If you live on the east coast of the US (or even if you don't), you've probably heard of Hurricane Irene, and all the varieties of havoc it's wreaked on various cities and such. Luckily enough, by the time the storm reached my apartment in the middle of Massachusetts it had all the ferocity of Hello Kitty on Valium. Even more luckily, our area managed to avoid the string of hurricane-induced power outages that plagued neighboring towns. Since I was hungry and had a functional stove, I decided to roast a chicken as my little way of flipping Irene the bird. Yeah, that was intended, what of it?
Of course, you can't just eat a roast chicken alone, so I also made some garlic-mushroom mashed potatoes and pea soup. The potatoes are pretty standard and perhaps I may write a post about them someday, but the chicken and the soup are definitely worth a mention right now.
The roast chicken is quite simple. You just need some chicken, a lemon, some herbs, and some twine to tie the plucky little bugger up.
Ingredients - Roast Chicken
- Chicken, 4 to 4.5 lbs
- Thyme, Parsley, Rosemary, Oregano--whatever goes well with chicken
Methodology - Roast Chicken
- Pre-heat your oven to 475 degrees F.
- If you have time, let the chicken rest an hour or two at room temp. This tempers the meat, and makes it cook more evenly.
- Wash out the chicken, and pat it dry with a paper towel. Make sure the insides are clean as well, and clear of any offal that may have came with it.
- Season both the outside and the inside of the bird with salt and pepper.
- Fill the chicken with a bunch of herbs, some garlic, and the lemon. Do not pierce the lemon, it is not needed.
- Truss up the chicken, as outlined in my previous post.
- Put the chicken breast-up in a roasting pan, and heat it on the stove for a few minutes, just until it starts sizzling a bit. This helps get some heat into the bird, which again, helps it cook more evenly.
- Cut 5 squares of butter, roughly 1/2 to 1 cm thick, and arrange them evenly on top of the chicken. This keeps it moist, as well as helping in the browning in the skin.
- Roast it in the oven for 25 minutes, then lower the temperature to 400F. Keep it in the oven until a meat thermometer registers 160 at the thickest point of the chicken, which is right below the breasts, in the area adjoining the thighs. For birds of 4 lb, this will probably take about 40-50 minutes.
- Serve with a sauce made from the sediment and liquid from the roasting pan, along with herbs and juice from the lemon you roasted the chicken with.
The pea soup is, I admit, a tiny bit pretentious. Or maybe that's just my asian sensibilities talking. Either way, I find regular pea puree soup to be too plain and boring, so I decided to make things a bit more interesting with a bit of mint and garlic.
Ingredients - Pea Soup
- Mascarpone cheese
Methodology - Pea Soup
- Boil the peas until tender. There will be no "al dente" nonsense here.
- Put the peas in a blender, with a bit of butter and mascarpone. The amount here is up to your discretion; just know that you shouldn't use too much, the butter is to give the soup some richness and the mascarpone is to smooth it out a bit, since peas can be a bit grainy even when blended for a long time.
- Put enough cream to cover the peas into a pot, and add some mint leaves. Bring the cream to a boil, then immediately remove the mint leaves. If you let the leaves sit in there too long, the flavor will be too much. We just want a hint to make things interesting, we don't want the soup to taste like Winterfresh. Add the cream to the blender.
- Add finely minced garlic.
- Blend until smooth. At this point it's more like a pea puree than a soup--add more cream to achieve the texture you want. Personally I prefer it on the thick side, since the flavor of peas comes out more that way. Season with some salt.
- Either fresh or frozen peas are fine. Honestly, I haven't really noticed the difference in this case. I usually go for frozen, since the fresh peas around here are either nonexistent or absolute crap--go figure. They all taste the same when you boil them anyway.
- I like chickens on the smaller side, between 4 to 4.5 lb, as opposed to 5 lb. It makes my job easier, and I find the smaller birds taste better, to be honest.
- The lemon is not there primarily to add flavor--that is just a bit of a bonus. Its primary purpose is as a solid blob with which one may violate the chicken, and prevent hot air from flowing through its insides. In other words, it makes sure the chicken cooks from the outside in, not the inside out.
- Gravy sucks bigtime. I hated the brown slop that they served us at school lunches, and the brown slop one usually gets out of a hermetically sealed box. The only sauce you need for the chicken should be made from the pan sediment--anyone who cooks for any amount of time knows the prodigious amount of flavor that the crunchy bits at the bottom hold. Fire up the pan, deglaze it with liquid and fat from roasting the chicken as well as some stock/water/wine, let it reduce, and you're good to go. Who needs bouillon cubes?
