chocolate orange chiffon cake

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When it comes to chocolate cakes, I belong to the rich & dark camp. My favourite kind of chocolate cake is one made wholly with high percentage dark chocolate, but without the dense structure of say a mud cake, I prefer a light soufflé texture almost to juxtapose with the deep, adult flavour.

I’ve been making a particular chocolate fallen cake for years, which I’m still in love with and tastes even better chilled when it becomes denser. Today I made it slightly differently, in the form of a chiffon cake with orange undercurrents from the orange zest, juice and diced peel which help cut through the sophisticated yet generally bitter chocolate.

 

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Since I had just enough leftover lemon buttercream, I sandwiched it in the middle to further enhance the citrus flavour which in my opinion, is a perfect marriage with the chocolate.

 

chocolate orange chiffon cake

40g dark chocolate (approx. 70%)
38g heavy cream
3 egg yolks
42g sugar
36g mild-flavoured vegetable oil
juice of 1/2 an orange + plain yogurt = 60g
33g plain flour
15g cocoa powder
1 tsp orange zest
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
3 egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar/drop of lemon juice (optional)
small handful of diced candied orange peel, to taste
Preheat the oven to 180C and line the bottom of a cake tin if it isn’t loose-bottomed, without greasing the tin at all. Coat the orange peel with about a tablespoon of the flour in the recipe.
Melt the chocolate with the cream under gentle heat (bain marie/water bath/microwave on low power) and set aside to cool slightly. Beat the yolks with half the amount of sugar until the sugar granules dissolve and the mixture thickens and pales in colour. Slowly stream in the oil while whisking to emulsify. Add the cooled but still liquid chocolate cream into the yolk mixture, followed by the juice and yogurt. Sift in all the dry ingredients and whisk to combine.
To make the meringue, start whisking the whites on medium speed, then increase the speed as bubbles start to foam. Add the cream of tartar/lemon juice if using, and the remaining half of sugar a little at a time. Continue whisking until medium-stiff peak is reached.
Fold 1/3 of the meringue into the yolk batter to incorporate, followed by orange peel and the rest of the meringue in batches. Pour into the tin, smooth the top and bake for approx. 30-40 minutes until the top bounces back when pressed.
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candied citrus peel

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Happy New Year’s Eve! Not that we actively participate in any associated celebratory events or anything, but still, a timely reminder to reflect on the past year. Did you learn anything new? Did you have an existential crisis? Did you gain weight? Did you fulfill all your resolutions? To all but the last one, I say yes. I certainly scraped a passing grade in all my subjects, and am dreading/anticipating but mostly dreading third year. And I don’t know if I made new friends, but I certainly made closer friends.

But perhaps most exciting of all, I finally got my first job ever yesterday! If anyone was reading my ramblings, they’d be rolling their eyes at the number of times I’ve mentioned failed interviews and blank résumés. I saw a newly put up sign calling for part-time waiters, walked in and miraculously got the job straight away. I’ve been busy all day pedaling around in my bike getting all sorts of thing ready for the job, like getting a health check-up, opening a bank account and the like. Like most jobs here, it only pays the basic labour rate (about a fifth of what I made on my tutoring job in Aus), but it’s the sort of thing I need to at least fill in the ‘experience’ column on my résumé. It’ll also spare me from extreme boredom and a TV addiction.

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What better way to round up 2015 than to make the origin of my namesake (5 orange peels) from scratch? Admittedly, candied orange peel isn’t exactly an essential ingredient in most recipes, and can be a little fussy to make, but the process is quite a calming and therapeutic one. Also, I saw a recipe today for the cutest orange chocolate cakelettes and thought the time was ripe for me to make my own candied peels.

Like me, you may like to experiment with other citrus fruits, of which I used oranges, a clementine, lemons, kumquats and a grapefruit today. Turned out that the green lemons had extraordinarily thick hard peels that refused to lose their integrity by the time the other fruits’ peels were done cooking; and the grapefruit turned out to be the best of the bunch with the most sweetness and least bitterness.

