Sweet Potato Pecan Pie

A few weeks ago a friend asked me to show her how to make pie crust. When I asked what kind of pie she wanted to make, she suggested a sweet potato pie. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve never had a sweet potato pie. Nonetheless, I agreed and sought out a recipe. Ultimately, I settled on a combination sweet potato / pecan pie.

P1200593 P1200595

The sweet potato pie isn’t that far off from a pumpkin pie. You roast sweet potatoes, skin them,then mix the flesh with sugar, a little salt, and an egg. That filling is put into an unbaked pie shell and topped with pecans and a pecan pie filling – a sugar syrup and egg mixture. Bake it until set.

P1200604

End result with freshly made whipped cream. Turned out nicely!

 

Attempt to Bake Gougères

A few weeks ago, I tried my hand at making gougères, a French pastry that the ever-helpful 101cookbooks.com describes as “golden pom-poms of cheese-crusted magic.” They use a dough similar to the choux pastry dough used to make éclairs and cream puffs but are supposed to be easier to make. Here’s what the finished product looks like, according to 101cookbooks.com’s recipe

gougeres

Beautiful, right? So I decided to make some for a brunch I was hosting. The recipe wasn’t too hard to follow: bring a mixture of beer (or water, if you prefer), milk, butter, and salt just to a boil. Add a mixture of all-purpose and whole-wheat flours, stirring until smooth and slightly toasted. Cool slightly then mix in the eggs, one at a time. Finally, mix in grated cheddar cheese and portion onto a baking tray, cooking immediately.

P1200583

Following the recipe, I made my dough, measuring carefully and mixing in the eggs as indicated. The mixture seemed a little loose, though. Instead of following my instincts and trying to thicken it by adding more flour (which would have given it a taste of raw flour since it hadn’t been toasted along with the rest of the mixture), I proceeded with the dough as it was.

P1200587

Portioned onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, the dough confirmed my fears. It started spreading too much. Undaunted, I sprinkled a little more cheese and some anise seeds on top and put them into the oven.

P1200589

The end results were decidedly flatter than the ones in the recipe’s picture. The taste was okay, but they didn’t have the “poof” I was looking for. Unfortunately, I don’t know what I did wrong but I would like to try again.

 

Making Chocolates at Baker Republic

P1200430

In February, a new store opened on Sukhuvmit Soi 49. Called Baker Republic, it specializes in the supplies candy and cake-makers need to produce the finest desserts. In the run-up to Valentine’s Day, they offered complimentary chocolate making classes, for which Chow and I signed up. 

P1200409

Fresh flowers add a touch of elegance to Baker Republic’s light-filled store on the second floor of the 49 Terrace shopping center.

P1200405

The shop is owned by a family whose business is importing packaged foodstuffs. Since many of the brands they import sell goods used for baking, opening a shop like Baker Republic was an obvious next step. On the right side of the picture is their climate-controlled chocolate storage room. Like a humidor for fine chocolates, this room ensures that the chocolate you buy is at its very best.

P1200338

As part of the class, we were invited to conduct a chocolate tasting, working through different brands and different percentages of cacao. As hard as it was, I forced myself to put up with this tortuous task! By the end, I had confirmed that I prefer darker chocolates to lighter ones and more expensive chocolates to cheaper ones.

P1200406

Some of the other baking supplies offered at Baker Republic. From candles to sprinkles, fillings to flours, they seemed to have just about anything you would need in order to bake. Now, an interesting question arises here: do enough people in Bangkok bake to really give a shop like this a chance to survive? Most city homes don’t have ovens, at least not full-size baking ovens.

P1200354

Our instructor started with white chocolate, melting it on top of a bowl of simmering water in order to “temper” the chocolate. I had heard of the process before but hadn’t understood it. Tempering is the process of controlling the size of the cocoa butter crystals. When the crystals are of a uniform, small size, the surface of the chocolate will have a uniform sheen and it will snap when you break it. Untempered chocolate will have irregular, larger crystals and the surface will have a matte appearance, crumbling when you break it.

There are a few different methods to temper chocolate but the result of each is that you bring the chocolate to a high enough temperature to melt all the cocao butter crystals, then cool it slowly to a point where the medium- and small-size crystals form, stirring all the while. Finally, you again heat the chocolate, but only to a temperature where the medium-size crystals melt. Yes, it is a little tricky.  

