Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The BEST Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Smooth, creamy, silky... so light it barely lasts on your tongue despite all that butter.

This is how to make Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

It is my favourite of them all and it sits somewhere between American Buttercream and Italian Meringue Buttercream in terms of its difficulty.

Unlike American buttercream, this recipe uses no icing sugar (and a lot less sugar in general) so expect ZERO grittiness that is typically associated with sickly sweet frostings.

Like Italian Meringue Buttercream, Swiss Meringue Buttercream also requires separating eggs but no sugar syrup. For the former type, you need to boil sugar with water to a certain temperature which cooks the egg white and essentially forms marshmallow. The Swiss kind applies the same principle but in a less intense method. Instead you combine the egg whites and sugar in a bowl and whisk vigorously over simmering water until the sugar is completely dissolved and the eggs reach a safe eating temperature - although with fresh eggs, this isn't so much of an issue. The temperature serves mostly to dissolve sugar and slightly denature (or break down) protein strands so that they can grab on to each other and trap air better.

Dissolved sugar = no grit = silky smooth = stable meringue.

You will find that this frosting tastes light and silky smooth despite 1 cup of butter in the recipe! It pipes like a dream thanks to the stability provided by the meringue. Also, it is more resistant to heat (ie. melting) making it perfect for summer BBQ's.

Once you get the hang of this you will find that it easy to whip up! The main issue most people have is when the butter is added, the mixture begins to curdle and look like there is no way in hell it will recover. It will! It comes back when the balance is just right and there is enough physical force to bring it all together.

How to ensure smooth buttercream?

Heat the egg whites slowly and carefully over the simmering water and don't let them get too hot. If you cook them, the proteins will break down entirely and they will lose their emulsifying properties.

What happens if my buttercream separates?

Either you didn't add all of the butter or you added it too quickly. Add the butter to the meringue while the machine is whipping just 1 tablespoon at a time. Once it is all added, continue to whip on high speed for up to 2 minutes. Sometimes it just takes force to bring the fat and water phases together. If this still doesn't work, then it might mean your water-fat balance is off. Your egg whites may be larger than normal and there is too much water, so try adding a tablespoon or two more butter.

Can I use any type of chocolate?

To control the sweetness of the frosting, I always prefer to use dark chocolate. Anything from 55-80% will work well. I prefer 70% bittersweet chocolate and if you are really serious about achieving those super sharp straight cuts and defined swirls then use couverture chocolate with a high cocoa butter content. It's uber professional and you can use it to make tempered chocolates too.

The Best Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
makes enough to frost 18-24 cupcakes or one 8-inch layer cake

4 large egg whites (about 135g)
¾ cup plus 2 tbsp (175g) granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 cup (227g) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 1 tbsp pieces
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
7 oz (200g) dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa), melted and cooled

Whisk together egg whites, sugar and salt in the heatproof bowl of a stand mixer (or other heatproof mixing bowl if using a hand mixer). Place the bowl over a saucepan with ½-inch of simmering water and whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 144°F (62°C), about 5 minutes. The mixture should feel warm to the touch and should not feel gritty if you rub it between your fingers.

Remove from heat and immediately attach the bowl to the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until it is completely cooled to room temperature. This will take 7-10 minutes and the mixture will appear white and fluffy like marshmallow or shaving cream. If using a hand mixer, it may take longer and wear your arm out!

Meanwhile, melt chocolate gently in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan with ½-inch of barely simmering water. Set it aside to cool enough so that it won’t melt the butter in the frosting.
With mixer on medium speed, add the butter one tablespoon at a time to the cooled whipped meringue. Once all of the butter is added, increase speed to high and beat for 1-2 minutes until creamy and smooth. The mixture will go from looking grainy and soupy to smooth, silky and glossy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the melted and cooled chocolate mixture and beat for another minute until well blended, smooth, whipped and creamy. Cover with a damp cloth if not using immediately. Otherwise, pile frosting over cooled cupcakes or spread between cooled cake layers any way you like.
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Thursday, May 18, 2017

How to make Authentic Thai Curry Paste

I'm taking a break from sweet today and taking us "Scientifically Savoury".

Thai food is one of my favourite (if not my favourite!) types of cuisine. I adore the complexity and playful balance of flavours, the brightness, freshness, richness and colour. Like a carnival on a plate, I love it so much and I've travelled to Thailand 8 times (9 times? I've lost count) just to eat. I learned how to cook Thai food and now I can't stop. Lets begin.

There are several different types of Thai Curry pastes that are used to make several different kinds of Thai curries.