 

Candied citrus peel

assorted citrus fruits
sugar (for the simple syrup plus extra)

First thoroughly scrub the fruit clean under running water especially if not organic, in case there’s pesticides or mud.

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Cut off the top and bottom of each fruit and discard them, although you could save them if they don’t have too much of the weird bumpy bit, and if you cut off most of the white bitter pith.

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Depending on the size of the fruit, cut it into quarters or eighths, and separate the edible bit from the rind. Those edible bits don’t have to go to waste though! Simply get rid of the membranes and pips and turn into delicious iced tea.

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Slice into desired sized pieces.

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Blanche in boiling water, drain, repeat twice more. This helps get rid of some of the bitterness.

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Make a simple syrup consisting of 1 part of sugar, and 1 part of water (by weight). Boil the mixture until the sugar dissolves, then add the blanched peel. Make sure there’s enough syrup to cover most of the peel. Cook on low heat for 45 – 60 minutes until all the bitterness is gone and so is most of the syrup. Make sure to keep stirring once in a while so the bottom pieces don’t burn.

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Once cooled to room temperature, you may decide to leave them to dry as they are, coat them with caster sugar, or even dip in chocolate. The possibilities are endless, right now I’m thinking about a belated Christmas panettone…

chocolate orange wreaths

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How I’ve missed you, silly little blog. I know, it’s only been what, five days since my last post, but I feel holiday syndrome is kicking in and with it, lethargy. One-sixth of the way through uni break, and I’m the opposite of mindfulness. When the exams finished some weeks ago, I told myself, as I always do, that I’d be up to all sorts of fulfilling and interesting things, that I’d lay off my laptop, find a job, attend church in secret, anything other than staying home all day. Well, look where we are today, still no job apart from the usual big sister duties and no sizable achievement other than having binge-watched some 6+ shows.

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It’s not that I haven’t been trying, I really have, in fact I’ve had 3 interviews in the last week, and keeping myself busy in the meantime by running errands. By that I mean going to the market every morning and praying that my embarrassingly limited Taiwanese won’t inspire touristy vibes. I haven’t been languid on the baking front though, and have been studying up on bread-making (you’ll remember my last failed attempt at making baguettes), cos I suck at anything requiring patience, and my latest undertaking really tested it to the limit.


While I was making these, I kept marveling at how much butter the brioche dough can contain – so much that it hardly needed any flouring of surfaces as it’s almost self-greasing. Also, I was nervous that my stand mixer was going to go up in flames/short-circuit/explode/quit as a result of the extraordinarily long kneading time. But my patience was rewarded, as I did every step as instructed. You would not believe the amount of disbelief and doubt expressed by my family every time I challenge myself to the not-so-fail-safe realms of baking, this time was no exception.

“It looks so complicated, why do you have to make something so hard?”

“So that if I fail I can at least say I really gave it a shot.”

I’d like to think that I’ve outdone myself, which is no giant feat, and I could definitely use a lot more practice in shaping, but people who aren’t myself exclaimed that they smelled downright amazing. As for myself, I sneaked a piece as soon as they were done, and almost cried at how utterly soft and buttery and chocolatey it was. I guess all that butter paid off. (As an aside, I got my sister to sous-chef and she literally got tired standing there adding the heap of diced butter.)

Note: the recipe is borrowed from the amazing hint of vanilla, and as clear and concise and her instructions are, boy does she make it sound easy 😉 The only differences I made were scaling the quantities down by 7/8 for exactly one sachet of yeast, brushing the dough with cream in place of an eggwash, and adding orange zest to both dough and filling.

citrus curd

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witness the tiny bubbles of airy-ness

Or rather, citrus cream, since it is unusually high in butter content than the more sour, traditional recipes out there. Also, it’s based on Pierre Hermé’s (who else!?) lemon cream recipe that I adore so much and love maybe even more than ice cream.

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relatively runny before chilling

It’s creamy, as you might expect from the butter, but also surprisingly light – texture wise, obviously, decadence is often accompanied by a high calorie count, but hey. This is probably due to the way the butter is incorporated: emulsified in its solid form, instead of melting it with the rest of the ingredients.

