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Dessert Recipes

24 November 2009

Strawberry Tart


Week four into the pastry module and I am well and truly on a butter high. Not exactly great for the cholesterol but I’ve only got two weeks left until the end of term.

One of our recent lessons included making sweet paste, also known as “pate sucree”. 

Sweet paste is used for tart bases or shortbread cookies. There are several methods in which to make it with the ‘creaming’ or ‘rub in’ method resulting in a lighter and crumblier end product. 

There are a few important points to remember when making sweet paste, especially if it’s for a tart base.
First, when mixing or kneading the dough, do so with a light, gentle touch. Overworking the dough develops the gluten strands and results in a tough and often dry crumb.

Secondly, when the recipe says ‘rest the dough’ – rest the dough. No shortcuts or shaving off a few minutes here or there.

Resting pate sucree means wrapping it in plastic cling wrap and allowing it to sit in the fridge for about 20 to 30 minutes. If you don’t let it rest, the dough will be too soft to handle and shrink if you try to bake it.  A dismal thing if it’s ever happened to you but it's something that can be avoided by just being patient. 

This strawberry tart took me a lot of time and patience to make. It's a scorching summer here in Sydney and soaring temperatures don't exactly make for perfect pastry-making conditions. Handling buttery pastry can be a difficult thing in the heat but I did it.

The tart was filled with a luscious dark chocolate crème patisserie and topped with fresh strawberries.

It was a funny moment when I'd finished taking photos of the tart. It was so lovely to look at. I stared at it for a while and realized with a slight twinge of disappointment that all there was to do now was to eat it.

I have found this attachment occurring throughout my pastry-making. And I'm not the only one. My classmates suffer from the same parental urges. We all hover protectively over our own danishes in class.

Ultimately, the eating always beats the looking.

Continue reading "Strawberry Tart" »

12 March 2009

Cashew Cream Parfait


I was recently in Portland, Oregon on a girls' weekend where we spent several days exploring the city’s surprisingly empty streets and eating.

I had several good meals but there was one that outshone everything. It was breakfast at the Blossoming Lotus – a casual café-cum-yoga school serving raw and vegan meals. Sounds appetizing? Perhaps not for some but after several days of sheer gluttony sometimes a bowl of slow oats, rice milk and fresh fruit is what you need.

The dish I had was more of a 'breakfast dessert'. It was a cashew cream parfait served with live buckwheat, apples and kiwis. Dazzling.

On the way back to Vancouver I was mulling over in my head how to re-create it. I tried it the next day and met with success.

The best thing, apart from getting to eat this every morning for breakfast, is that it’s healthy. The "cream" is simply a combination of raw, organic cashews, water, pure vanilla extract and raw honey. I blend the ingredients until they’re smooth and resemble a silky mousse-like cream and that’s it. I’ve been eating it everyday for almost 10 days and I can't imagine tiring of it anytime soon.

The small triangular grains you see in the picture is buckwheat, and incidentally, they're actually seeds from the same family as rhubarb and sorrel. This was my first experience with whole buckwheat. I've only ever used the flour in cookies and blinis. The buckwheat seeds don't have a strong flavour, but they add a great texture and crunch with added health benefits.

Continue reading "Cashew Cream Parfait" »

19 February 2009

Cardamom Custard with Caramelized Oranges


Cardamom, the second most expensive spice next to saffron, is one of the world's oldest spices. Originating from the forests of India's Western Ghats mountain range, the little green pod has traveled far and wide.

Over the centuries cardamom has been used as a tooth cleaner, a perfume and even as a cure to obesity. Today the spice is used more commonly in cooking to flavour both sweet and savory dishes and drinks such as coffee, mulled wines and some liqueurs. 

I often cook with the aromatic spice but mostly in curries (although I do use it in rice puddings too). This week I went a step further and used cardamom in a sweet custard with oranges caramelized in palm sugar. The sweet, subtle scent of the cardamom pairs wonderfully with the smooth egg custard. The caramelized orange imparts a hint of citrus sweetness however its main contribution to the dish is  aesthetic rather than flavour.

I recommend giving the custard time (overnight) to develop its heady flavour. It's well worth the wait.

Continue reading "Cardamom Custard with Caramelized Oranges" »

03 February 2009

Ricotta Ravioli with Dark Chocolate Sauce


A few months ago I wrote about my first experience with chocolate pasta. Since then I've often thought about the endless possibilities of sweet flavour combinations.

After a recent pasta-making class at Quince cooking studio in Vancouver, I promptly raced out and finally bought a pasta machine.

The cooking class was taught by chef Adam Pegg of La Quercia restaurant. Pegg studied in Italy for several years and spent much of his time studying pasta-making techniques in the Emilia-Romagna region. Emilia-Romagna is considered by many in Italy to produce some of the country's finest fresh pasta.

