Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lemon Buttermilk Pound Cake




The other day, when I was having tea at a café, I noted how quite a number of customers opted for a slice of orange pound cake to go with their drinks. It was something like S$4 or S$5 for a really thin slice, which left me aghast.

Mentally, I was calculating the cost of butter, sugar and oranges, and the number of cake loaves that amount of money would yield. Yeah, that's what home baking does to you ... well, to me, at least! I balk at paying for anything I can easily make in my own kitchen, which means I almost always order food that I can't make or take too much effort. For the record, I got myself a big, fat almond croissant to go with my tea. Hee hee!

Then I realised, flashback to 3 years ago, when I hadn't yet picked up baking, I would be one of those people paying through my nose for that pathetic slice of pound cake. Bleah!




BUT, that was then, and this is now. Bake my own? Piece of cake (pun totally intended)! ;) Actually, anyone can bake this easy peasy Lemon Buttermilk Pound Cake. I think it's no secret that I prefer my cakes simple and no-frills, and this recipe is no exception. For a pound cake, it's actually rather light and you can up the citrusy flavour by adding more zest. And for S$4 or $5, you'll definitely get more than one slice! Sorry, couldn't resist. ;)

Recipe

(adapted very slightly from Fine Cooking)

- 1 1/2 cups (170g) all-purpose unbleached flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, slightly soft
- 1 cup (225g) sugar*
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (approx. 120ml) buttermilk**
- Zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped or grated

* Note to my health-conscious, less sweet-toothed readers: I know that is an enormous amount of sugar, so feel free to reduce to your liking. If I remember correctly, I used 170-180g.

** No buttermilk? No problem. Just pour out the said amount of milk in a cup, then add 1/2 tsp lemon juice or vinegar and let it stand for 5mins.





1. Heat the oven to 325°C (160°C). Spray a loaf pan that’s about 8x5x3 inches with a nonstick coating.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt until well blended. With an electric mixer, beat the butter until it’s very pale and little tails have formed.

3. Sprinkle in the sugar and beat well until slightly fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until blended before adding the next.

4. With the mixer on low, add about one-third of the flour and mix until almost combined; then add half the buttermilk and mix until just combined. Repeat with another third of flour, and then the last half of the buttermilk, ending with the last third of the flour. Just before all the flour is incorporated, switch from the mixer to a stiff rubber spatula, add the lemon zest, and slowly stir to blend in the flour and zest, taking care to scrape the bowl’s bottom and sides.

5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it when inserted in the center, 45 to 50 minutes. Let the cake cool before slicing.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Palmiers




So, PAUL finally opened its doors in Singapore not so long ago. Needless to say, I was elated. I remember too clearly waking up on chilly mornings in France, to their lovely croissants, tartes and pains au chocolat (yes, all three together), and washing all of that down with a café creme. There's just something magical about the aroma of freshly baked anything melding with that of coffee. Anyone who can bottle that heavenly scent is a genius in my book. ;)

Of course, being the foodies that we were, we were literally kids in a candy store. Who wouldn't be? When you're staring at rows and rows of OMG-I-wanna-eat-all-that on display. We'd have to keep reminding ourselves to rein our enthusiasm in, so that we'd have room for lunch later on. And again, at teatime, when we'd tell ourselves not to overdo the cakes, for dinner would be another grand affair. Trust me, we really ate like there was no tomorrow!

Anyway, one of the pastries that intrigued us was the palmier. PAUL makes them huge, as huge as a man's entire hand, and always in the shape of a pretty heart.


8 Dec 2011: Breakfast at PAUL, at Gare de Lyon-Perrache in Lyon.

One morning, my friend stared at them a little longer than usual, so I egged him to get one. "Try it," I urged, and buy one he did.

I watched him take a bite, and waited for a response.

"This is good," was all he said, before continuing with the next bite, and the next, and the next.

At that point, I promptly hijacked his palmier for a taste, and golly, it was good! It was so crisp on the outside, it actually shattered when I bit into it. And the inside? Buttery, chewy, tearaway layers. Oh là là.

So. Just for fun, I decided to make some palmiers last weekend, using storebought puff pastry, of course. Did you think I was gonna kill myself making puff pastry from scratch?! Obviously, it was a far cry from the ones I had at PAUL (duh!), but they were really easy to make, and I had great fun watching them bloom into little hearts as they baked.