I started going to Whole Foods a couple years ago after discovering it on route 9 in Framingham. Prior to my first visit, I had heard of it being over-priced and hipstery. I don't usually let rumors influence me so I decided to just figure it out for myself. Whole Foods established a name among food stores that is a reference of quality and gives the impression it provides premium products, we'll see how this is a bit fallacious.
The concept of living on organic products drives the idea of Whole Foods. Unfortunately their fruit and vegetables are far from the quality touted by the chain. Most of their fruit are actually from Mexico. No offense to anyone from Mexico but it is the default location for growing cheap produce, which is over-watered and over-fertilized. Anyone could find the exact same produce, originating from the same location in any other store such as Shaws or Stop & Shop. I remember their lemons being dry as cardboard, barely producing a couple drops of juice. Their mangoes (also from Mexico) are actually flavorful and juicy (when ripe...), but I can find the exact same mangoes at Shaws and they cost a lot less.
Another problem of Whole Foods is the variance in product quality across the chain's stores. Fish bought at the Whole Foods of Bellingham was consistently stale, always defrosted and soggy, while organic yoghurt bought in Framingham was consistently expired.
The pastries and bakeries from Whole Foods also vary in quality a lot. Sometimes their bread was warm, crisp outside, soft inside, basically fresh out of the oven. Some other times, the bread would be like a brick that had been sitting there for three days in a row. This applies to all their bakeries, from croissants to muffins. Their pastries would also be like wood sometimes, but that's not because they were sitting there for a week, its because sometimes the pastry chef would replace the flour with sugar (figuratively).
Thankfully Whole Foods is not just negativity, otherwise I would never go back. They do have a bunch of rare items that are over-priced but that I can't find anywhere else. Unfortunately, the cashiers are never able to recognize those items and require my help to find them in their manual... I remember of a cashier who had never heard the word "Morel", slightly shocking for Whole Foods. Rare items I usually look for, as you have guessed, are their mushrooms. Throughout the year they usually sell blue-foot, chanterelles and occasionally porcini. I'm also interested in their cheeses such as the P'tit Basque, which is actually reasonably priced. Other items that are not so easy to find and that they actually have would be sunflower oil, sparkling Voss water, pine seeds, grey sole, Valrhona chocolate, Orangina soda and more.
The very last part of Whole Foods that I need to mention is the liquor store. While I have visited only the liquor store of Framingham's Whole Foods, I need to say that I was impressed by the diversity of their products. They usually have very few bottles of each type, like two or three but they have everything from Yquem to quality Japanese sake. Their selection of international beers is also pretty astonishing. I'm a big fan of the Japanese beer Kirin, which is impossible to find anywhere else than Whole Foods. Among beers I like, they also have Sapporo, Asahi, King Fisher, Corona, 1664, etc.
I don't do all my grocery shopping at Whole Foods, simply because of the highly priced products that vary in quality, but it definitely is my favorite destination when I seek rare items, from mushroom to beer.
This started when I was bored of making regular rollcakes, and decided to take a shot at making a regular spongecake. While I've made brown sponge before, I've never tried making an outright chocolate cake; the brown color was merely a small amount of cocoa powder for coloring, and the cake never actually tasted like chocolate, nor had any sort of change in texture. Thus, I took my rollcake recipe and made the following changes:
- Replace the 10g lemon juice with 10g more milk, and remove the lemon zest.
- Add 10g cocoa powder in with the flour.
- Add 85g melted chocolate into the egg yolk/flour/milk/etc mixture.
- (I used valrhona for both the powder and actual chocolate)
Once I did that, I decided that whipped cream wouldn't suffice as a filling, since it's far too delicate to support a cake like that, and would all just be squeezed out when I assembled the layers. Instead I used a basic chocolate ganache (the recipe to which I will post soon), and paired it with raspberries which happened to be in the fridge. I think next time I'll use banana instead.
The first thing I noticed was that the cake batter was thicker, and was not as airy as the regular rollcake batter. When it came out of the oven, it was not nearly as inflated and puffy. However, the actual cake was still very soft and pliable; I'm not sure if I could have rolled it, but for a regular cake it would do just fine. There was also a slight crust formed on top; I tried brushing it off, but it stuck. If I were being really anally retentive, I could have scraped it off with a knife, but I figured that the chocolate and raspberries on top would mitigate this and get rid of any crusty hard texture that may have developed--as it turns out, I was right.
When I layered on the second cake slice, I turned it upside-down (so that the crusty side was facing downwards) so that the top would look better. One thing I would change here is that I would have pressed the layer down with a tray or something, instead of my hands; this would have resulted in a more even cake. I also should probably have padded the edges with a bit of extra ganache, so they would be level with the parts that are propped up by the raspberries.
