This is another recipe I started working on due to what I like to call the "American Bakery Syndrome"--that is, the majority of what I can buy in stores sucks. In this case, for the most part I've found that they've tasted soggy, and more of sugar syrup than cinnamon. That's not to say I don't have a sweet tooth--quite the opposite. But my stance here is much like the one I take for hot sauce--sure, it tastes like something, but it's still boring, stupid, and lazy.
Here are the basics. Cinnamon rolls are viennoiserie; simply put, that means they're sort of the bastard child of bread and more conventional pastry. This means there is fermenting dough involved, and you will need time to do this properly. You can, as usual, cut on the time, but the flavor won't be as nice. For people working the 9-5, I recommend starting the dough in the morning, and finishing everything after getting home from work. The fermented dough is then rolled out, sprinkled with filling, and rolled up and cut into small buns. The full form of this roll that I originally used comes with a glaze, but since development I haven't put them together; the combination of the sugar and butter in the roll, cinnamon filling AND the glaze is potent enough to violate the Geneva Convention. As for the icing crap on top--I don't believe in it. It clobbers any nice feeling from the bun and cinnamon with massive amounts of unwarranted sugar. You can do it if you want, but don't let me find out, or I will come for you.
- 400g bread flour
- 100g cake flour (AP works as well)
- 200g warm water
- 75g egg (About 1.5 large eggs; see procedure for what to do with the leftover partial egg)
- 100g sugar
- 8g salt
- 10g yeast
- 150g butter, room temperature (or melted)
The main thing to understand about the filling is the proportions. The basic formula is 100g brown sugar for 100g sugar for 6g cinnamon. However, how much you actually use is basically up to your personal tastes, and how diabetic you feel like getting after eating a batch. For the dough quantity above, a full amount would probably be something like:
- 25g brown sugar
- 25g sugar
- 1.5g cinnamon
- Mix the dry ingredients together, and add the water. Mix until it's just starting to come together.
- If you chose to melt the butter for time constraints, mix it in slowly so you don't have a large quantity of hot butter touching the dough at any given time. If the butter is at room temp, chop it into small 1/2 inch cubes and incorporate into the dough slowly.
- Mix/knead the dough until the gluten is well-formed, and you have a solid ball of dough. This takes roughly 5 minutes on medium speed on a kitchenaid with a dough hook, but may take longer if you're doing it by hand.
- Cover the dough with plastic wrap, and let it rest in the fridge "overnight"--this means 4 hours minimum, 10 hours maximum by my reckoning.
- Take the dough out, and let it sit for about 45 minutes so the butter in the dough softens and it becomes more workable.
- Roll out the dough into a rectangle, and mix up your filling.
- Brush the entire surface of the dough with water, and sprinkle on the filling. I prefer using a sieve for an even distribution. MAKE SURE to leave a small strip of dough, about 1-2 inches, at the edge that has water but no filling, so that when you roll it up it seals properly.
- Roll the rectangle up into a big log, and cut into small rolls. Rest them on their sides on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. In the meantime, pre-heat your oven to 385 F.
- (OPTIONAL) At this point you can give the rolls a good coating of eggwash (this is a good opportunity to use up that spare egg from above). It doesn't really affect the taste (unless you screw up) but it definitely goes miles in terms of presentation. Everyone has different formulas for eggwash and as far as I can tell it doesn't make too much of a difference, but I like using whole eggs cut with a tiny tiny bit of cream. The only thing you have to watch out for is that you have to beat the eggs properly before using them. If you don't, then the eggwash turns out uneven and it will look like shit. This means your eggs have to be fully runny, with no bits of stringy cohesive white or whatever in there at all. Another small thing is to not put on too much; if you have your buns lying in a giant pool of egg, then the pool of egg will brown (or even worse, burn) in the oven, imparting a nasty taste to your buns.
- Let the rolls proof for about 1.5 to 2 hours. How long this takes depends, again, on the temperature; the cooler it is, the longer it takes. A good rule of thumb is just to wait until it's about 1.5x to 2x their original size, and have softened up considerably. Unless there is no change after 2+ hours, in which case something is terribly terribly wrong; perhaps you didn't use enough yeast, or killed them off somehow. Another good indicator is if the middle of the rolls are slightly pushed up due to the expansion, and if any excess water you brushed on earlier gets squeezed out as well.
- (OPTIONAL) Right before putting the rolls into the oven, throw on a second coating of eggwash. Why two? It gives it more color and more depth, and if you're going to go to the trouble of doing eggwash, might as well do it properly. If you're really lazy, you can skip the first coating from above and just do this one.