Some of the most popular include Red, Green and Yellow. They all begin with similar base ingredients, but certain important additions make them distinctively different.

Penang is another popular curry made using ground roasted peanuts in the paste. It adds richness and of course, a nutty note.

Massaman is a southern Thai curry dish, getting inspiration from its neighbouring border country Malaysia with Muslim influences. You will find most Muslim Thai people in the South of Thailand and the affect that their culture has had on the food is delicious!

If you've ever had the pleasure of visiting Thailand or dining at your favourite Thai restaurant, then you'll know that Thai curries are popular dishes and taste unlike anything else in this world! If you've ever wondered how to make it at home then stick around and learn how to make the most authentic Thai Curry Paste.

Ingredients in Thai Curry Paste

Clockwise starting with the dried chilis:
Dried red chilis, called "spur chilis" 
Coriander and cumin seeds
Thai (white) cardamom pods, star anise and cinnamon bark
Cilantro roots
Thai basil
Kaffir lime peel
Turmeric root
Shrimp paste

In this photo above you also see (counterclockwise from the lemongrass):
Krachai (also called finger root or lesser ginger; the latter implies it is inferior but that is very untrue)
Coriander root

Dried Thai red chilis are difficult to find in North America. The ones you find in Thailand are longer and larger than what I typically find here and they're more flexible. You can use fresh ones but the paste will be wetter and also the flavour will not be as rich. Dried chilis have a deeper, more robust and almost smokey flavour about them.

Thai garlic is much smaller than our garlic and you can use 10-15 per batch, no problem. The more the better in curry paste - I have never once used too much garlic. The skins are also thinner so you can smash them up without peeling them.

Kaffir limes are another thing that's hard to come by. Instead of being smooth and nicely round, these Thai limes are bumpy and mottled looking and they pack a bright punch of flavour. When I can't find this (which is often) I use very finely sliced kaffir lime leaves which are easy to find and store! You will want to use these lime leaves in the curry as it simmers anyway to impart even more fragrance. Kaffir lime leaves are inexpensive and they freeze wonderfully so buy a bunch and keep them in the ice box. Use about 6-10 per batch of paste. Remember to pull back the tough stem that runs through the center of the leaf before slicing them.

Coriander root. You're probably thinking. What the? But do it! The root holds a ton of cilantro flavour and we are so stupid to throw them out! Be like the Thai and wash them well. Chop them from the leaves when you are having taco night and then wrap them up and freeze them until you make this paste.

Galangal - some would say it tastes like ginger, but every Thai (and myself) would say that's wrong. Galangal tastes minty, almost medicinal (think vapo-rub) and has more of a bite. Having said that, you can use ginger because ginger tastes great too. It won't taste quite as authentic but it will still be damn delicious, and yes I have used ginger in its place many times. The trick is that you can use lots and lots of ginger in pastes and they only taste better, but galangal should be used with more restraint.

Turmeric root is easy to find at most Asian grocers, but if you can't then substitute with turmeric powder.

Krachai may prove difficult to find, and it will most likely be labeled "finger root" if you spot it at Asian markets. It has a distinct piquant, eucalyptus-like flavour that is hard to compare. One of my Thai cooking instructors also referred to it as ginseng, which is similar in flavour and appearance but still different.

What tools do I need?

A mortar and pestle. Look for a large, heavy stone or granite one. You want it big enough that the ingredients don't all run up the sides and spill out while you're pounding down.

Alternatively, a food processor. Unless you are making a giant batch of paste, use a small prep food processor so that the blades are in good contact with your ingredients at all times and scrape down the sides regularly. I use this one from Cuisinart. It's just the right size and I find it works better than any other one I've owned thus far.

For the most authentic and rewarding experience (and taste, in my opinion) invest in a mortar and pestle. Pounding up all of the ingredients bursts all of their cells and really lets the flavours marry perfectly. The oils from the chilis and lime peel release more effectively to create an intense flavour. I own this one and love it. Jamie Oliver also makes a nice one, and if you live in Canada check out this one or this one. It certainly takes a lot of effort, but it's worth it. A little sweat means you've earned it.

At home I love to make Massaman curry the most often because it is the one that can be replicated the best here in NA where it may be difficult or inconvenient to find the freshest Thai ingredients, mainly the red and green chilis.

Massaman curry is more of a sweet curry and the flavour of the spices predominates so that you are not missing out on the taste of those dried red chilis that can be hard to come by.


