Saturday, June 13, 2009

Paris Pastry and XT Patisserie

You know you've been in L.A. too long when you start judging a bakery by its "look." I do enjoy an aesthetically pleasing space, but all foodies should know that extraordinary food can come from the most unlikely places - even macarons. I am ashamed that I had to be reminded of this fact!

I believe that I have NOW, today, discovered the best macarons in L.A., and they are from a nondescript store in the Persian neighborhood of Westwood Boulevard. Paris Pastry has a nice, clean store, even if the front sign is a tad dingy and the space does not have the trendy modern look that newer bakeries predictably embrace. A number of items in the pastry cases looked good, but the Parisian macarons were EXCELLENT.

To be more precise, the macarons at Paris Pastry are provided wholesale by Xuan Ngo of XT Patisserie. Mr. Ngo happened to be handing out samples of his wares when I walked into the bakery, and a pleasant conversation ensued (accompanied by samples of whole halves of macarons!). It turns out that Mr. Ngo worked at bakery Le Nôtre in Paris for four years, the very bakery that was the source of the macarons in this photo:

I knew as soon as I bit into the caramel macaron that the texture was right in a way that no other macaron in LA has been right. It had a smoothness that is often lacking, while being delicate and slightly chewy and moist. All of the flavors I tried were good: pistachio, raspberry, lemon, coconut...and the French friends to whom I fed them were in agreement.

Mr. Ngo proceded to tell me that he had helped to start up Boule when it got established (though it is now sadly defunct) and is trying to get his wholesale business going. I told him that I would wholeheartedly endorse his wonderful macarons on my blog - which I would have done even if I hadn't met him...and even if he hadn't given me a few free macarons on my way out the door...

So do stop by Paris Pastry to try out his macarons (and look for the sample table and macaron tree)! Such a nice gentleman selling such lovely macarons is not to be ignored.

XT Patisserie, I wish you all the best!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Seven-Minute Icing

My mom's been telling me about seven-minute icing for years: how easy it is, how classic it is, how light and fluffy it is, and how CHEAP it is since it doesn't include butter. So, even though I'm very attached to piping buttercream on cakes, last week I took the opportunity to whip some up (hello, obvious pun).

True to its reputation, is was easy and fast. I was really excited to put it on my Oreo fudge cake, since the chocolate cake and its filling of fudge and crushed Oreos is quite rich, and the seven-minute icing was a lighter alternative to buttercream (even though nobody complains about buttercream, trust me!). It also was perfect on Oreo cupcakes - the ones with whole Oreos baked into them! - and good ole white cake with sprinkles. One word of warning: if you're frosting a cake with a moist filling, like the Oreo fudge cake, take care to refrigerate the cake overnight before serving in order to prevent the filling from leaking out and the cake from sliding when transported.

It turns out that seven-minute frosting is basically marshmallow without gelatin and corn or agave syrup, so the process is quite familiar to me. Beat the egg whites, make a syrup, and beat the syrup into the whites. Et voilà!

I have to admit that I was spurred on to make this icing by two friends who separately sent this recipe to me - and who happen to be married to each other, by the way. How could I not make it after that lovely coincidence? This whimsical and pretty treat is a sweet tribute to my friends. Who apparently associate me with cupcakes.

Seven-Minute Icing
from King Arthur Flour

2 large egg whites
1 C sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/3 C water
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Prepare icing once cake or cupcakes are completely cooled and you are ready to frost them.

Beat the egg whites in a stand mixer until they are foamy and thick; they should mound in the bowl without holding a peak. Set aside while you prepare the syrup.

Combine the sugar, cream of tartar, water, and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently until the sugar is dissolved.

Begin to beat the egg whites again, immediately pouring the sugar syrup into the mixing bowl in a slow stream while the mixing continues. As you beat, the mixture will thicken. Once all the syrup is added, stir in the vanilla and continue to beat until the icing is thick and will hold a peak.

Immediately spoon the hot icing onto the cooled cake/cupcakes, swirling decoratively (that's the funnest part!). Decorate with sprinkles, cookie crumbs, etc.

One recipe is enough to frost 2 dozen cupcakes.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Knife makes a Moroccan Stew

So this brand new knife* gets unpackaged one night during June gloom and thinks, "This is the night to make that Moroccan stew I've been thinking about." He pulls the veggies out of the refrigerator drawers, mentally checking off the items that need to be taken care of. Slightly wilted swiss chard, barely fresh squash, lonely carrots that are scattered among the leaves. Skip the limp fava beans and oldish beets.

The rest of the ingredients are ready to go, so the knife takes the vegetables to task. Wilted stalks get thrown out, leaves are salvaged and chopped with a flare. He makes all the squash equal by cubing them evenly, after quickly lopping their heads and feet off. Peeled carrots are diced in a flash, and an onion prepped with a few sharp slices.

Now that the knife has made quick work of the normally burdensome veggie prep, the stew is basically made - spices coat the veggies, liquids hydrate the lentils, chickpeas fill out the final product. Et voilà, Moroccan stew! A satisfying day's work to inaugurate a knife's promising career.

Moroccan Vegetable Stew
Based on Surfas' Moroccan chili recipe

½ lb green lentils
2 cans garbanzo beans
8 C of water or chicken stock
1 C diced carrots
2 C shredded greens (chard, spinach, or kale will do)
1 C diced squash or zucchini
1 diced onion
1 can diced tomato
1 bunch chopped cilantro
1 T ground ginger
2 T ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper as needed

if you can afford/access these specialty ingredients:
1 pinch saffron threads
½ C diced preserved lemons peel only

In a large soup pot sauté onions, carrots, and seasonings until translucent about 4 to 5 minutes. Add lentils, tomatoes, preserved lemon and chicken stock to cover. Let simmer until lentils are al dente about 20 minutes. Add garbanzo beans, greens, and squash and let simmer for 10 more minutes. Re-season if necessary.