- Bake at 385F for about 13-15 minutes. The time it takes depends on the size of the rolls and everything, but I recommend checking on them after 13 minutes and deciding how much longer based on how they're looking.
And there you have it. Not that hard, aye? There's not even a need for a Notes section, since this is a fairly straightforward (if time-consuming) process. Anything that can go wrong in terms of rolling, shaping, etc, all comes down to practice, so there really isn't much I can say in a broad sense to remedy that.
One interesting note though, is that there is a Swedish-Slash-Scandinavian version of this that infuses the filling with cardamom, and tops the bun with tiny bits of pearl sugar. It's a bit unusual, but tasty nonetheless. I may try reproducing it one day, but I prefer the regular kind.
I'll be frank. The chicken I had at Bonchon has been haunting my dreams. Since I went the first time, I've had the chicken once more via takeout, and wanted more an uncountable number of times. And like all the other times that I've experienced such cravings, I set about recreating the food in question.
One google led to another, and I slowly learned more about Fried Chicken a la Kim Jong Il, and the many ways it was different from your standard American fare, or even the chicken you can find at the local Chinese takeout. The secret to the texture of the chicken seems to be a thin batter combined with a double frying. I found this interesting, since all the deep-frying I've tried so far has benefited from a second run in the oil--I exploit this technique in my squid recipe. Furthermore, contrary to my instincts the chicken was not brined or seasoned at all being fried--the flavor came from a sort of glaze that is applied to it right afterwards. I suppose it does explain why the drumsticks at Bonchon tasted a bit less intense than the wings.
Unlike in my naive youth, I knew not to trust any one site's information. And so I aggregated knowledge from many sources across the great network of tubes that is the internet, eventually ending up with something workable. The first trial was a success in terms of the chicken itself--I had recreated the crunchy texture of the outside along with the perfect cookedness of the inside. Unfortunately, this first trial's seasoning was completely off, with the rice vinegar and garlic content bringing the flavor to epically acidic levels. The next trial I decreased the garlic and got rid of the rice vinegar, and it was much more acceptable, much closer to the garlic soy flavoring that I knew and loved. After some more characteristic tweaking, I arrived at my current results. Before you start, I kindly ask you to read the warning in the notes, even if you find my Notes section pedantic and boring. It's for your own safety. And now without further ado...
- Chicken wings & drumsticks. Either will do; personally I prefer the wings slightly. I suppose breasts or something could work as well, but I wouldn't recommend it--dark meat is always superior (yeah I did). Make sure to get boned parts with the skin on--The skin is essential for the perfect crisp, and meat with the bone on is ALWAYS more flavorful. For the purposes of this batch, assume about 6 wings and 2-3 drumsticks for a decent mix.
- 2/3 cups flour
- 1 heaping Tbsp corn starch
- 3 cloves garlic (or 2 large cloves)
- 3 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 3/4 Tbsp sesame oil
- Pinch of sugar
- Lots of oil for deep-frying
- Prepare your glaze first so it has time to sit. Mince the garlic very finely, then add the honey, soy sauce, and sesame oil. The sugar is optional, more of a taste thing than anything--I personally prefer it without. You can also stick the whole lot in a blender if you want the garlic to be pureed and integrated fully into the mixture.
- If you are using wings, cut them into three sections--the wing drumette, the wing proper, and the tip. Discard the tip--you're not really going to eat it, and frying it isn't saving you anything, stop fooling yourself.
- Prepare the batter. Combine the flour and corn starch, then add as much water as it takes to get a liquid consistency. You want something approximating a crepe batter, or something a bit thinner than a pancake batter. The idea here is to get it as thin as possible while still having it reasonably adhere to the surface of the chicken.
- Drop the chicken in the batter (remember, skin on), mix to coat evenly, and heat your oil to 350 degrees F.
- Drop your chicken into the oil, making sure not to crowd the container or burn yourself, and let it fry for 6 minutes. This phase cooks the chicken and starts the development of the crust on it.
- After the chicken is done frying, let it rest on a paper towel while you let the oil come back to 350 degrees. The second phase of the frying is also at 350 for 6 minutes. This phase drives the last bits of moisture out of the chicken, and crisps the crust to an unbelievable level. It also gives the chicken a very very nice color. Hell, the first time I fished the chicken out of the fryer after the second fry I realized that I hadn't been that moved by the sight of food in a very long time.
- After the second fry, let it rest on some paper towels some more. It's basically ready to eat as soon as it's cool to handle. Just don't forget the glaze.