P1200334

To make different colored chocolates using the white chocolate as a base, we added food coloring. The secret, though, is that you have to use an oil-based food coloring with chocolate. Water-based colorings, such as those you use when baking Red Velvet cake, won’t work.

P1200349 P1200370 P1200371

From left: the powdered food coloring mixed with a small amount of melted cocao butter; the resulting paste dribbled onto tempered, partially-melted white chocolate; and then the color being stirred into the chocolate.

P1200364

Parchment paper bags were filled with the chocolate and we started filling the plastic molds. Above, Chow tries her hand at filling the molds so that there are no air bubbles.

P1200382

One thing I quickly learned is that you don’t have nearly as much control over the squeezing of the chocolate as you think you do. I suppose it takes a practiced hand to build sufficient technique.

P1200390

Trying to get fancy, I add layers of different colored chocolate, popping the tray into the refrigerator for a few minutes in between each layer to help it set.

P1200386

Mid-way through the process you can see some filled molds as well as others where I’ve tried to add squiggles that will then be topped with chocolate of a different color. Trying to create fine, thin lines of chocolate was a challenge.

P1200397

The goal was to not have any air bubbles, so after filling the trays we would tap them on the counter several times, then hold them up and inspect them. You can see several bubbles around the yellow squiggles where the purple chocolate hasn’t filled in the spaces completely.

P1200393

Next, we moved to dark chocolate. Truth be told, I don’t much care for white chocolate, although it can more easily be colored.

P1200400

Close-up of my chocolate molds. Again, you can see the challenge with air bubbles. As you tap the trays on the counter, the bubbles work their way to the surface. But if the chocolate has cooled too much, the shape of the popped bubble holds and you don’t have a pleasantly smooth surface. These are the very chocolates that appear (finished) in the first picture of this entry.

P1200416

After about twenty minutes in the fridge, the chocolates popped right out of the molds. You can see where those bubbles on the purple and yellow striped chocolates never went away. The chocolate was nicely tempered, though, and had a nice sheen and pleasant snap.

P1200432

The other two students, in honor of St. Valentine’s Day, used heart-shaped molds and piped the letters L-O-V-E – backwards and upside-down, nonetheless – to create this cute presentation.

After this experience, I’m inclined to think that, just as with baking macarons, making chocolates is one of those skills for which it is better to just pay for someone else’s expertise! That said, I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about chocolate making at Baker Republic.

 

Sunday Brunch

Sunday morning we hosted brunch for a group of friends, all of whom work (or used to work) in the aviation industry.  Needless to say, the topic of conversation frequently turned back to shared work experiences.  Despite this, we still had time to enjoy a relaxed meal of salad, sandwiches, and dessert.

P1200303

A ripe, juicy watermelon from a roadside stall in Korat province provided the inspiration for a cool, refreshing summer salad.  Trying to scoop melon balls while avoiding seeds was a challenge, though!

P1200305

Based loosely on a recipe by the New York Times’ Mark Bittman, this salad features just four ingredients: watermelon, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and fresh mint.  I didn’t dress the salad with a red wine vinaigrette as Mr. Bittman suggests, because when I tasted the combination I found the flavors already beautifully balanced.

P1200309

To make the main course, I first baked a batch of focaccia bread, the light, airy, rosemary infused Italian style bread.  This batch was based on a recipe in the Los Angeles Times by La Brea Bakery owner Nancy Silverton.  The problem is, the recipe is missing the last step: how long to cook the bread and at what temperature!  Critical information, methinks.  Referencing another recipe, 450 F for 15-20 minutes was sufficient.

P1200313

Despite the absence of time and temperature information, the loaf turned out nicely and when paired with some herb smoked ham from Soulfood Mahanakorn, provolone cheese, and a roasted red bell pepper and onion relish I made, we had some beautiful paninis.

P1200301

For dessert, I made one of Tawn’s favorites: banoffee pie.  This British import features a layer of rich toffee on a cookie crumb crust, covered with freshly sliced bananas, whipped cream, a drizzle of coffee flavored syrup, and chocolate shavings.  Instead of making a cheat version of the toffee, I made it the old fashioned way: boiling tins of sweetened condensed milk in a water bath for three hours until the contents caramelize.  Care must be taken to keep the tins fully submerged, otherwise they will explode and spray your kitchen with boiling hot caramel.