It’s perfect for a simple elegant lemon tart, which is what Hermé originally had in mind, and sets beautifully in an almond crust. I made a small batch of it this time to go into a white coconut cake for my mum’s impending birthday, just one whole egg plus a yolk, but you can multiply up to 4 times the amount.

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Cultured butter was on sale today, even cheaper than the regular kind, so of course I grabbed some to try baking with for the first time. My first impression was that it smelled like margarine, which I have an aversion to. However, as I tasted it, I found it a little tangy, as you might expect, with a more complex aftertaste. I don’t think it made a noticeable difference in the cake, but certainly well went with the citrusy theme in this curd and helped lift the flavours.

If you don’t feel like storing extra egg whites, feel free to use Hermé’s original recipe (which I’ll also include), which only uses whole eggs and has always turned out incredibly for me. I’m enriching mine with yolks today as I happen to have some left over from the white coconut cake.

[Insert your fav citrus fruit] curd (makes 4 cups)

165g granulated sugar
zest of 2/3 citrus fruits, ~ 2 tbsp
4 eggs + 4 yolks
180g fresh citrus juice
226g unsalted butter

Pierre Hermé’s lemon cream

200g sugar
finely grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
180g fresh lemon juice
298g unsalted butter

The method is the same for both recipes.

First make sure the butter is at room temperature and in 1 tbsp chunks, for easier incorporation later on. Place some water in a pot, about a knuckle deep is fine, and bring to a simmer.

In the meantime, in a bowl larger than the pot that doesn’t touch the water when you place it on top, rub the sugar and zest with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Whisk in the eggs (and yolks), followed by juice. It’s okay to have pips and pulp in the mixture at this stage, it’ll all be strained out later anyway.

Place the bowl on top of the pot of simmering water and start whisking slowly to avoid making sweet citrusy scrambled eggs. You may want to wear gloves or hold the bowl through a towel on the other hand, as the bowl heats up. Once in a while check that the water beneath doesn’t exceed a simmer, add more water if you need to to avoid burning the pot.

Keep whisking slowly until the mixture comes to 82°C/180°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, it’s possible to do this by looking at the texture. But if it’s your first time or want to ensure food safety (at least 60°C is needed to eliminate harmful bacteria), it’s handy to check the exact temperatures. The mixture at this point will have considerably thickened so that when you coat a spatula and run a finger down it, there will be an open channel.

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Also, if you’re whisking as vigorously as I was, you’ll notice the bubbles go from quite big to fine and foamy, then start to leave tracks as the mixture thickens. The whole cooking process takes about 10 minutes.

Once the mixture is at 82°C/180°F, strain into a clean bowl and put cling film directly on the surface to cool to 60°C/140°F, or about 10 minutes. When it’s slightly cooled, remove the cling film and blend in the butter a few pieces at a time. Hermé recommends a blender to maximise aeration, but an electric mixer is okay too. Beat for 3 more minutes after all the butter has been mixed in to achieve that airy mouth feel.

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It now needs a minimum of 4 hours in the fridge to reach its final custardy consistency. Cover with cling film on the surface so it doesn’t form a skin, and to stop condensation forming which could drip down and change the consistency.

When you’re ready to make a lemon tart, or fill a cake, or do some face-painting, give it a little whisk before using.

soft fluffy cinnamon rolls

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Or as I like to call them, sinnamon rolls. Because despite their innocent pudgy appearance, they will drag you to hell and make you think you’re happy to be there.

To be honest, I’ve never really gotten the knack of making any kind of bread. You could call it a love-hate relationship; I always get so excited baking bread but it never turns out as good as it smells in the oven. Most of the time the product is dry, dense and hard no matter how many times I try. I think it mostly has to do with lack of patience, and time is the most important ingredient in most of bread-making.

Two posts ago I talked about how much I missed having cinnamon rolls – the shopbought tooth-achingly sweet kind, because even those are better than the miserable homemade ones I turn out.

