Beignet Attempt

DSCF6787 It has been a quest… a dream of sorts, really… to create my own beignets.  It stretches back even further than our trip to San Francisco in March 2007 where we had a divine Sunday brunch at Boulette’s Larder at the Ferry Building featuring Garam Masala beignets.  It stretches all the way back to a previous visit when they had Chinese Five Spice beignets.  Crispy, hot, yeasty, without a drop of oil on the napkins lining the serving dish.  In short – deep-fried perfection.

Let’s take a closer look at those:

DSCF6788  DSCF6789

They just look amazing, don’t they?

Ever since I tasted them, I decided that I wanted to try making beignets, too.  Key acquisitions in order to do this: a stove with good heat control and an oil thermometer.

Every recipe I found for beignets online seemed to be a copy of the exact same recipe.  Either everyone in the world makes beignets the exact same way or there’s some serious plagiarism going on.  To top it off, all these recipes called for seven cups of flour.  Seven cups!?  I’m not feeding an army here.  If two cups of flour will give me buttermilk biscuits for four, I certainly don’t need seven cups for my beignets.

Still, never having made beignets before I didn’t want to start experimenting yet.  Caving in, I measured out my seven cups of flour.


It also contains yeast, water, shortening, sugar, eggs, salt, and evaporated milk.  Theses were summarily mixed together.


Then placed in an oiled bowl and allowed to rise overnight in the refrigerator.  Even at the cold temperatures, the yeast was prodigious and I was getting a little afraid that I would be woken up by the beeping alarm of my refrigerator door once it had been burst open by the overproductive dough.


With Stuart’s help taking pictures, I rolled out the dough.  Here is a point where the recipes diverged ever so slightly.  Some said “roll to 1/8 inch” while others said “roll to 1/4 inch”. 


When it comes to dough, doubling the height is a big different.  I started out with 1/8 on the first third of the dough and opted to cut out rounds rather than squares, just for the heck of it.


I then heated the oil to 180 C.  Even with an induction stove it is really tricky to keep the oil at a steady temperature as once it heats up, it takes a while to cool down even if it is off the burner.


Finally, the temperature was right and I started adding beignets.  The first few bobbed immediately to the surface, when it was my understanding they should stay submerged for at least a little while before coming up for air.  We cooked several batches, testing as we went.  The 1/8 inch beignets seemed to cook too quickly so we tried some at 1/4 inch.  These were a little better.


After several tries, the cooking seemed to come out a little better.  I think that the oil needed to actually be just a little cooler so they didn’t cook too fast.  There were also some experiments with folding the dough several times to create layers but all that seemed to do was create tough beignets.

Here they are, served in the style of Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, a trio under a dusting of powdered sugar.


My conclusion is that the dough itself lacked flavor and complexity.  I think if I had made a starter and let it ferment for a few hours, the beignets might have had more flavor.  Also, a bit more salt would have helped.

Ultimately, though, I’m not sure I’m cut out for deep frying.  Even with the air purifier running all night and the kitchen exhaust fans running the next day, the house has had the lingering odor of donuts.  Maybe I can get an outdoor stove and cook on the balcony?


P.S. Just a note on the Xanga spell check: why are words like “thermometer”, “gay”, and “I’d” not in there?


Martha Does Peanut Butter

Thanks to all of you who commented about yesterday’s entry regarding Tawn and I getting married.  I certainly appreciate the support, although more practically the opportunity to do this in Thailand will probably not come around anytime in the next few decades as there isn’t any real friction here to drive social change.  We keep having coups, after all, so gay rights is somewhere further down the list.

When I moved here, our friend Kobfa advised me that my relationship with my in-laws would likely not change and that the way it is now is the way it is likely to remain.  Considering how many people I know whose partners have to be totally closeted with their parents, I appreciate that Tawn can be honest with his parents even if I’m not welcomed into the family fold by my father-in-law.  It could be worse.