Use sweet paprika powder! To get the colour and flavour of thai curry pastes, you need to use a lot of chilis but if you can't find the right ones than it just wont turn out right. If you use too many of the wrong ones, the paste will be too watery and if you use to many dried ones (the ones I use), it will be WAY TOO SPICY. So I use the amount of dried chilis that I prefer and then add a bunch of paprika to provide the dried chili flavour and colour without the heat. It's a matter of control and it works so well!

How to prepare Thai Curry Paste:

First start with the dry spices. Pound them up to a find powder. For the chilis, any dried chilis that you can find is fine but make sure you are aware of their heat potential before you start adding 20 to your paste! Start with 3 or 4 and remove the seeds if you are unsure. If the chilis you find are very dry and brittle, you can grind these up with the paste. Some people soak them in water for 10 minutes to soften them, but there is plenty of moisture from the other ingredients to smooth it out so it is up to you.

If your chilis are softer and more flexible, then transfer the ground spices to a separate bowl and start pounding the chilis. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt while you are pounding in the first few ingredients, including lime peel/leaf, garlic, lemongrass and coriander root. It helps to make a smoother paste and break down the skins.

Add the remaining ingredients (galangal/ginger, turmeric, shallots) and pound away. Begin adding the dry spices, including paprika if you are using the hot paper chilis.

Roast the spices! If you can dry roast them in the oven, that gives incredible flavour. But it's a lot to ask to turn on your oven just for this. Toasting them through in a dry frying pan with frequent shaking of the pan (so they don't burn) works a charm.

How to eat Thai Curry Paste:

Pastes form the foundation of many incredible Thai dishes including soups, curries and stir fry's. To make a traditional curry, fry up the paste in some coconut oil (or other vegetable oil) to bring out the aroma and then stir in coconut milk. To this you can add an assortment of vegetables and meat. Try chicken thigh or breast, pork tenderloin slices or chunks of beef (particularly for massaman curry). For the veggies you can use whatever you'd like, but traditional items are thai eggplants, pea eggplant, long bean and red pepper. Feel free to use broccoli, zucchini and carrot. Sweeter curries, like massaman and penang, may also have potatoes, fruit (such as pineapple), boiled peanuts and even tomatoes. At the end, be sure to add fish sauce and palm sugar to taste. You will need almost equal portions of both to really enhance the flavours. Once everything is cooked through, dish it out into small bowls and serve with a side of steamed jasmine rice and fresh Thai basil.

To make a tasty quick dish, fry up the paste with minced pork, beef or chicken. Toss in some thinly sliced carrot, long bean and Thai basil and serve with rice.

Use the yellow curry paste as a base to make Khao Soi - a delicious northern Thai chicken noodle soup. I'll post about this separately.

Whatever you add it to, know that it will taste delicious!

The difference between the colours

Green Curry: this is the freshest of them all and sometimes has no dry spices at all. The dominant flavours are lime and lemongrass, with the refreshing licorice notes that comes from heaps of Thai basil. It gets its green colour from green Thai bird chilis that taste completely different to the red ones.

Red Curry: like the curry you are learning to prepare here, it is based on red chilis and often includes coriander and cumin seeds as well as black peppercorns

Yellow Curry: add Indian yellow curry powder (such as Madras) to red curry paste

Penang Curry: add roasted peanuts while making yellow curry paste

Massaman Curry: add aromatic sweet spices (cardamom, star anise and cinnamon) and some yellow curry powder (or more turmeric, cumin and coriander) to red curry paste

Jungle curry:similar to green curry, but made with both red and green chilis! It is spicy as ever - the most spicy of all. It is usually a chunkier paste and really is loaded with chili more than anything else. What also makes this curry dish hotter than others is that it is water-based, rather than coconut milk-based. Without the creamy, fatty and sweet coconut milk to cool and counteract the firey chilis, this curry can blow your head off if you are not used to it!

Watch the video below to have it all explained!

Thai Massaman Curry Recipe
Serves 4-6 people

It's very hard to give you exact proportions for this recipe because I always do it by eye. It's one of those things that completely loses its pleasure if you measure. The one tip I can give you is, there is never too much of most things in curry paste! More garlic - OK. More ginger - YES. More lemongrass - Uh huH! Just go easy with the galangal.

