Friday, November 27, 2009

Giving Thanks

Shame on me, how I used to tease (gently) my mother about her utter reluctance to toss anything out - no matter how yellowed, brittle, mothballed, and virtually disintegrating. Waste not, want not, she likes to say. But of course, the corollary that follows is that she is steadfast, loyal, deeply devoted and selflessly giving to all the people she loves, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.

Double shame on me, because it wasn't as if I grew up surrounded by clutter. Far from, in fact.

I know of no other woman more formidably organized when it comes to keeping house. From ensuring that every single little itty bitty teensy weensy nook and cranny was spotlessly clean, no mean feat in an old rambling bungalow, to coming up with ingenious storage solutions for shoring up the things she judged to be of potential future usefulness or sentimental value (which pretty much covers if not everything then let's just say a whole lot), her meticulousness and fastidiousness knew no bounds.

And so, in silly and rather juvenile reaction I'm afriad, I used to make it a point of pride to be a ruthless streamliner, a declutterer, a tosser-outter. Callously, zealously, methodically and periodically divesting, purging, ridding anything and everything - some of which I'll today confess to having done so much to my everlasting regret - which supposedly threw off-balance what I deemed to be the golden ratio between one's possessions and white space.

As I've gotten older, I like to think I've mellowed somewhat from the hardliner I used to be. Ok, I understate. As I've gotten older, I've gotten increasingly comfortable with setting my inner magpie free. Ah, the irresistable siren song of shiny objects both literal and figurative, be they cookbooks, shoes or yet another cakepan or cocotte or comport without which life couldn't possibly be complete. And I seem, more and more so, incapable of tossing anything out. Mummy dearest, I humbly eat my words. Nature abhors a vacuum, and no where is this scientific truth more apparent than the extent to which my shelves and cabinets are strained. Funnily enough, one could say without exaggeration that the way they've held up virtually defies the laws of physics and load bearing conventional wisdom.

Alright, enough of lamentation at my lack of horizontal surfaces on which to store objects.

A pretty-in-pink birthday cake for a very pretty little girl, C, thanks to her fabulous, loving and very indulgent mother, S. This adorable princess turned 3 in August - I know, this post is way overdue! - and I had the immense pleasure of crafting the cake.

The repeating floral motif is based on a scrap of vintage flocked wallpaper I had picked up and stowed away in my secret box(es) of pretty, shiny, inspiring and otherwise awesome things - in other words, the rationalized, compartmentalized manifestation of aforementioned magpie syndrome. In my (feeble) defense, it can on occasion come in rather handy, like when making pretty cakes for pretty girls.

Beneath the pink and floral facade? Essentially, a luxe strawberry shortcake - layers of vanilla seed-flecked buttery yellow cake sandwiched with billows of whipped mascarpone cream and succulent homemade strawberry preserves. The tall layer cake was then frosted with a silken coat of Swiss meringue buttercream, flavoured with fresh strawberry puree, which also serves to tint the buttercream the merest of lovely dusky pink.

Yesterday, I spent the better part of the afternoon with 2 grande dames, sisters, whose nonagenarian mother passed away 2 years ago, very shortly afterwhich their father followed suit. Treasure your parents, they are priceless, you don't tell them often enough just how much you love them and are thankful for...I was all choked up, but fortunately - extremely so, I realize - for me, I could still dial home and try to articulate, clumsily, an approximation of just how much I give thanks.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Art of the Tart

Because a deeply decadent dark chocolate tart will feature in Holiday Desserts 2009, with a baked Valrhona Manjari 64% custard filling that can only be described as baveuse, I wanted to include within the bonus section of the recipe pack a few of my other favourite chocolate tarts.

The crunchy shortbread pastry used for all the tart shells here is an unconventional recipe based on melted butter. It is extremely easy to handle, can either be rolled with a pin or pressed into the tart pan, is used for one grand tart case or a flurry of tartlet cases, and can boast of a buttery deliciousness all unto itself really.

Raspberry & White Chocolate Tart
Tart fresh raspberries and a hidden layer of raspberry preserves offer the perfect fruity contrast to the plush white chocolate ganache (using Valrhona Ivoire 35% White Chocolate). The gleaming rows of bright red berries resplendent against ivory creaminess make this tart a particularly festive and beautiful one to have on the holiday dessert table.

Salted Caramel & Dark Chocolate Tart
Butter-rich caramel with the full-flavoured, minerally tang of artisanal sea salt is blanketed by dark chocolate ganache (using Valrhona Manjari 64% Dark Chocolate) - for salted caramel lovers, this is sheer bliss in a tart shell!

Malted Milk Chocolate Tart
If you love chocolate malteds, if they evoke the fondest of carefree childhood memories, then this is the chocolate tart with your name on it. The addition of malted milk splendidly enhances the toasty, butterscotchy savours of the Valrhona Jivara Lactée 40% Milk Chocolate used in the ganache.

Holiday Desserts 2009, a demo class at Shermay's Cooking School, will be held on 7 November (Saturday), 8 November(Sunday), 21 November (Saturday) and 22 November(Sunday). For all inquiries, please call the school at +65 6479 8442 or email