Thursday, 5 May 2011

Don't Scramble the Eggs! ...That's Easier Said than Done (Pairs of Pictures)

As you may or may not have noticed by now, I typically select a single photo to kick-start each blog posts. However, with the way the rest of this post is set up, I have done away with this short tradition. Covered here is a post which describes a night which began at 9pm and somehow ended about 4.5 hours later. Time certainly flies when you are having fun!

To start off another night of "Glee"--indeed, a weekly tradition in addition to my "Top Chef" nights it seems--I reworked my barbeque sauce so I cooked more of the chicken I had broken a while back alongside the sauce, as opposed to cooking the sauce separately. One of the key changes was the use of limoncello to start cooking the chicken, instead of adding lemon juice directly to the sauce as I originally do for my ribs. This said, get 1/8 c limoncello per piece of chicken simmering along with 1 tsp dark brown sugar and a pinch salt respectively, per piece of chicken. When the simmer gets going, add the chicken and cooked covered, flipping each piece every 3 minutes, for a total cooking time of 15 minutes. For the last two turns, season the chicken with ground black pepper. After the fifteen minutes, the chicken should be pretty much cooked and, if you wanted to just enjoy the intensified lemon flavour, you could very well stop adding ingredients and continue cooking off the rest of the liquid and keeping the heat on the chicken until thoroughly cooked.

However, we're not done here yet! To the surprisingly tasting "chicken-flavoured" caramel sauce that was created (because of the dark brown sugar), add enough ketchup and honey barbecue sauce at a ratio of about 3:2; here, I based the additional sauces on 1/8 c ketchup per piece of chicken. Bring the sauce to a rolling simmer, and then smother the chicken pieces with the sauce and get it into a 350 °F-preheated oven.

While the chicken is going, boil some water for pasta and after your noodles have cooked, drain them well, and add 1 tbsp unsalted butter per cup of cooked pasta.

With dinner finished, it's time to get to work on dessert, to which I have returned to the early staple to my culinary library, 1000 Classic Recipes (1999, Hermes House). For dessert, I opted for a take on the Italian Genoese (also spelled "Genoise") sponge cake (pg. 496) which begins with properly preparing the egg base. Take note that my goal was for petite cakes and, because I'm not eating a whole cake on my own, I went for making only a half batch (so, go ahead and double the ingredients if you want a whole 8-inch round cake). To begin, microwave 3 tbsp unsalted butter; you need enough time to allow the butter to melt, but then cool. For the egg base, whisk together 2 whole eggs and 1/4 c granulated sugar. Continue whisking this over a pot of simmering/barely boiling water (i.e., you're using a double boiler method); whisk quickly to both incorporate air into the eggs and to prevent the eggs from scrambling because of the heat. The mixture should become thick and pale (i.e., a pale yellow). Once you have reached that pale colour (the base becomes thickened because of the air you've just incorporated into it, as well as sugar having melted), take the bowl off the heat and continue whisking until the egg and sugar have come together to form a smooth liquid base. Take a look at the photo above right: the left bowl is my first attempt which resembles something like lemon custard; in that case, the egg has scrambled and has also cooked far too long. In contrast, the bowl on the right turned out just perfectly. To compare close-up shots, click here and here.

Next up is the addition of the butter. It's okay if the butter is slightly warm; just be sure it's not too hot or else it will have a similar heat-inducing scrambling effect. To this, sift 3/8 c all-purpose flour (we're going for structure, not necessarily lightness, so no worries on cake flour) over the top of the liquid base. Then, if so desired, add your flavouring. For this particular cake, I went along with a cara cara orange, adding only the zest to the (forming) batter. Do not neglect the orange after zesting; we'll be using it to practice some knife skills (and for the garnish). Gently fold all of these ingredients into the liquid base, taking care not to destroy the delicate egg base you spent some time developing. For the petite cakes, transfer the final batter into two pre-greased and floured baking dishes and get this in a 350 °F preheated oven for about 35 minutes, relying on structure (as opposed to inner done-ness) as the signal for the cake ready to be taken out of the oven.

