g yolks
pinch of salt

you begin by warming the cream and milk together, being careful not to boil the mix then drop in the vanilla pod and seeds to infuse for the next hour though overnight would be ideal ("good things come to those who wait" - the cliche applies to cookery as well!). whisk the eggs and yolks with the salt and sugar then add to the dairy-vanilla infusion. pour the mix through a sieve into the baked tart shell and depending on the temperature of the mixture, you'll need to bake it in an oven pre-heated to 140C for 45-60 minutes. or until the surface quivers when you give the tin a sharp tap (i think a video might help here to show you what i mean, but please bear with me, im not quite tech-savvy).

currently, i am testing a milk:cream ratio of 2:4 and i have infused this dairy mix with english breakfast tea, ginger, cinnamon and cardamom.

yes, its going to be a chai flavoured custard tart and i've just spoken to the tart to cook a little faster.

can't wait to try it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dinner for 2

admittedly, i find it embarassing when people say my husband is very fortunate to have married a chef: "you must eat so well", they remark and i can feel my ears burning up. in truth, my poor husband eats a lot of take-away meals, we both do (a repeat offender being food from our local mamak joint) because i rarely cook at home. it is a combination of reasons - yes, reasons... not excuses. we both work, hard - extremely hard, i might add and we lived in a bedsit.

our recent urge to nest, to actually start "settling down" saw us move to a roomier place with an oven and some actual kitchen bench space. so me, being a kitchen-phile (can i say that? am i allowed to make up words like that?) that i am, i go out and get an enameled cast iron baking dish like this one.

i am a very practical person. not opposed to consumerism, but most items i get must be a marriage of form and function. it doesn't hurt to have a good measure of aesthetic appeal thrown in too. anyway, questions i ask myself before a purchase: 

"do i need it?"

"will i have room to store it?" 

"can i use it for more than 1 application?" 

o-kay, so back to this baking dish i got. it is quite costly. a good sized one will set you back say, RM400, but i assure you, once you've got it, you are pretty much set on the path of great lasagnas, stews, fruit crumbles, curries, potato gratin and oh, roasts, of course. actually, you can pretty much cook anything in it except an asian stir-fry... you need a wok for that sort of thing. the thing about these trays, they distribute heat so evenly you're not likely to burn the crap out of your food. they retain heat too and that's always a plus when you are waiting for your spouse to return (or that annoying dinner party guest who ALWAYS rock up late!). 

the other night, while we were  he was unpacking cartons, i fixed us dinner (so pleased with myself!). its a one-pot meal or in this case, a one-tray meal (semantics...). you need only a handful of ingredients for dinners such as this:
  • 1 tin of tomatoes, 
  • 1 tin of pinto beans, 
  • chicken stock out of a carton, 
  • small pasta shapes (a handful of rice might work...),
  • a few chicken pieces with bone-in (used 6, had leftovers) 
  • spinach 

the trick here is clever layering! pour the tinned tomatoes into the tray followed by a tinful of chicken stock, the pasta and beans, salt and pepper then the chicken pieces skin side up so they brown nicely and a little more seasoning. cook for 40 minutes at 190C, remove tray and then place rinsed spinach leaves on top and let the heat wilt them. 

wish i took a picture, it would have lasted longer: our first oven-cooked meal in our new home.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Haute Food Co. Cafe

The Haute Food Co. was an idea conceptualised a long time back when i was making extra dosh catering out of my apartment kitchen. everyone asked the origin for the word "haute" - "why haute?", "high food?? it doesn't make any sense" and so on... the name really came about when i thought of haute couture, how  these articles of fashion were rare, and so prized for the craft, care, skill and of course, the art they represented. these pieces evoked the "oohs" and "aahs" of rapture in the audience and yes, in truth, i wanted my creations to do the same. i am not trying to create an elite class of eating or to encourage bourgeoisie. oh no, far from that. The Haute Food Co. was created to encourage everyone to appreciate good food. food that is freshly prepared, with care and with thought, in small amounts and in timeless traditional methods. 

for the past 2 years, our cafe has opened its door to the lovely people who work and live around our neighbourhood of sri hartamas, kuala lumpur. certain baked items have earned a following amongst our  patrons, namely the butter cake, banana cake, almond croissants and buttermilk scones we bake every morning. 

the secret to them tasting so damn tasty is really no secret at all. here are 3 simple rules we follow in our kitchen: 

rule #1: begin with the best ingredients you can lay your hands on 

i have to add that the most expensive does not often mean the best you can find in the market. if you are going to make a kickass butter cake, please buy a butter you like eating. if you can, opt for one with no additives which includes salt. why? salt is often added to preserve a product, mask certain flavour impurities or enhance flavour. butter makers will use only the best milk to make great unadulterated unsalted butter. 

so start with quality ingredients and anything you do from this point on can only get better. 

rule #2: use the right equipment

you don't need a copper mixing bowl to make perfect meringues, but it sure helps. 

are you using a dull knife to make perfect thin slices of anything? why would you even bother? 

the use of certain equipment is stressed in the methods of recipes time and time again. apart from lessening the chance of you falling into a sobbing heap of despair and/or frustration, having the right equipment can almost always yield great results and dare i say, make the whole experience of working in a kitchen pleasant.

most cooking/baking enthusiasts are armed with an artillery of kitchen gadgets. from the common to the "ommigoodness-what-is-that" variety. below is a list of items i cannot do without: 

  • 2 good sharp knife: (i use one with) a 10" blade and a paring knife. with the larger knife, i like to opt for one with a thinner blade to make sharpening easy but i also find they make nice neat cuts. 
  • 2 large silicon/rubber spatulas
  • large kitchen spoons that are not to be confused with
  • wooden spoons
  • offset stainless steel spatula
  • stainless steel mixing bowls
  • medium whisk
  • large whisk
  • stainless steel heavy bottom pot
  • digital scales
  • tin opener
a list of items, not entirely necessary but would be nice to have include : 

  • staub "la coccotte" 
  • an ice-cream machine
  • cast iron grill 

rule #3: applying the right touch

cooking and baking are very tactile activities. it really is all about and doing things to achieve the perfect texture or consistency. this requires the right touch ("don't overmix", "fold 'til just combined" c.-- what do they mean anyway? how do i know whether i am over-mixing??). i am not going to lie to you, this is where a good measure of experience comes in handy, so keep baking/cooking the same thing over until you are over the moon with the result you get.

it really does help to know which tool is best suited to a job. something like a basic genoise can prove daunting if just armed with a wooden spoon. imagine having first to achieve triple the volume with eggs and sugar and then adding the flour without letting the mixture collapse. quite frankly, its like attempting escape from the Alcatraz prison with a nail file and a packet of toothpicks! 


since i am unable to conduct lessons at the cafe presently, i am going to endeavour to share how-to's, recipes and who-knows-whatever-else with you via this portal. suggestions are welcome. 

in the meantime, have a mull over the 3 simple rules above and apply them. 

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mini coconut and white chocolate cakes

Little dense and moist white chocolate cakes imbued with the essence of tropical coconut finished with a tangy lemon icing.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ginger-date biscuits with white chocolate

These biscuits are made with grated fresh ginger root and plump Medjool dates, baked to tender perfection then frosted with white chocolate

Chocolate-mint crackles

Soft and chewy... these chocolate gems with a hint of mint are a perfect way to end a meal.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A slightly different caramel slice

Crunchy almond-coconut shortbread with slightly salted buttery caramel topped with a smooth orange-spice dark chocolate ganache.