I guess your palmiers would taste only as good as the quality of your puff pastry dough, so don't set your expectations too high if you are using readymade versions. As for technical difficulty - there is virtually none.

Let me put it this way: if you can fold a simple paper aeroplane (and even a 5-year old can), you can make palmiers.

Recipe
(by Ina Garten, via Foodnetwork.com)

- 2 cups granulated sugar (yes, A LOT of sugar)
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 sheets puff pastry, defrosted

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).
Note: I found this too hot. I baked at 200°C.

2. Combine the sugar and kosher salt. Pour 1 cup of the sugar/salt mixture on a flat surface such as wooden board or marble. Unfold each sheet of puff pastry onto the sugar and pour 1/2 cup of the sugar mixture on top, spreading it evenly on the puff pastry. This is not about sprinkling, it's about an even covering of sugar. With a rolling pin, roll the dough until it's 13 by 13-inches square* and the sugar is pressed into the puff pastry on top and bottom.
* I actually didn't bother measuring ... square, rectangle, whatever - it doesn't matter!

Here, I used a piece of paper to illustrate the folding process because it was way too messy to take photos along the way:


3. Fold the sides of the square towards the center so they go halfway to the middle.


4. Fold* them again so the two folds meet exactly at the middle of the dough.
* Everytime you fold, make sure you press the layers firmly. You want them to stick.


5. Then fold one half over the other half as though closing a book.



6. See? Like that. You will have 6 layers.




7. Slice the dough into 3/8-inch slices and place the slices, cut side up, on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Place the second sheet of pastry on the sugared board, sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar mixture, and continue as above (there will be quite a bit of sugar left over on the board). Slice and arrange on baking sheets lined with parchment.




8. Bake for 6 mins until caramelised and brown on the bottom, then turn with a spatula and bake another 3 to 5 minutes, until caramelised on the other side. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.




Voilà! Palmiers!

Something to note: if you google 'palmiers', you will notice that they are also referred to as 'elephant ears'. You'll get this effect if you roll the 2 ends of the dough towards the centre, like a scroll. If you want hearts, you have to fold the dough just like I did. Roll or fold? The choice is yours. :)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Double Chocolate Financier Cakes


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Honestly? I was expecting to see a deeper, darker colour ... especially when these Financiers were baked using Valrhona cocoa. Obviously I messed up somewhere - I just don't know where! Sure, I was a little disappointed, but it just means I have got to bake these again, don't I? And that ain't such a bad thing. At all. :)

While making them, one thing came to mind - and that was the realisation that I did not eat a single Financier when I was in France. The horror!!! Ah, maybe next time, in the near future. :) *fingers crossed*

I first saw these Financiers on Sherie's blog - and hers looked so dark and rich - and they came to mind when I had leftover egg whites (yes, these cakes use only whites). I definitely have no regrets baking them, despite getting the "wrong" colour, because they were surprisingly moist. Tastewise, I think it would be most apt to describe it as the "nice (girl) version" of this naughty Flourless and Almond Chocolate Cake (which has 5 whole eggs).

SO. 'Fess up - do you prefer "naughty" or "nice" when it comes to desserts? ;)


Macarons have feet, Madeleines have humps, and Financiers have flat tops. That's French desserts for you. :)
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Recipe
(from epicurious)

- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 6 large egg whites, room temperature
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup finely ground blanched almonds (about 4 ounces)
- 4 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped


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1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans* with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line bottoms with parchment or waxed paper round. Melt 3/4 cup butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until light brown, swirling pan occasionally, about 5 minutes. Cool.
* I used my Wilton mini-loaf pans.

2. Meanwhile, sift flour, cocoa, and salt into medium bowl. Whisk egg whites in large bowl to blend. Add sugar; whisk to blend. Whisk in corn syrup and vanilla. Add flour mixture; whisk just to blend. Add ground almonds; whisk just to blend. Using whisk, fold in browned butter, then chopped chocolate. Divide batter between prepared pans, smoothing tops.

3. Bake cakes until firm to touch and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 23 minutes. Cool cakes on rack 5 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack; peel off paper. Cool completely. Dust with icing sugar, if desired.