P1200316

The end result – my first ever attempt at this dish – had its ups and downs.  The crust hadn’t been made with enough butter so it didn’t hold up well, collapsing under the weight of the filling.  The toffee, which was insanely tasty, was too much – one can would have been plenty.  I didn’t whip the cream quite enough so it didn’t hold its shape and instead spilled through the collapsing crust.

But, despite all that, it was really tasty.  I’ll try again one of these days and refine the recipe.

 

Baking Pecan Tarts

Every time I visit the US, I make a trip to Costco and buy several pounds of pecans and walnuts.  Nuts (with the exception of cashews, peanuts, and macadamias, all of which are grown locally) are very expensive here in Thailand and I enjoy adding nuts to salads, pestos, and of course desserts.  Recently, I perfected a pecan pie recipe that makes wonderful two-bite-sized tarts.

P1190646

The recipe started out from one contributed by an unknown source on the Food Network’s site.  As such, they warned that the recipe had not been tested.  Certainly not, as I found out after an initial mishap.  Let’s put it this way: adding beaten eggs directly into boiling sugar syrup makes for sweet scrambled eggs – not a proper pecan pie filling!

Instead, I rewrote the directions and, after testing two batches, made some adjustments to the ingredients to reduce the sweetness and richness of the filling while adding some depth of flavor thanks to the use of maple syrup.

Pecan Pie or Tarts

1 stick butter (4 oz or 115 g)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup¹
1/2 cup maple syrup²
2 eggs plus 3 egg whites, beaten well
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (or 1 cup plus whole pecans to layer the top of the pie)
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell, or 12 small tart pans lined with pastry dough³

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C). In a saucepan, melt the butter but don’t let it brown. Mix in the sugar, corn syrup, and maple syrup and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.

Temper the eggs by slowly pouring the sugar mixture into them while whisking continuously. Stir in the pecans then pour the mixture into the pie or tart shells. If you want to decorate the top(s) with whole pecans, you can do so.

Bake 1 hour or until firm when shaken. Let cool before serving.  If you are making the tarts in a muffin tin, you should carefully remove them to a wire rack after ten minutes of cooling, so they do not stick.

¹ Note that the corn syrup you buy in the store (like Karo brand) is not high-fructose corn syrup. 
² I think the Grade B maple syrup, which has a richer flavor, is nice to use.  If you have only regular maple syrup, that is fine, too.  You can also substitute corn syrup if you do not have maple syrup.
³ Instead of tart pans, you can also use a muffin tin.

Pecan pies and tarts freeze beautifully after they are cooked.  They can be warmed up in the oven for about 15 minutes before serving and they’ll be just as nice as if they were freshly-baked.

 

Baking: Chocolate Raspberry Bundt Cake Soaked in Raspberry Syrup

P1160905


Chocolate Raspberry
Bundt Cake
Soaked in Raspberry Sauce

Recipe Source:
Week of Menus

Time: About 2 hours
Taste: 4/5
Fancy Factor: 4/5

One of my favorite cooking-related websites is Week of Menus.  Written by Joanne Choi, a mother of young children who tries to provide, as she puts it, good cooking for people with too much on their plate.  I’m sure we can all relate to that feeling.  Recently, she’s done a series of recipes about bundt cakes and the chocolate raspberry bundt soaked in raspberry syrup caught my eye.

Something nice about bundt cakes is that they have a high degree of fancy with a relative minimum of work.  The pans themselves are very grandly designed, some with arches and vaults worthy of a cathedral, others with giant ridges, and still others with rose patterns.  With such a beautiful cake, there’s no need to frost or ice them, although a nice glaze moistens the cake and makes the architecture even more beautiful.

P1160872

The ingredients are pretty simple (you can go to Joanne’s website for the exact recipe): All-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, unsalted butter, granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, sour cream, a chocolate bar broken into pieces, and raspberries.

P1160874 P1160877

First you combine the flour with the salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  The recipe does not call for sifting the flour, but the organic Australian flour I buy here in Thailand is a little coarse, so sifting helps combine the ingredients while also lightening the flour.  Next step, cream the butter in a mixer until it is light and fluffy, then beat in the sugar.

P1160878 P1160881

After the sugar and butter are combined, add the eggs one at a time, beating for about thirty seconds between each addition.  Of course, you need scrape down the sides of the bowl every so often along the way (or buy a BeaterBlade, which combines the paddle attachment with silicon edging that scrapes down the bowl as it mixes) so that the ingredients are well-combined. 

Then start adding the flour mixture and the sour cream (to which I had to add a little bit of yogurt as I didn’t have quite enough sour cream) in alternating parts.