- The first note I have is... WARNING. The second frying phase will be violent. When meat finishes cooking, the juices flow and pierce the surface, and chicken is no exception. Since the chicken will rest at least briefly before the second fry, that means there is actually increased moisture right under the crust, which translates to a violent, violent time. Seriously. The first two minutes of this make Vesuvius look like a joke. Drop the chicken in there fast, and step back. This mess is going to get raw like sushi, so haters to the left.
- Don't think about covering it either; the moisture will get back into the oil, making it far worse when you finally lift the cover. You'll basically be staring at a Chernobyl-level thing at that point.
- When butchering wings, the wing joints are actually fairly soft and have big spots of cartilage, making them easy pickings for even the dullest of kitchen knives. If you're still too squeamish to lift your blade and tear the wings asunder, you have 3 options. 1) Fry them whole. 2) Grow a spine, pick up your sword, and slay you some chicken. 3) Make your butcher do it, and leave them a nice tip for having to deal with your aforementioned lack of spine.
- I'm afraid you do need a thermometer for this; trust me, I'm an Olympic-level too-lazy-and-cheap-to-buy-extra-equipment competitor, but in this case it really is necessary. Just drop the $20 or whatever and be glad you did.
- On that note, for deep-frying I usually prefer my cast-iron pan, since it's heavy and holds a constant temperature well. In the absence of that, any good tallish heavy-bottomed pot will do, like a creuset stockpot or something. And, in a pinch, just about any large container works--you just have to watch more carefully for fluctuations in temperature.
Well, that's it. I honestly and truly doubt that you can get better fried chicken than this, but if there's something that proves me wrong, I want to eat it. Until then, the only thing I can see left to do is to expand my repertoire with a spicy option. For that I think I'll be needing some good ol' Korean gochujang and a whole host of other things--but that'll have to wait for another post.
Back when I first started cooking I watched a lot of Kitchen Nightmares and Hell's Kitchen--yes, the awful American version, complete with all the yelling and the melodrama. I worshiped at the altar of Gordon Ramsay and the Church of his mentor Marco Pierre White, the latter of whom I referred to jokingly as Douchebag mainly for his finger-waving and way of emphasizing his philosophy of "inten-see-fying" the flavor. Between the two of them I managed to learn how to cook my first steaks without butchering them (har har) and a million variations since, and this is one of my favorites that I go back to time and time again. The combination of sweet/spicy and rich cream that goes into the sauce produces a flavor that I personally find amazing, and the cooking techniques make the dish turn out acceptably even if you screw the pooch and make your steak well-done. I'm not saying you should--I'll still arch one eyebrow condescendingly and go grab the shotgun--but at least the piece of leather on your plate will have some semblance of flavor, if you know what I mean.
- Boneless steak, preferably a good strip steak or ribeye. Filet mignon if you're feeling especially rich, but I prefer the rustic feel of ripping a NY strip apart with my teeth.
- Worcestershire sauce
- Heavy Cream
- Shallots--onions are also an acceptable substitute
- Baby Portabello or White Mushrooms
- (Optional) Cognac
- Take the steak out and let it rest for a few minutes. Wrap it in some plastic or baking paper, and roll or press it thin, as thin as you can. While you're prepping, also thinly slice the mushrooms and shallots
- Season the steak with the good ol' S&P, and heat up your pan until it's extremely hot. Use a small amount of oil, and sear it very quickly on each side, one minute tops.
- In the same pan (!!) add a bit more oil and saute the mushrooms and shallots. Don't let things get too hot here, burnt onions are only slightly less gross than burnt garlic in the overall scale of ruin.
- Add the Worcestershire sauce, and delight in the sizzle that results. Also note the effect it has in lifting the great bits of flavor off the bottom of the pan.
- Finish with the cream, and add the steak, letting it cook in there for a few minutes to get the flavors in.
- Optionally, if you have some cognac lying around (cause you know, who doesn't?), you can pour it on top and light it on fire. Just watch the eyebrows.
And the obligatory...
- You notice how I don't comment on how much worcestershire sauce and cream to use. The answer is... I really don't measure. I add enough of the former so that it looks like it'd be a decent amount of sauce, and then I pour in the latter until I like how the color looks. No, seriously.
- When it comes to steak, or any other meat, resting is important. When you cook anything big, you do a lot of waiting. Why? Resting before the cooking lets it rise to room temperature, and resting afterwards lets it finish cooking evenly. That's why if you ever get a steak at a restaurant that's too hot to eat, they're probably full of shit.
- The (!!) note means that using the same pan is important. Everybody knows the burnt crunchy bits at the bottom of the pan are always the best parts; by not using them, you're just needlessly wasting flavor.
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?
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.