Not this time. I can officially say with confidence that this is my first time making cinnamon rolls or any kind of yeasted bread that I’ve nailed, if I say so myself. We had them for breakfast this morning, and my family, bless them, probably dreaded that they would be tough and hard to chew just like the other times. They were pleasantly surprised at how soft, fluffy and flavourful these were, ‘much better than the Ikea ones’. Excuse me while I have a moment. I finally did it. The precautions I took worked. My sister, who is my best relentless critic, could not stop at one and devoured the second one immediately.

I cry.

So what made the difference this time? I don’t think I set out to come up with the ultimate method/recipe, I didn’t even have faith that it wasn’t going to fail again. Instead I just tried to do every step 100% and avoid little mistakes that could potentially culminate in a big one.

#1 finding a recipe from a consistently reliable source. I didn’t have to look further than my favourite blog Poires au Chocolat and adapted her dough recipe for Chelsea buns.

#2 the addition of water-roux, or tangzhong to the dough. A 1:5 mixture of flour and water cooked to 65°C, it’s famous for turning dough very soft by forming a spongy network of holes of popped CO2 bubbles.

#3 dough is not too wet nor dry. Often I’ll add too much additional flour to a seemingly overwet dough, resulting in a tough bread. Dough that’s been properly kneaded should be quite soft, a little tacky but won’t stick to your hands.

#4 adequate kneading. It takes about 10 minutes with a stand mixer, longer by hand, to get to the stage where if you stretch a little ball of dough, it forms a thin translucent film and doesn’t rip with jagged edges.

#5 allow enough time to proof. This is my single biggest pitfall, not waiting for the dough to double in size. I read somewhere that if you stick a finger into the dough and it doesn’t spring back, it’s ready.

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This obviously holds true for the second proof as well. As I knew I wouldn’t be ready to bake right away after proofing the second time, I put the unrisen dough (bottom left) in the fridge. In 2 hours’ time I came home from a swim to puffy rolls (bottom right) that filled in the gaps in between. I let them sit out in room temperature while the oven was preheating.

#6 baking for the right amount of time. It’s hard to tell, especially with the centre pieces, whether the dough is done or not. Check for golden brown tops, I partially separated two of the centre rolls to see if the dough between them was baked through.

I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out. They smelled of christmas: cinnamon punctuated by orange. I think Matt Murdock would be proud.

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when pulled apart, you can see delicate strands of soft dough in between the rolls

 

Really soft sinnamon rolls (makes a baker’s dozen)

For the water-roux/tangzhong:
28g bread flour
140g water

For the dough (adapted from Emma’s Chelsea bun dough):
70g unsalted butter, room temp.
80g granulated sugar
1tsp salt
1 large egg, room temp.
186g bread flour
186g all-purpose flour
110g milk, lukewarm
1 sachet or 7g instant dry yeast
all of the water-roux/tangzhong

For the filling:
70g unsalted butter
75g brown sugar (or white granulated)
zest of 1 orange
1-2 tsp cinnamon, to taste

Whisk the flour and water in a pan on medium heat to 65°C or just until streaks appear when you move the whisk through the mixture. Take off heat and set aside to cool to room temp.

Sift the two flours together and set aside. Cream the butter, sugar and salt together, then add the egg to emulsify, scrape down the bowl if need be. Add in about 2/3 of the flour mixture to start, followed by the milk, yeast, and water-roux. If using a stand mixer, change to the dough hook and knead on low-medium speed for about 10 minutes.

If by the end of 10 minutes dough is still very sticky and stuck to the sides of the bowl, add the remaining flour a little at a time just until it forms a ball and comes away clean from the sides of the bowl. Take the dough out, lightly grease the bowl and put the dough back in. Cover the bowl with cling film or a damp tea towel and leave to proof in a warm, draught-free spot for 1-2hrs. If room temperature is cold, a slightly warmed up oven can substitute for a proofing cabinet.

When the dough has doubled in size and doesn’t bounce back when you poke it, take it out of the bowl and transfer to a floured surface. Gently press down to release the gases (cough).  Flour the rolling pin and the top surface of the dough. Roughly stretch the corners into a rectangular shape and start rolling it out to a 22x45cm rectangle.