Note: Sausage can be added if desired, and any of the vegetables can be replaced with other vegetables as you see fit. This makes a lot of food!

*a celebration of my lovely new knife - really, you would like it too!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Steamed Mochi

Who knew that steamed mochi was the easiest thing in the world to make? Granted, I have a rice cooker, but even without special equipment it is a simple thing.

I have long been addicted to the mochi topping (always with the eurotart flavor and diced strawberries) at Pinkberry-esque frozen yogurt shops; it has something to do with the sweet chewiness of the mochi, which satisfies me almost like a good homemade marshmallow does. So when I read this post about strawberry daifuku mochi on Chocolate and Zucchini, I made it almost immediately. Thank goodness I happened to have glutinous sweet rice flour on hand!

I made my family's baked mochi recipe earlier this year, which I suspect came out a bit differently than it should; I had been wanting to try it again, but the giant 9x13 pan of chewy rice product was not super appealing to me since it's tedious to cut up and almost impossible to finish (even when I farmed it out to all my friends last time some still ended up eating through a container on top of my fridge). This, however, was perfect - just enough mochi to cover 10 strawberries in a thin layer, or 6 balls of ice cream. And small enough to make in my teeny-tiny rice cooker.

Don't be intimidated by the length of the text below; basically, this recipe involves dumping the ingredients into the cooking bowl, steaming for 10 minutes, and then cutting it up. Really, really easy.

I've made it twice so far; the first time I wrapped strawberries and blueberries in the mochi, and the second time I made it pink (!) and wrapped balls of TJ's nonfat plain frozen yogurt. I'm not a pro yet at handling the fresh mochi, but it was fun to use and eat, of course.

Steamed Mochi
(from Chocolate and Zucchini - read the original post for info on different kinds of mochi)

100 g or 3.5 oz glutinous rice flour (mochiko flour works - find at an Asian market)
50 g or 1/4 C granulated sugar
2/3 C cold water
a few drops of food coloring if desired
plenty of potato or corn starch for dusting (potato is lighter but more expensive and rare)
optional: 10 small strawberries or 20 large blueberries, red bean paste
OR ice cream/frozen yogurt

Berry option prep:
Rinse, dry, and hull berries. Coat in red bean paste if desired and place in refrigerator on a plate.

Ice cream/frozen yogurt option prep:
Line a small rimmed baking sheet that will fit in your freezer with parchment paper or wax paper. Scoop your ice cream or frozen yogurt into small balls and place evenly on baking sheet. Freeze in your freezer for at least 1 hour prior to wrapping in mochi. Place the container in which you will store the completed mochi ice cream balls in the freezer as well, so that it will be cold when you place the mochi-covered balls in it (the mochi will be warm when you wrap the balls, so it will melt them a little and cause them to take a while to firm up in the freezer once completed).

If you have a microwave: combine the rice flour, sugar, and water (and food coloring) in a plastic or glass bowl, and stir to dissolve. Cook for 2 minutes in the microwave on medium, stir with a silicone spatula, and repeat once or twice, until the mixture is thick and slightly translucent.

If you have a rice cooker: combine the rice flour, sugar, and water (and food coloring) in the bowl of the rice cooker, and stir to dissolve. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stiring once or twice during that time with a silicone spatula, until the mixture is thick and slightly translucent.

If you have a steamer: combine the rice flour, sugar, and water (and food coloring) in a heatproof bowl that fits inside your steamer, and stir to dissolve. Place the bowl in the steamer and cover the bowl with a heatproof plate or cover. Close the steamer and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stiring once or twice during that time with a silicone spatula, until the mixture is thick and slightly translucent.

(above: pink mochi that's finished cooking in the rice cooker)

While the rice flour mixture is cooking, pour a generous layer of potato/corn starch in a rimmed baking sheet, and keep more starch on hand. When the rice flour mixture is ready, pour it onto the prepared baking sheet; it will be super sticky. Sprinkle generously with more starch, pat the dough to flatten it as thinly as possible (caution: it will still be rather hot), and use a pastry cutter or a knife to cut it into pieces big enough to wrap your berries or ice cream, square or triangular pieces. I handled the dough with non-latex gloves. The dough will get less flexible as it cools, so try to work at a brisk pace. Save the unused starch in a container to use again next time.

If using berries:

Remove the coated strawberries from the fridge. Take one piece of dough, stretch it gently so it will be large enough to envelop a strawberry, and place it on the palm of your hand. Dust the starch off the top surface with a pastry brush, place a coated strawberry in the center, tip side down, and wrap the dough around it, twisting the edges gently to seal into a pouch, and making sure the dough doesn't tear.

Place the daifuku seam side down on a plate dusted with potato starch, and repeat with the rest of the ingredients.

Let rest for an hour to set and cool to room temperature before serving. Leftovers should be covered and stored at room temperature, but note that strawberry daifuku taste best on the day they're made, so don't make more than you plan to eat within a day or so. They'll get a little mushy on the second day:

If wrapping ice cream/frozen yogurt balls:

Remove frozen balls from the freezer and place the storage container next to your work area. As with the berry instructions, dust each mochi piece off with a pastry brush and work quickly to wrap each ball with the mochi, pinching the seams together. Place in the cooled storage container and freeze until solid before serving.