Pegg recalled his good fortune in spending many a day with little old ladies in their homes learning how to perfect their craft. Even as a young man Pegg couldn't keep up with the dexterous workings of those seasoned veterans. 

During class we learned how to make orecchiette (little ears), mini gnocchi, fettucine and ravioli. I've been wanting to make my own ravioli for a while, especially paper-thin sheets, which I think, makes for the best ravioli.

So I bought my new machine this Sunday morning past and set it to work as soon as I got home. Our glass dining table became a mini pasta workshop. The flour was flying. Several happy hours later I was serving ricotta and lemon zest-filled ravioli topped with a dark chocolate sauce, followed by fettucine served with shaved Himalayan truffles (the poor man's truffle, but more on that next week).

The ravioli was sublime. If you don't have a pasta machine and can't be bothered making your own then you could always substitute the pasta with Chinese dumpling wrappers but there's just something about freshly made pasta that cannot be topped.


Continue reading "Ricotta Ravioli with Dark Chocolate Sauce" »

20 January 2009

Dark Chocolate Souffle


The soufflé, once the bane of my existence, is now something I enjoy cooking and relish eating. The chemistry of this dish is one that fascinates me and I often think about the trials and errors of the first chefs who invented and perfected it.

The soufflé, a French invention, is dated back to late 18th century and translates to “breath of air”. Soufflés can be served hot or cold and sweet or savory.

The technique of preparing a hot soufflé begins with the making of a roux – a combination of melted butter and flour – which acts as a base and thickening agent, like that of a Béchamel sauce. The next steps are pretty simple and are laid out in my recipe below.

In my experience, the trick to soufflés is not to over-mix. Have a steady, yet gentle hand when combining the egg whites to the roux sauce. The second, and probably most important point, is to not open the oven door when the soufflés are cooking.

I usually press my nose against the oven window in anticipation of the majestic rising until it gets too hot. It's a wonderful thing to watch a soufflé rise. The joy is fleeting, however, because once you open the door, you have about 40 seconds of wonderful puff followed by rapid deflation. As you can imagine, taking photos of a soufflé happens at Formula-1-pit-stop-pace.

Whenever I'm making one, I always wonder how restaurants can serve soufflés when they're so briefly at their perfection.

This is my fifth time making a souffle and my third successful attempt. My first two attempts were abysmal failures - they tasted great, they just didn't rise. I called them "shriveled toads" at the time.

Soufflé number 3 was also successful but had a slightly heavier texture as I used coconut milk in a Thai-inspired Pandan souffle .

Souffle number 4 was also successful and punctuated with hints of passionfruit.


Continue reading "Dark Chocolate Souffle" »

22 December 2008

Currant Melting Moment Shortbread Cookies


I've stumbled upon what I believe to be the world's greatest cookie recipe. Melting moment shortbread peppered with Grand Marnier soaked currants and infused with orange zest. How can anything be this good?

Butter. And loads of it. One and a half cups to be exact. Each time I pop one in my mouth, my subliminal cholesterol counter sends a little zap to my brain. The melt-in-your-mouth texture of the cookies is also due to the use of not only flour but also of cornstarch, sometimes known as 'cornflour'.

The cookies are incredibly easy to make and store for up to two weeks in an airtight container. If any cookies make it through the first week then you're more restrained then I am.

Tomorrow I'm going to take the cookies to work and give them away. There is nothing generous in this gesture at all. It's just the only way I can stop myself from eating all forty of them.

I want to wish all my readers a happy and safe holiday season. Thank you so much for all your comments and encouragement in 2008. See you in the New Year.

Continue reading "Currant Melting Moment Shortbread Cookies" »

03 December 2008

Making Madeleines


There is much debate over the origin of the little French sponge cake, the Madeleine, however there are two things that are certain; that the small French town of Commercy in the Lorraine region, proudly stake their claim over the shell-shaped cakes; and, that Madeleines have earned their timeless place in literature in Marcel Proust’s The Remembrance of Things. In the beginning of his autobiography, Proust is overwhelmed by a stream of childhood memories after he tastes the citrus-infused Madeleine with a drop of tea.

“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the [Madeleine] crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me...But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

Today the Madeleine remains loved for its simplicity and delicate citrus flavour as if kissed by a lemon tree.


This is my second attempt at making Madeleines. The first time was miserable. What should have been an airy, soft cake with a slightly crisp exterior was dense and dry. After my first attempt I shied away from trying again and hid my Madeleine tin in the back of the cupboard. This was about a year ago.

It wasn't until recently that I was browsing on the Quince Handcrafted Cuisine website in Vancouver when I saw a Saturday afternoon class promising to teach students how to make the best hot chocolate and Madeleines ever. I enrolled immediately and headed off for an hour of tasteful education.