For the spice mixture:
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 star anise
one 1-inch piece cinnamon bark

For the paste:
4-6 dried red chilis, chopped
6 cloves of garlic
peel from one Kaffir lime (green part only), or 6 Kaffir lime leaves very finely sliced
1 stalk lemongrass, thinly sliced
4 cilantro roots, chopped
a 2-inch knob of galangal or ginger (if using ginger you can use more)
a 1-inch piece fresh turmeric root (or 1/2 tsp turmeric powder)
2-3 shallots (depending on size)
1 tsp shrimp paste

To prepare the curry:
2 cups pure coconut milk or coconut cream (for the ultimate dish!)
1/3 cup of curry paste (or all of the batch - it will make the best curry!)
1 lb sliced pork tenderloin, sliced beef or chicken
2 large potatoes, par-boiled and cut into chunks
any vegetable you like - I prefer pumpkin, carrots, zucchini, broccoli, eggplant or red bell pepper (just don't use anything too potent like green bell peppers which would change the flavour of the curry)
2 tbsp palm sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
salt to taste

First roast the spices. Place them in a dry frying pan over medium heat and shake the pan frequently (so they don't burn) until they smell fragrant and start to dark a tinge.

Place toasted spices in the mortar and pound them with the pestle to a find powder. Transfer the ground spices to a separate bowl and start pounding the chilis. Add garlic, kafir lime peel or leaf, lemongrass and coriander root with about 1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt and pound away. Salt helps to make a smoother paste and break down the skins.

Add the remaining ingredients (galangal/ginger, turmeric, shallots) and keep pounding. Begin adding the dry spices, including paprika if you are using the hot paper chilis that don't give much flavour or colour. Finally mash in the shrimp paste. Keep pounding until the paste is buttery and smooth - it will take a good 15 minutes.

To make the curry, heat about 1 tablespoon of coconut oil (or other vegetable oil) in a wok and fry up the paste to bring out the aroma and then stir in coconut milk. The traditional way that I like to use is to heat about 3 tablespoons of coconut milk in the wok over very high heat until it boils and begins to break or separate. Once the oil separates out, you can start frying your paste. You need really high quality coconut milk to do this and I only and always use Aroy-D. It is the one and only brand you should use too - the best of the best I promise. 

Once the paste is fried up, add the coconut milk and bring to a gentle simmer. You do not want to boil at this point anymore. Add the meat and vegetables in the order they need to cook and simmer until cooked through. I usually add my potatoes and carrots at the beginning, add the pumpkin halfway through, and add zucchini and bell peppers right near the end with a minute left.

Finally season with fish sauce, palm sugar and salt (if necessary). If you can't find palm sugar, you can use honey but start with half the amount since honey tastes sweeter than palm sugar. I highly recommend you try palm sugar because it is delicious and produced from coconut palm trees. I buy the hard pucks and chop or shave off the quantity I want into small pieces. You can also buy it in a jar as a thick paste that is scoopable and easier to dispense and dissolve.

So much love people,
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Monday, May 15, 2017

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake Squares with Peach Preserves & Pecans

I'm moving! Again.

And I'm going out of the city, away from the gridlock, away from the road rage, away from concrete and away from insane car insurance prices. 

I love a city when it brings food culture to a high point. Example: Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Tokyo, Taipei, Seoul, pretty much anywhere in SE Asia. That means the streets are covered with tiny plastic chair and stools, and shotty steel carts dishing up steaming bowls of noodles - I prefer that over cars alone. Makes for a hectic (and possibly smog-laden) dining experience but I love it!

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache Bars

Guys! It's time for me to get back to it. To come back to this little internet space on my old Samsung 13-inch monitor and give you more recipes to bake and bake and bake!

In the next few months I'll be working towards more regular posts like it used to be. I just need some time to put ducks in a row (or a crooked line) and it will happen.

For now I'm hung up on peanut butter. No surprise there, I know. And this is coming from a girl who used to be threatened by her mother with peanut butter! "You're getting peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch!", she'd say, and pack it up in a brown paper bag for school when I was acting up. Yup - she knew me well. She used food to punish AND promote me.

Many moons later and I adore peanut butter. I have 3 jars in my fridge right now - natural smooth, natural with sea salt and good ol' chunky original Kraft (the regular stuff).

The difference? Huge.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

How to Temper Chocolate & Make Truffles at home!

There are a few things you must have and must know in order to make shiny, snappy tempered chocolates at home. I'm about to tell you them so you can do it. Believe me, believe in yourself - you can do this. Everyone seems to become an expert by watching youtube and reading tutorials on the internet these days, so have faith.

Things you must have:
1. Chocolate molds - I use silicone ones. They are easy to find and use. Go to a kitchen supply shop and pick out the shape you like.
2. Thermometer - tempering chocolate means taking temperatures. 
3. High quality dark chocolate - if you are going to take the time to do this, don't waste it on shabby chocolate. Get the good stuff. Couverture chocolate is best for confectionery because it has a high cocoa butter content, and thus high fluidity for coating and moulding, but regular (good quality) chocolate is perfectly fine. I prefer this one.
3. Patience.