Anyhow, changing topics for a moment…


Monday I made a recipe for a peanut butter tart that Tawn had printed from Martha Stewart’s website.  This was originally meant to be his project, but somehow it didn’t get made so before the ingredients went to waste I went ahead and made it.  Things like this happen sometimes…

First, I made a graham cracker crumb crust.  Let me tell you, the familiar graham crackers of my childhood are not stocked at even the best international markets here.  An online search showed that it is pretty easy to make your own graham crackers so I’ll do that next time.  Eventually, I finally found “70% organic” graham crackers from Health Valley at Villa market and used them, even though they didn’t look or feel like the graham crackers I have known.  

These different crackers posed a small chalenge.  The measurements in Martha’s recipe were absurd: Ten 4 3/4-by-2 1/2 inch crackers, which must be the official, universal graham cracker size.  These grapham crackers were different dimensions and were thicker than normal graham crackers, so the cracker crumb-to-butter ratio was off.  Couldn’t the recipe editors just come up with a volume?  Two cups of cracker crumbs, for example.

After dealing with the graham cracker crust debacle, I made a chocolate ganache.  This is shaved or chopped good quality milk chocolate into which boiled cream is poured.  After the chocolate melts, it is whisked together to combine, then whisked over an ice bath until it thickens but is still spreadable.  The ganache is then spread into the crumb crust, forming a chocoalte base.  Refrigerate to set.


The next step is to make the peanut butter filling.  This is peanut butter, cream cheese, and sweetened condensed milk, whipped together.  The recipe used a food processor but mine is in the US still so the trusty Kitchen Aid mixer was enlisted.


Next, 3/4 cup of cream is whipped to soft peaks.


Then the whipped cream is folded into the peanut butter mixture to make it lighter and fluffier.



Finally, the peanut butter-whipped cream mixture is spread over the chocolate base and the tart is allowed to set in the refrigerator for at least three hours.


Meanwhile, I prepared dinner for Tawn.  Dischi volanti pasta with homemade pesto; steamed salt-and-pepper Tasmanian salmon for him, roast beef for me; steamed asparagus with butter and sea salt; a medley of corn, peppers, and peas; and a green salad.  Feeling like we hadn’t had enough of a weekend, I opened a bottle of prosecco.  Why not enjoy some sparkling wine on a Monday?


And, finally, the dessert:


There was supposed to be another dallop of whipped cream on top but I didn’t want to go to the trouble of whipping cream just for two servings.  All in all, the crumb crust wasn’t holding together sufficiently – not enough butter, I think.  The flavor was good and the texture light enough.  I’m a big peanut butter fan but even so, I found the tart to be pretty one-dimensional.  Maybe if the chocolate was a darker chocolate instead of milk chocolate?  Or maybe if a little cardamon or chili pepper was added?


Of pumpkin pies and upside down sconces

Paul and Aori came over last night.  They thought they were coming over to see the condo then we’d go out to dinner, but I cooked dinner for them.  Nothing fancy: linguine with homemade pesto, a mixed green salad and a baguette.  For dessert, homemade pumpkin pie.  From scratch.  Yes, really.

Started out with this … and ended up with this

P1030677 P1030690

The crust didn’t work out correctly.  I had this “foolproof” pie crust recipe from Cook’s Illustrated that uses a vodka/water mixture to keep the dough pliable but not tough when cooked.  But it is made with a food processor and my food processor is in Kansas City.  So I cut the fat in by hand and it just didn’t work out the same.  For some reason the dough already seemed moist before I ever added any water.  It didn’t hold together when being rolled out.  Maybe I mis-measured, although I thought I was being very careful.  A tablespoon of butter is 1/2 oz or 4 grams, right?

Maybe I really need to have a food processor to distribute the fat correctly?  Jenn, if you’re not using my Cuisinart, I might be bringing it back to Thailand next time I’m in KC.  No budget left for buing one here.