P1160884

The final step is to fold in the broken chocolate pieces and about half the raspberries.  Now, the recipe calls for fresh raspberries but I found that frozen works just fine.  Manually incorporate the chocolate and berries instead of using the mixer, so that you are sure they are evenly distributed.

P1160885 P1160895

Put the batter into a bundt cake mold and bake.  I didn’t have a bundt cake mold but had been thinking about buying one.  This recipe gave me the incentive to make the purchase.  While comparing models, I decided to buy my first silicone baking mold.  It is less expensive and supposedly easier to use (no need to butter and flour the mold – it just peels right off) than metal baking pans. 

Overall, I was impressed by the ease of use, but for some reason the batter shifted in the pan, causing one side of the cake to be larger than the other.  Maybe I need to place the pan on a tray before putting it in the oven?

P1160888 P1160891

While the cake baked, I made the glaze.  This is a combination of the remaining berries, some sugar, and a little bit of orange juice.  The berries are pureed and strained so you get a rich raspberry juice.  The juice is then combined with the sugar and orange juice and cooked for a few minutes until the sugar dissolves.  You can easily imagine how other fruits could be used instead of raspberries to produce tasty alternatives to the raspberry cake.

P1160903

After the cake was done and had cooled a bit (although not completely), you begin brushing on the glaze.  Notice how lopsided the cake is!  I also think it is a little overcooked.  When I checked the cake initially, the toothpick was coming out dirty, so I gave it a few more minutes.  By the time the inside was done, the outside was a little too brown.  Perhaps I need to lover the oven temperature a little?

I added the glaze in two layers, allowing about ten minutes for the first layer to absorb.  There was a point where the cake seemed adequately glazed and I had used only about two-thirds of the raspberry glaze.  In hindsight, I would go ahead and apply a third layer as there is not much risk of the cake being too moist.

P1160943

The final product, served with some white chocolate and raspberry ice cream from New Zealand Ice Cream.  You can se this slice came from the thin side of the cake!  Overall, the flavor was nice, although I think the cake was slightly overcooked and just a little dry.  I would like to play around with this recipe again, maybe adding more berries to the batter or else maybe a little more sour cream.  In any case, thanks to Joanne for this nice recipe!

A Little Pre-Hawai’i Cooking

The day I filmed the Almost No-Knead Bread video, I got some extra cooking done.  It made sense to have just a little more home cooking before we head off to Kauai for my cousin’s wedding.  The meal: Indian spice rub pork chops with raita (a yogurt sauce with cukes and tomatos) and Indian spice roasted potatoes.  Dessert was Swedish brownies.  And while I was at it, I whipped up a batch of meusli.

P1100789

While the recipe was originally for chicken, I used pork chops in this Indian spice rub and raita combination from Joanne Choi’s Week of Menus blog.  Being a mother with young children and still a foodie, she manages to balance creative, complex flavors with ease of preparation and wholesome ingredients.  The only change I would make to the recipe is to add a little bit of brown sugar and a bit of salt.  The rub could have used a touch of sweetness.

P1100820

Tawn and I enjoy meusli for breakfast – although in truth I eat oatmeal most days – and I find it isn’t too difficult to roast a batch of meusli when I already have the oven heated for some other baking.  Each batch is just a little different.  Based on Alton Brown’s granola recipe from the Food Network, I cut back on the sugar and substitute a little orange juice instead.  I sometimes substitute different types of nuts or seeds (flax, pumpkin, or sunflower) for the cashews and almonds in his recipe.  And I add a bit of cinnamon or sometimes freshly-ground nutmeg while the meusli is still warm.  After it has cooled, I add dried fruits.  This one is a combination of cherries, dates, apricots, and raisins.  Tasty and pretty healthy, too.

P1100842

Now, you see why I had to bake some healthy meusli: to offset the caloric karma that came from these wonderfully sticky and chewy brownies.  The recipe came my from friend Per’s mother.  Since he’s from Sweden, I think I’m going to call these my Swedish brownies.  Some brownies are too cake-like.  These have an almost mochi-like chewiness (causing me to wonder what would happen if I added just a bit of rice flour to the recipe). 

The big challenge was that the recipe was in metrics – and I don’t have any dry ingredient measuring cups marked in deciliters.  Thankfully, the internet helped provide conversions and then I made note of the weight of the ingredients so I can measure by weight in the future.

Okay, enough food porn for one entry!