Things you need to know:
1. Choose a cool dry day - hot and humidity will make for a mess and stress.
2. Give yourself space - chocolate-making can sometimes be messy work.

The fillings are up to you. Can't go wrong with a simple ganache, salted butter caramel or peanut butter for something fast and easy.

How to Temper Chocolate
The temperatures to which you heat and cool your chocolate depends on the cocoa content. If you are using dark chocolate with a cocoa content between 60 and 70%, then follow these guidelines.

Method 1: First chop up all of your chocolate very finely. The smaller the pieces, the faster and more evenly it will melt. If your chocolate is already glossy and shiny and well-tempered, then you can skip a bunch of steps. WOO! But, and I mean BUT, for this to be successful you must have very small pieces and be very precise. The goal is to just barely melt the chocolate so that it is fluid but not a single degree over 90°F. If it goes to 92°F, then you risk melting and disassembling the organized cocoa butter crystal structure that your chocolate manufacturer has worked hard to build.

The idea is that you are going to melt the chocolate, but not enough to melt the desirable crystals that keep it in temper. You need to stir constantly for even melting over very low heat and monitor the temperature very carefully.

Method 2: The next method is also a shortcut but does involve some maneuvering. First melt all of the chocolate to 120°F. That melts ALL of the crystals. Then remove it from the heat and cool it down by stirring constantly until it reaches 100°F. Once it reaches that temperature, start adding more very finely chopped or grated (even better!) tempered chocolate until it cools to 90°F. The already tempered chocolate that you are adding acts as template to encourage the melted chocolate to set in the same shape. At 90°F, the chocolate is ready to use for dipping, dunking, molding or coating.

Keep in mind that the temperatures are different for different types of chocolate - in general dark is 120°F, milk is 115°F and white is 110°F.

Method 3: The last method is the most tedious and is absolutely required if you are already working with bloomed (ie. not shiny/glossy) chocolate. First melt all of the chocolate to 120°F. That melts ALL of the crystals. Then remove it from the heat and cool it down by stirring constantly until it reaches 82°F (78-80°F for white and milk chocolate). This can take a very long time depending on the temperature of your kitchen (assuming you are doing this in the kitchen). To help it along, add a fresh chunk of already tempered chocolate to the pool when it reaches 100°F. This will cool down the mixture quickly while providing nuclei too. If you have a cool room or a cantina, step in there while stirring the chocolate to accelerate the cooling.

At 82°F we can be sure that certain crystals will have formed (namely crystal forms IV and V). Form V is the most favorable so now we want rewarm the chocolate to melt any form IV's and keep V. Place the bowl over the heat again and bring it to 90°F while stirring constantly. Do not let it go over 90°F! It is now ready to use. You can continue to use this chocolate and reheat it to 90°F as you are molding.

At this magic temperature of 90°F, you should have a pool of form V crystals that will set to a firm snap and glossy shine.

Get ready to make truffles!

1. Place a wire rack over a large baking tray that's lined with parchment or waxed paper (for easy clean-up).

2. To create your tempered shells, pour a generous amount of tempered chocolate over the mold, filling in all of the shapes. Now, turn it over and hold it over your bowl of tempered chocolate and let the excess drip back down into the pool. Place the mold (updside down) onto the rack and let it rest for 1 or 2 minutes to let excess chocolate continue to drip. This will leave you with even, thin shells.

3. Turn the mold right-side-up and sweep an off-set spatula or palette knife flush with the surface to scrape away any chocolate that collects on the flat surface around the indentations. Now place it on a tray and refrigerate until hard and set. This normally takes just 10-15 minutes if your chocolate is tempered properly.

4. Once set, remove the mold from the fridge and fill each cavity with whatever you desire. Let set again and then cover with more tempered chocolate. [At this point you may need to carefully re-heat the chocolate to 90°F so that it is fluid and workable. I normally keep the bowl resting over a saucepan of very warm/barely hot water (off the heat). Make sure the water is not hotter than 90°F.] Again, sweep an off-set spatula or palette knife flush with the surface to scrape away any chocolate that collects on the flat surface around the indentations. Refrigerate to set and then pop the chocolates out of the molds. Brush with edible gold dust for an extra special touch.

To make spheres, you need to "glue" two domes together. Place a dry frying pan over very low heat. If using gas, just warm up the pan and then remove it from the heat. Take two chocolates and place them flat-side-down on the warm pan to melt the flat sides just slightly and then press them together. Let them set and you're sailing.

Big love

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