Anyhow, crust aside, the pumpkin filling tasted great.  It really is so easy to make it from scratch that I don’t know why you would bother with canned filling and that tinny flavor that accompanies it.  I’ve never been much of a fan of pumpkin pie, but this was seriously tasty.  Roka was the one who first asked if I knew how to make pumpkin pie, so as soon as I get the crust figured out, I’ll make one for her.  Anyone else want to come over?

♦  ♦  ♦


P1030701 This morning the mirror men (glass men?) came to install the handles on the mirrored cabinet doors.  This involved drilling into the mirror and through the wood behind it.  It looked like a complicated process as they changed drill bits frequently and were sprinkling water on the mirror as they drilled, I guess to either keep it from cracking or to keep the glass dust from flying around.  Considering that nobody had any protective gear on, either reason would be fine with me.

The electricians showed up unexpectedly after that to install the final two sconces, which Paul had hand carried from San Francisco.  Unfortunately, when the question came whether to install them facing up or down, I chose up.  I tried calling but he was in a meeting and I couldn’t get through.

Feeling empowered, I told the electricians to install them facing up.

They’ll be out Thursday afternoon to correct that and turn them to face down.

So much for being empowered, eh?

♦  ♦  ♦


P1030705 Afterwards I had to run an errand so while out, I met up with Ken, Bill and Roka at Kalpapruek Restaurant off Silom. 

I’ve eaten at their locations at Paragon and Emporium many times, but it wasn’t until I walked onto the property today (the restaurant is situated in an old house and adjoining buildings between Silom and Sathorn) that I recognized it: this is the place Tawn brought me for lunch the day after we met, eight years ago.  There has been remodelling since then but I knew it in an instant.  Above, Ken tries to navigate the menu as our waitress looks on, very patiently.  Below: Kalpapruek is known for their baked goods.  Here is their orange cake with a meringue frosting.



♦  ♦  ♦


P1030712 Back at the Surasak BTS station, I took some pictures of the abandoned office building immediately next to the station. 

There are hundreds of these ghost buildings in the greater Khrungthep area, victims of the 1997 Asian economic crisis. 

While dozens of new buildings are being built today, there are countless relics that for whatever reason are never finished.  Most of them just stand empty, others have been taken over by squatters or have been targets for what I assume are mostly farang graffitti taggers.

♦  ♦  ♦




Funny election picture.  From the New York Times is this picture of John McCain.  All I can think is, “I hope he doesn’t try to hug me!”



Thursday evening Tawn and I are heading to Hong Kong for the weekend.  It is the end of my 90-day visa and I need to renew it, so a border run is necessary.  Temperatures are wintry there – highs forecasts of 25 C / 77 F and lows of 20 C / 68 F.  Where is that parka?


Nong Ryeroam ma jag meuang Paris (Ryeroam comes from Paris)

P1020912 Saturday afternoon we hosted our first meal.  Granted, Roka came over a week ago and we baked cookies, made soup, and ate some food.  But that wasn’t an official meal, just cooks eating their cooking.

Right: The marble mantle has been installed and is decorated for the party.

Saturday was our first official meal with invited guests, a champagne brunch to enjoy the bottle that Ryeroam had asked Ken and Suchai to bring to us as a housewarming, after they visited him in Paris in September.  Since Ryeroam was in town to collect his grandmother and take her to the US for his graduation next week, it was the perfect time to open the bottle.

Ryeroam and I met through, a website for aviation enthusiasts, which is also how I met Ken and a score of other people.  He lives with his partner in Paris, although in the time I’ve known him he has lived in Mexico City as well as Buenos Aires, all the while working on his degree in the United States.  It is a global village, I tell you.


Above from left: Chris, Ryeroam, Suchai, Ken and Tawn.