From Quince owner and chef, Andrea Jefferson, I learned how to make perfect Madeleines. It's all about finding the right balance between the whisking and folding of the batter while keeping it aerated with millions of tiny bubbles. Chef Andrea has a straight forward, no-nonsense approach to cooking. She is only particular about those things which require precision; baking measurements is one of those things.

On her recommendation during the class, I have only included the ingredient measurements in grams. While 130 grams of eggs was approximately 3 medium eggs, the size of eggs may vary from country to country, so my advice? Buy some scales and they don't have to be expensive. Mine were $16.

I've put together 10 step-by-step instructions to Madeleines you'd be mad to miss. Enjoy!

For more inspirational cooking classes check out Quince at:

Quince - www.quince.ca
1780 W3rd Ave Vancouver
Tel: 604.731.4645

Continue reading "Making Madeleines" »

14 October 2008

Homemade Chocolate Truffles


Ganache -- a combination of cream and chocolate that forms the velvety  heart of truffles. It can be used to glaze cakes, to coat nuts or be coated with a crisp layer of chocolate.

To make ganache, gently heat cream until it starts to boil and then pour it over chopped chocolate or chocolate buds, all the while constantly stirring until the mixture is smooth and silken.

Let the chocolate/cream mixture cool to room temperature and then cover it and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours. I usually let it set overnight.

I also like to add a little liqueur like Grand Marnier. Some other flavours that go well include coconut essence, a tablespoon of black coffee or try rolling the ganache in desiccated coconut or chopped pistachios or hazelnuts.


Truffles are surprisingly easy to make but be prepared to get your hands dirty. It's a rather messy affair and you're likely to end up with chocolate in your eyebrows.

But don't despair, the mess is worth the result. Just lay down a sheet or two of newspaper and remember this tip -- keep your hands cold.

Ganache is delicate and sensitive to heat. When it comes to rolling time, I  always have a bag of ice next to me and in between every second rolling of the truffle balls I simply lay my chocolately hands on the bag and cool them down.

It does wonders for the truffles and makes things less gooey.

Check out these easy step-by-step instructions for making truffles. If you're not using nuts in the centre, then just skip over point 6 and 8.

Continue reading "Homemade Chocolate Truffles" »

25 September 2008

Plum Clafoutis


Over the past few weeks the farmer's markets have been bursting with tiny black plums. Sweet, succulent and even a little tangy, the plums are ripe for eating, stewing, poaching and in this case, baking...in a clafoutis.

It was only until I attempted to make this baked dessert, that I discovered that it is actually French, specifically from the Limousin region. I have always thought it was Greek. The word 'clafoutis' just sounds so Greek to me but then again 'tiramisu' sounds Japanese!

My clafoutis differs from the Limoges' version which traditionally uses un-pitted black cherries. It is thought that the kernel (pip) imparts an almond-like flavour into the batter when baked. Instead, I used the small black plums, with the stone left in.


While the plums I used were sweet to the point of being over-ripe, the cooking process seemed to reawaken their tart bite.

A clafoutis is somewhere between a cake, a custard, a sweet omelette and a souffle. But really, I shouldn't grope for a category: it is what it is. It's a clafoutis. And it's delicious.

Continue reading "Plum Clafoutis" »

12 July 2008

Khao Tom Mad: Sweet Sticky Rice Parcels


Khao Tom Mad is a Thai street food made of sweet sticky rice cakes filled with banana, black beans and then steamed in banana leaf parcels. It's often confused with Khao Tom Mad. The difference between them is that the latter is not pre-cooked in coconut milk and therefore lasts longer without refrigeration.

There are over 20 different types of bananas in Thailand with the smaller, sweeter red bananas used in recipes such as this one.

Khao Tom Mad can be found in street markets all over Thailand. Eaten both as a sweet snack or as a meal in itself, the parcels are often given to monks as food offerings at the beginning of Buddhist lent (Khao Phansa). This marks the start of the three-month monsoon season; a time where the monks retreat to monasteries and concentrate on Buddhist teachings.

To make Khao Tom Mad, the sticky rice is first boiled with a mixture of coconut milk and sugar in the same way that a risotto is cooked -- slowly with the liquid added a little at a time until it's absorbed. The rice has to be stirred constantly so that it doesn't burn. Once the rice is cooked, it is molded into a little cake filled with banana and black beans. Finally, it is wrapped in a banana leaf and then steamed. 

Steaming the cooked rice doesn't make it soggy. Instead it binds the rice together and makes it almost smooth. The steaming softens the banana, infusing the rice with its sweet scent.

I can't remember when I first ate Khao Tom Mad, but I've probably been eating it since I was around three. And since it's been with me my whole life, I didn't mind standing at the stove for 45 minutes patiently ladling the coconut milk into the rice.

Continue reading "Khao Tom Mad: Sweet Sticky Rice Parcels" »

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