Saturday, January 27, 2007

Frédéric Bau's Nippon

We visited Tokyo over the New Year. As always, we had a fantastic time. There are many many reasons I love this city, not least of which is the abundance of amazing pâtisserie every corner you turn. Aside from the opportunity to revisit favourites, there's the assurance that there's always something new and exciting awaiting discovery.

While I didn't bring my camera with me and sadly have no pictures to share, I did bring back a suitcase full of edible treats. And of course, a yen for more of that distinctive Japanese-French style of pâtisserie, in anticipation of which I had dutifully shelled out a princely sum for less than an ounce of matcha.

Not for ceremonial tea - being gaijin (excuse the political incorrectness), of course, I'm not hardwired to appreciate the intricacies of the tea ceremony and probably can never hope to. But for use in a dessert or two - I would like to imagine that I have a growing appreciation of matcha's many uses in the sweet kitchen.

I had a bit of a tough time deciding what to lavish my precious jade-coloured cargo on. For weeks now, I toyed variously with the idea of churning it into an ice cream, using it to flavour crème pâtissière as a filling for éclairs, mixing it into a financier or madeleine or macaron batter...foolproof, tried-and-tested recipes I knew would be simple, straightforward and scrumptious.

But expectedly, impulse ruled the day. As I was flipping through Chocolate Fusion by Frédéric Bau (an exquisite book I'd briefly mentioned here) for an entirely different purpose, I was immediately sidetracked by Nippon, the maestro's very elegant homage to his second homeland, serendipitously symbolic of the Hinomaru. Even more appealing was that the dessert is a composed number - the vividly green apperance may suggest that matcha plays a dominant flavour role, but it is in fact rather subtly used to harmonise with a number of other flavours.

Hemispheres of delicate milk chocolate parfait are coated in a thin shell of white chocolate, the potential sweet cloyingness of which is tempered by the grassy, pleasantly bitter flavour of pulverized first harvest tea buds. Fragrant, crunchy toasted sesame seeds are sprinkled on before the matcha-white chocolate mixture gets a chance to crystallize.

To assemble, two hemispheres of the frozen parfait dipped in matcha chocolate are adhered on either side of a crisp sheet of chocolate tuile in such a fashion that the set-up will stand upright. And to serve, some warmed lychees cooked in ginger caramel.

As for the eating? Put it this way, it was unfortunate that the recipe didn't leave very much matcha left over, because if it did, I know exactly which recipe I would be headed for next - exactly the same.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Cupcake Workshop I & Cupcake Workshop II at Shermay's Cooking School

A belated Happy New Year to everyone!

As I'd mentioned in an earlier post, I'll be teaching classes at Shermay's Cooking School. Below, some of the highlights of Cupcake Workshop I and Cupcake Workshop II (PS: A Macaron Workshop and an Ice-Cream Workshop respectively are also in the works, tentatively slated for the second quarter of 2007!).

Cupcake Workshop I will be held on 24 February 2007 (Saturday), 25 February 2007 (Sunday), 10 March 2007 (Saturday), and 11 March 2007 (Sunday), while Cupcake Workshop II will be held on 24 March 2007 (Saturday) and 25 March 2007 (Sunday) - the February schedule and March schedule have all the details (for inquiries, call +65 6479 8442 or email I've recently learnt from the school that the February classes have been almost fully booked and there are limited spaces available for the March classes - I'm thrilled (and excited, and thankful, and relieved), to say the least. To everyone who signed up and am reading this, a huge thank you and I sincerely hope you'll find the classes as rewarding as I have found the planning process to be.

Based on a collection of recipes I truly love, and have been testing and re-testing exhaustively in the past months. The workshop is built around the idea that a few essential recipes, "master recipes" so to speak, can be the foundation of a cupcake repertoire as varied and as exciting as your imagination (and knack for mixing-and-matching) will allow. These include:

Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Cupcakes
Valrhona Dark Chocolate Cupcakes
Simple but Stunning Cupcake Variations: Raspberry Swirl; Nutella Swirl; Marbled
Swiss Meringue Buttercream: Master recipe & Variations
Basic Icing: Master recipe & Variations
Dark Chocolate Putty: How to make & shape
Creating Marzipan & Dark Chocolate Putty Designs

Think of the fluffy, tender vanilla cupcake and the darkly seductive chocolate cupcake as the equivalent of a classic white shirt or little black dress in a chic capsule wardrobe - just as all a clever girl needs is some additional savvy separates and choice accessories to create a wealth of looks, versatile recipes such as a Swiss meringue buttercream (which can be flavoured in a great variety of ways) and a basic icing (equally variable) allow you to create many variations, smartly finished with decorations rendered in malleable marzipan and dark chocolate putty, manipulated much in the same fashion as you would model clay.

This collection of recipes is very much inspired by two of my favourite things - madeleines and financiers. Specifically, the ingenious idea/technique of folding melted (and browned, in the case of the financier) butter delicately infused with spices, teas, herbs or flowers into a batter base in order to create a spectrum of flavours.

As I found out early on whilst recipe testing, it wasn't going to be as simple a matter as applying a straightforward madeleine or financier recipe to a cupcake format - madeleines and financiers may be utterly moreish freshly baked, but are notoriously quick to turn stale and stodgy with every minute that passes upon their exit from the oven. Cupcakes, on the other hand, while usually best eaten on the day they are baked, are most certainly not supposed to be quite so sensitive in constitution.

After much re-working and tweaking, I finally arrived at a recipe template that not only allowed flavour variations via the use of different infused butters, but kept well, in fact improved with keeping - the result is a cupcake with a divinely moist and finely knit crumb that, for lack of a fancier name, I've christened the Very Buttery Cupcake. Why mini cupcakes? In deference to the original inspiration for the recipe, and also because the flavours are sufficiently elegant so much so that you may well be tempted to serve an assortment as petits fours. Depending on the infused butter used, the following can be created:

Lavender Cupcakes (with Lavender & White Chocolate Frosting)

Earl Grey Tea Cupcakes (with Orange Blossom & White Chocolate Frosting)

Chai Spice Cupcakes (with Vanilla Bean & White Chocolate Frosting)

Lemon Cupcakes (with Lemon Curd Filling and Golden Meringue Topping)