With the cakes done and cooling on a cooling rack, it's time to work on the frosting. Again, take care not to delay too long, especially with this recipe; and please be careful: we're working with melted sugar here which has the potential for causing serious burns! The frosting I chose for this cake is the French crème au beurre (pg. 501), which begins by bringing 1/4 c unsalted butter to room temperature and bringing 2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice (again, this particular recipe is for just a half batch, i.e., just enough for my petite cakes) to a rolling simmer. To this, add 3 tbsp granulated sugar and stir just enough to allow the sugar to dissolve. Boil the water and sugar rapidly until the sugar passes what 1000 Class Recipes calls the "thread" stage. Essentially, after the moisture has boiled away and you have the sugar left, take the back of one spoon and get a bit of the sugar. Take another spoon and press down and the sugar; if, when you pull the spoons apart, you see threads of sugar, you are good to go. If not, allow the sugar to boil rapidly for another minute or so and re-test. When the sugar is indeed ready, quickly whisk a single egg yolk, and continue whisking while adding the sugar syrup. The bowl you're doing this all in will be warm; keep whisking until the bowl has cooled. Remember to be quick, as the heat from the sugar has the potential to scramble the egg yolk. And again, please be careful working with the sugar!!

Hopefully by now your butter has indeed come to room temperature; this makes it very easy to use a fork (or even your whisk) to beat the butter until it's light and fluffy. To this, gradually add the egg mixture, beating well after each addition. For this particular recipe, if you couldn't tell by now, we're making a lemon crème au beurre. If you didn't want a lemon flavour, replace the lemon juice you were simmering earlier with water. Since we are going for lemon, though, add 1 tsp grated lemon rind (I'm expecting you read this post ahead of time and zested your lemon before squeezing out the juice...), and whisk this all together very well.

The cake and frosting now officially done, it's time to work on the filling and garnishes, and what better way to get this done than by testing out the paring knife I recently received in the mail? As the above photos show, a paring knife makes light work of delicate knife cuts, such as the segmenting of my cara cara orange (into filets) by cutting on either side of the white membrane between the segments. Do not forget to squeeze the orange in the end to save the great cara cara juice for a later recipe!

Whether to peel a small kiwi fruit, or to slice the kiwi, a paring knife is also handy, and particularly so for when coring (also known as hulling; read: removing the bitter/tasteless inside of) strawberries.

As an impromptu filling, I "accidentally" made an orange-infused strawberry-kiwi coulis. Initially, I wanted to bring together the flavours of the fruits by making a reduction; as shown in the above left photo, I've got 1/4 c high pulp orange juice, 4 hulled and chopped strawberries, and 1 diced kiwi fruit, having a party on medium heat. However, the above right photo shows the orange juice evaporating and the colours fading from the strawberry and kiwi.

The solution, it seemed, was to strain out the juice, ergo the coulis, French for "strained liquid" and as the above linked site reveals, is derived from the Latin colare, the Latin word for "strain." What's left is as much of the juice as you can get out of all the fruit, which here was about 1/4 c, i.e., the same amount as the orange juice I started with. If you have a true sieve (unlike my colander above), you'd be able to take out the seeds. As a side note, a true coulis is made by puréeing the ingredients and then straining, i.e., no cooking/heating involved. In any case, you're definitely left with intensified, tangy flavours.

With everything ready to go, it's finally time to assemble the cakes. Genoese sponge cake is particularly great because of its rather rigid form, which can easily be sliced and layered without too much fuss. In addition, note all the holes from the air pockets created during the baking process. This lends itself to taking in the flavour of any liquid (in this case, the coulis) added to it.

With the cakes layered with the coulis filling, evenly divide the crème au beurre and frost away. Transfer the frosted cakes onto a clean plate for presentation purposes. Otherwise, by all means, enjoy!

For presentation's sake, I find it compulsory to show you how I decorated the petite cakes. And take a look at those layers! This particular cake turned out to be denser than I imagined, but it's also not all that surprising, with the inclusion of both egg and butter. In addition, it's quite possible I used too much flour. Finally, take note of the Tupperware in the above right photo; again, I'm not eating all this alone, so it's definitely coming with me to the office in the morning.

Speaking of the morning, here's are some photos following the cooking and clean-up. Click here to see all 99 photos from Tuesday's culinary voyage.

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