For the filling, spread the softened butter evenly over the dough, 1cm away from all 4 edges. Mix the sugar, zest and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the butter. To roll, grab a long edge, roll it over and lightly pinch the edges together. Continue rolling tightly, brushing off excess flour on the underside of the dough. When it’s all rolled, pinch together the seam. With a dough divider/sharp knife, cut off the ends where there’s little filling (I baked them with the rest of the dough and ate them… for quality control). Divide the rest of the dough into equally thick rolls, about 3cm each.

Place them on a tray, or any ovenproof dish, spaced a few cm apart. Cover and leave to rise to double their size.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Brush the tops with some melted butter, or eggwash if you prefer, right before baking. Bake them for about 25 minutes or until golden brown on top and the edges where two rolls meet aren’t raw anymore.

I love them plain (not frosted) right when they’ve cooled enough to handle but still warm. Top yours with frosting or glaze if you like and join me in cinnamony hell.

brown butter + orange madeleines w/ caramel

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Apparently madeleines are one of those things that the non-French picture the French to be snacking on all day long. Like Camembert and snails and whatever else. However it is one of the innumerous pastries I’ve only had the inauthentic renditions of (meaning, I made it or a local bakery that doesn’t give a shit about honouring tradition did) and would pay to learn how to make properly.

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I have great love for these dainty, slightly pretentious little treats. But they tend to be on the dry side once cool. So I thought, if I’m going to re-warm one later (yeah I know they’re best fresh, but it’s the second best alternative and I don’t have to heat up the entire oven again), it might as well have hot caramel sauce oozing out of it.

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Not exactly what a purist would applaud, but actually when it comes to finding the best recipe I will not rest easy knowing there’s a better/more traditional recipe/method out there. I can end up looking for hours for the one I’m looking for, the one that’s more proven, that more have tried, the one created and used by pros. So when I headed to my usual trusted sources for such recipes for the real French madeleines and ended up with 3 slightly different recipes and very different methods, I was torn. Some called for the batter to be chilled before adding the butter, some after, some required one hour and some one day. Eventually I settled on what worked best faster, since I only have one pan: chill an hour before adding butter and freeze half an hour in the pan just before baking.

And of course I had to brown the butter.

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Brown butter orange madeleines with caramel sauce (makes 18 medium-sized ones)

For the madeleines:
2 eggs (115g)
75g granulated sugar
zest of 1 orange
145g self-raising flour
110g unsalted butter

For the caramel:
100g granulated sugar
20g water
40g cream
heaped teaspoon of butter
pinch of salt

Prepare a madeleine pan by lightly greasing (no big chunks of butter in the grooves) and flouring it.

Rub the zest and sugar together until moist and fragrant. Add to the eggs and beat until paler in colour, about 3 minutes if using an electric whisk. Gently fold in the sifted flour. Cover and chill in the fridge for an hour.

Close to the hour mark, start browning the butter. When it’s warm and not hot, drizzle into the chilled batter, folding at the same time to incorporate. Scoop the batter into the holes about what you imagine would fill 3/4 when spread out, but don’t spread it (or about 1 tbsp). If you can wait, freeze for half and hour. If not, bake in an 260C/500F oven for 5 minutes, then a further 7 minutes at 180C/350F.

For the caramel, melt sugar with water over medium-high heat in a deep pot. Occasionally brush down the sides with a wet pastry brush, or alternatively, put a lid down and let the condensation drip down the sides. In the meantime, warm up the cream until almost boiling and set aside. Once the sugar has turned golden, swirl the pot a bit to distribute the colour. When it’s amber all over, very carefully pour in the hot cream, and the butter, and stir until homogenous. Add salt to taste.

When the caramel has cooled enough to touch but not too viscous, pipe into the madeleines. Or drizzle it on. I even tried blobbing it onto the batter before baking. You can’t go wrong with caramel. Just remember to brush your teeth after smothering your whole face with it.