The menu was pretty simple and easy to prepare:

Individual spinach, mushroom and pine nut quiches


Mixed green salad with tomatoes


Homemade buttermilk biscuits (not pictured)

Assorted desserts from The Landmark Hotel


To wash it all down, we enjoyed a bottle of Laurent-Perrier brut non-vintage Champagne and a bottle of Vallformosa methode Champagnoise sparkling wine from Spain


I had also prepared a cherry pie, not knowing that Suchai was going to bring desserts.  Needless to say, there was no room for the pie.


The condo really sparkles when we have guests.  There are just a lot of nice spaces and it is a lot of fun to entertain.  The kitchen is sufficiently large, although we’re short on plates, bowls and glasses.  Once we have a small china cabinet we’ll round out our collection of dinnerware so we can match.


Baking gingerbread cookies and souffles

A recent purchase at Playground’s design and arts bookstore was The Best Make-Ahead Recipe Cookbook from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  I’m a big fan of CI magazine and the companion show on US public television, America’s Test Kitchen, because the editors are detailed and yet no-nonsense and they talk about technique, mechanics, and the science behind what’s happening in the recipes.

The premise behind the cookbook is the idea that modern-day cooks haven’t the time to prepare full meals from scratch each and every time the clock strikes breakfast, lunch or dinner.  So they tested their recipes to determine how to create ones that could be prepared in advance and come out of a few days in the refrigerator or even a few weeks in the freezer, looking and tasting as good as (or better than) their freshly-made counterparts.

Individual chocolate souffles was one recipe that piqued my interest as I think souffles are a fantastic dessert but am hampered by what I perceived to be the amount of last-minute time needed in the kitchen.  I’d rather be out enjoying my guests’ company than whipping up egg whites.

On Friday evening I prepared the recipe and put the individual souffles, tightly wrapped in plastic and aluminum foil, in the freezer.  Trying something different and playful, I used a combination of Illy Caffe cappuccino cups along with traditional ramekins.

Starting at the top left and working across and down: Whip the egg yolks and sugar to create a pale, frothy mixture.  Melt the chocolate over a bain-marie, a water bathFold the eggs into the chocolate mixture.  Stir to combine.  Spoon into prepared ramekins.  The finished product, ready to wrap and freeze.

P1020745  P1020744

P1020748  P1020751

P1020754  P1020774

But how would they turn out after two nights in the freezer?  Roka came over on Sunday to help me make gingerbread cookies and Tawn had two friends over to listen to one’s relationship troubles, so I had a ready audience of guinea pigs.

Fifteen minutes in a 180-degree C oven was enough to bring the souffles to modest heights, hampered by their lack of paper collars to help the climb.  But they were evenly cooked and very tasty.  Plus, they look cute in the cups!


Below, Tawn, Pim and Prince enjoy their “cups” of souffle.



P1020810 Roka (left)makes for an excellent co-chef.  She is knowledgable and passionate about cooking, is able to provide good insights and helpful suggestions, and it very willing to pitch in above and beyond the “just tell me what to do” level.

What was originally just an evening making gingerbread cookies turned into a whole lot more.  I had some recipes I was meaning to try and since the cookie dough needs to chill in the refrigerator, we had some time on our hands. 

The additional menu items included an Ecuadorean potato soup called locro de papas which is flavored with anatto seed oil (easy to make at home) and fish cakes with paprika-lemon mayonnaise made from cod.

The gingerbread was a new thing for both of us, so we used a Martha Stewart recipe for “easy” gingerbread.  It was fairly easy but for the life of me it seemed really dry.  Also, we had not found a person-shaped cookie cutter so we used biscuit cutters and a hand-made template for the profile of a house. 


Above: fish cakes with paprika-lemon mayonnaise.  Below: Decorating the cookies with our makeshift pastry bag.

P1020815  P1020817  

Below: Our finished cookies.  Can you spot the Wat Phra Gaew cookie – the Temple of the Emerald Buddha?  This may not be the most appropriate image to put on a cookie, but it seemed to go with the theme of gingerbread houses. 

P1020834 P1020825