Frosting it was really a hell of a time. Since I had a slightly curved cake and a curved knife, it took a LOT of effort to obtain anything resembling an even surface with the ganache. However, at the end, I managed it, with a bit of a mess as you can see above. I really have to figure out how the professionals do this without 500 kinds of mess. I ended up having to transfer it to a cleaner plate, and the result (with a bit of a flamboyant touch) is below:
All in all, it was not too bad. The cake looks dense to the point of brownie in the picture of the slice, but it really isn't. The ganache turned out very well, but it did have a slightly acid cut to it. I'm not sure if it's cause I used fairly dark chocolate (which does have that sort of aftertaste as the cocoa content goes up), or if I did something wrong. I'm quite certain I didn't burn it, but who knows. In any case the texture was perfect, hardening just a LITTLE bit in the fridge but still being quite malleable and soft when eaten. I will definitely be repeating this, next time probably with a bit more decorating work. While it LOOKED quite plain and simple and amateurishly assembled, at least it was delicious.
This is so easy I figured it'd be a waste not to post. It's a simple chocolate ganache you can use for a variety of purposes--frosting cakes, filling macarons, filling creampuffs, or using as a binding for some other product. Coincidentally, the below recipe will be just enough to frost one rollcake recipe's worth of sheet cake. I know, it's so convenient--I guess I'm just cool like that.
- 300g dark chocolate
- 250g heavy cream
- 70g butter
- Put the dark chocolate in a mixing bowl of some sort. If you're using slabs, cut it into small pieces.
- Heat the cream until it's JUST boiling (it will start foaming and rising in the pot), and pour the hot cream into the bowl of chocolate.
- Whisk until the mixture thickens and all the chocolate is melted and evenly distributed.
- Add the butter into the mixture in small pieces, stirring until the butter melts completely into the mixture. I generally add it 1/2 at a time in small pieces, but if you're not as confident in your whisking prowess you can try 1/3 or even 1/4 at a time.
- As with every chocolate recipe, always always always use good quality chocolate. If I catch you using Hershey's, I will come strangle you myself. Not to mention the chocolate will split and you'll end up with a pile of crap, since Hershey's is just a bar of whipped hydrogenated oil. :)
- Personally my favorite baking chocolate is valrhona. You can get plenty of supplies online, as well as in whole foods, especially the cocoa powder. For chocolate, I'd aim for 60%-70%; any lower and it becomes too sweet, any higher and it's too powerful. I personally favor the 64% manjari feves. Not only is it a good cocoa content and of high quality, the feves come in convenient 3g pieces--perfect for baking, and saving me a LOT of chocolate-chopping.
- While the mixture is ready immediately after it's contiguous, in a lot of cases you'll probably want to let it cool to room temperature before working with it--for example, when frosting cakes, or filling macarons.
- There really isn't much to screw here, unless you're overly impatient and try to combine things too quickly before the mixture stabilizes properly, or whisking slowly enough to have boiling cream cool down enough to not be able to melt chocolate or butter (in which case I have to congratulate you, it's quite an accomplishment).
I've been bouncing the idea of publishing this recipe around for a while now, but held off on it mostly because of the picture above. That is, I still can't roll this thing properly and consistently; the above was a combination of coincidence and luck. However, since it still tastes good and is apparently in demand, I decided to throw it up anyway, imperfect pictures or not. I'll just post better ones when I can...
This cake originally came from attempts to recreate what you can find at basically any chinese bakery/teahouse. I threw around with many western recipes, but most of them tasted horrendous, and were far too dry--much like western spongecake recipes that I've found in general. In addition, there were some fairly convoluted rolling methods (there was one where you would roll it without the filling, put it in the fridge, take it out, unroll it, fill it, and then re-roll it and put it in the fridge) that ended up not working 99% of the time anyway. Eventually, I went to Hong Kong google to look for leads, which also didn't turn up much, and started playing around on my own. Of course, when I perfected the alpha model, I trashed the hard drive I had the recipe written down on, and had to recently reconstruct it on demand. The result below is the closest I've come so far. Plus it works very well as a general spongecake. (Note: There are decimals in the gram measurements because I formulated this against 10 eggs; however, 5 eggs is plenty enough for most occasions, and you can just round down for the measurements. This will make enough to fill an approximately 12"x9"x1" jelly roll pan.)
- 5 large eggs
- 75g flour
- 2.5g baking powder
- 50g sunflower or other neutral oil
- 40g milk
- 10g lemon juice
- lemon zest
- 2.5g salt
- 37.5g sugar
- 100g confectioner's sugar
- Pre-heat the oven at 355 degrees F.
- Separate the egg whites and egg yolks.
- Combine the yolks with the flour, oil, baking powder, salt, sugar, and whisk to combine.
- Add the milk slowly, 1/3 at a time, whisking until smooth each time. This is to ensure you end up with a smooth, lumpless batter.
- Whisk in the lemon juice.
- Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks, adding the confectioner's sugar a little at a time. I prefer 1/2 of the sugar when the whites foam, and 1/2 when the whites have formed stiff peaks.
- Put 1/3 of the whites from step 5 into the mixture from steps 2-4, and fold in to combine. Fold the resulting mixture back into the whites.
- Bake in a parchment paper-lined tray for 13 minutes, then lower the temperature to 200 F and bake for 7 minutes.
- Take the tray out of the oven and remove the cake with the parchment paper from the tray. Leave it out to cool to room temperature.
- While it's cooling, whip some cream--about 100ml is more than enough for this size of cake. Don't use any sugar--the sugar from the cake will combine with the cream after the appropriate rest. Also, say no to whipped cream out of a can. Every time you fill a cake with coolwhip, God hangs a kitten.
- Spread a thin layer of cream across the cake, leaving a few inches at the end so that when you roll it the cake will stay rolled. Roll up the cake with the parchment paper. I actually don't have the words for this part, especially since I haven't got a method down for consistently turning out good rolls. So here's an animated picture to show you how I do it. The only tip I can give is to use the parchment paper as a support system so that the cake doesn't break up while rolling. There ARE a few other small things I've noted, but I'm not going to post them till I can consistently reproduce results. Soz.
- Put the cake into the fridge. Let the cake rest for a few hours so that the flavors from the cake and the filling have time to meld, and the cream has time to set.
- Slice and serve. This is a good tip for cake in general, but run the knife under hot water and wipe it off with a paper towel to heat up the knife; it results in a cleaner cut. Repeat every couple slices or so. This is useful for other cakes, but especially for this one, and very especially if you are impatient and try to eat before the cream has time to set.
- Do not put the lemon juice and the milk together under any circumstances. Do not put them in the same cup to add to the batter together. Do not add lemon juice when you have a pool of milk on top of the batter. Just don't. Why? Here's why:
- Do not skip the cooling period. If you don't let the cake cool before filling it, it will melt the cream, making it slide around, and it'll make the job of cake-rolling even harder.
- When combining the white mixture with the yolk mixture, be thorough. The combination is kind of like a macaron batter, but much less anal; you have a lot of leeway, but you still need to be fairly precise with it. Here is a series of informative photographs to illustrate. Since it's harder to see in a regular batter, for these pictures I used a batter laced with cocoa powder. (Click to embiggen.)
Picture 1: If you bake at this stage, you're an idiot. Notice the extreme bumps. The batter still holds its shape really well. And more importantly, there are still streaks of discrete whites in the batter. Picture 2: Close, but not quite. Notice that the batter still sort of refuses to flatten down, and there are subtle small white streaks in the batter. Picture 3: Just ready. The color is completely even, and the batter flows, but it is still very very airy. If you keep going after this stage, you will overmix and knock air out of the cake.
- For variations, you may substitute the lemon juice for more milk; just keep the amount of liquid consistent at 50g per batch of this size. Likewise, you can probably ditch the zest if you need, it doesn't play too well with, say, mocha flavors. For example, for the cake I used in the pictures, I subbed out the 10g lemon juice for milk, and added 4g cocoa powder instead of lemon zest. On that note, try not to add too much weight to the batter (for example, substituting all the sugar for cocoa), as it will cause the whites to collapse. Also some ingredients may be more absorbent than others, which may result in a dry cake. Whatever the case, tread lightly; if possible, just color the cake and play with the fillings.
- For fillings, it's best to use things that are not sweet, as the sugar from the cake with fuse with the filling while it rests in the fridge. When I make chocolate or coffee filling, I never add sugar; likewise for the plain filling. One of the reasons that western rollcakes are so godawful is because their sponges are far to sweet, and they fill it with jam, which results in a giant mouthful of sugar of diabetic proportions.
- The ones I find at asian bakeries tend to have a brownish skin around the outside. I still have not yet figured out how they do this; even when I achieve it, it peels off on contact, and is not sturdy at all. It probably has something to do with a nonstick baking spray they use or something.
- A common one is also a sort of semi lemon curd filling, except more delicious. I WILL figure it out one day, but I have not yet.
I was feeling bored, so here is a simple instructional as to how to most effectively line your jelly roll pan with parchment paper. This is actually more important than you may think, as it will influence the shape of the cake, and therefore make your life easier or harder depending on how you do it.
First, fold in your parchment paper so that it confirms to the dimensions of your pan. I will use a smaller piece just for demonstrations. Let's start with the first corner:
Bring the flaps up, then bring together the creases that I've highlighted below in green and blue.
It should look something like this: Fold down the paper (the edge is highlighted blue in the next picture), and you have one corner done.
Repeat with the other four corners, and you now have a mini paper tray to put into the baking tray. As a note, which way the little flaps face does not matter, unless you're completely anally retentive.