Archive for October, 2008

A Class with Pichet Ong from P*ONG

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Last Thursday was a bag of mixed emotions. It was an unseasonably humid autumn day in New York, I hadn’t slept well, I was physically not feeling great and in generally groggy spirits. Whining aside, I hauled myself over to the ICE to take this class I had registered for a while back.


As soon as I saw Pichet Ong‘s smiling face, my mood was instantly uplifted. Pichet is such a personable man. So cute! He spoke about his background at Jean Georges, La Folie, Spice Market, etc. and how his experience in savory cooking has influenced his desserts in both flavor profiles (his desserts often play with salty/sweet flavor combinations such as the apple hand pie with bacon caramel) and his creative development process. He uses more of an instinctual approach, spontaneously creating, tasting, then revisiting the creation a second time to record the measurements used for any given dessert. Pichet regarded this instinctual approach in admittedly generalized terms as a vaguely “Asian” approach. I found this interesting and personally inspiring as I’ve come to regard baking as less and less of an exact science based on precise measurements and timing and learning to hone my instincts instead.

Apple Hand Pie with Bacon Caramel (my handpie chosen for plating demo!)

The class was divided in two. As much as the Apple Hand Pie with Bacon Caramel intrigued me, I’m actually allergic to bacon (or rather, the nitrates) so I quickly opted to join the Stilton Souffle, Walnut, Basil and Arugula Ice Cream group. At least we all got to shape a few hand pies. This cheese souffle (picture below) was quite savory, counter-balanced by the light, cool arugula ice cream.


Perhaps my favorite dessert of the class (and also the least savory) was the Carrot and Salted Caramel Cupcake, which is sold at Batch Bakery in New York. This cupcake was moist and oh so delicious.


Another delicious item was the Chevre Cheesecake Parfait with Huckleberry, Walnut, and Maldon Salt. The base of the dessert is a walnut cookie crust, a very nice crunch that contrasted the airy parfait.


This class was so much fun. I purchased Pichet Ong’s book The Sweet Spot and am so inspired by the exciting and unusual flavor combinations. Pichet is also working on a second book, though I’ll be “digesting” the knowledge I’ve acquired from this class for a while…

Matcha Opéra Cake with Black Sesame Seed Ganache and Green Tea Buttercream

Monday, October 20th, 2008


I think the Opéra cake is becoming one of my favorite styles of cake for its elegant style and limitless layering opportunities. I made this matcha Opéra cake for a recent birthday in my family. With its green tea joconde soaked in green tea syrup, green tea buttercream, black sesame seed chocolate ganache and chocolate glaze, it’s a must for green tea lovers!


For the joconde (and for most of the cake components for that matter), I used the Opera recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets, and the May 08’s Daring Baker’s Challenge, adding some green tea powder. I also added black sesame seeds to give the ganache and cake a hint of a crunch. The top is sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and green tea powder.

For the Joconde (edited from the May 08 Daring Baker’s challeng/Dorie Greenspan):
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) almond meal
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp matcha green tea powder
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

Preheat the oven to 425?F. (220?C).

Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

Beat the egg whites in a large bowl until they form soft peaks using stand mixer or handheld mixer. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy.

Attach the paddle attachment to a stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and using a separate bowl, beat the almonds, icing sugar, matcha powder and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.

Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined. Do not overmix. It should only take a few seconds.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Again, avoid overmixing and deflating the batter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.

Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

Green Tea Syrup:
2/3 cup water
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp green tea powder

In a saucepan, heat water and sugar until boiling and sugar is dissolved. Take pan off the heat, let cool 2 or 3 minutes and add green tea powder, stirring. Let cool completely until ready to use.

Black Sesame Seed Ganache:
8 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tbsp black sesame seeds coated in 1 tsp corn syrup

Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat milk and cream in a saucepan until boiling. Pour the liquid over the chocolate, letting sit for 30 seconds before stirring slowly. Whip the butter and add to the melted chocolate in 2 or 3 additions. Stir in black sesame seeds. Let the ganache cool in the refrigerator, checking and stirring every so often. This ganache can be prepared several days in advance.

Green Tea Buttercream:
2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon size chunks

Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved. Remove the bowl from the heat.

Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a piece at a time, beating until smooth.

Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, about 5 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. The buttercream can be prepared 2 days in advance.

Chocolate Glaze:
1 stick unsalted butter
5 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate

To clarify butter, melt it in a saucepan. Scoop off the white froth that rises to the top and discard. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, being very careful not to get any water in the chocolate. Pour butter into the chocolate, avoiding the layer of milky residue that forms on the bottom.

Assembling the Cake:
The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Cut a 10″ x 10″ square from each of the 2 sheet cakes. You will have two 5″ x 10″ pieces of cake left which will be laid side by side to form a third layer.
Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with 1/3 of the green tea syrup. Spread about two-thirds of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with another 1/3 of the syrup. Spread ganache over the second layer. Top with third square of joconde. Moisten with the last 1/3 syrup. Spread remaining 1/3 of the buttercream. Refrigerate (or freeze) until very firm.

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake, using an offset spatula to coax the glaze to the edges. Refrigerate (or freeze) the cake again to set the glaze.

Using a knife dipped in hot water and water wiped off with towel, trim the edges. Heat the knife/wipe clean with each slicing of cake.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Dainty Little Fruit Tarts

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008


On a recent visit to the NY Cake store on 22nd St. in New York (their link doesn’t seem to be working now), I couldn’t resist purchasing a pack of assorted mini tart shells. I love the idea of having individual bite size fruit tarts that are compact and don’t require any cutting, which can be sort of a messy process. Mini tarts are so cute, to boot! I made these for a family birthday (along with a delicious green tea cake that I’ll post later), but they’re perfect for a party.

Making mini fruit tarts is a bit more time consuming and will require just a little more skill and patience than making one large tart, but the end results are worth it. They’re still relatively easy to make, and everyone will fawn over these and love you for making them! The key points I’ve learned so far are:

– As is the case with most crusts/shells, when making the sweet tart dough, avoid over-mixing the flour.
– Keep an eye on the baking, lest you end up with shells a shade too brown.
– For the pastry cream, when going for the second heating on the stove, keep stirring!


I used the same recipe I posted previously for my large fruit tart.

Fresh Fruit Tart

Sweet Tart Dough (based on recipe from Desserts by Pierre Herme)
This recipe makes enough about three large tart shells (I’m not certain how many mini tarts this equates into as I’ve made them in separate batches but as an estimate, I’d say about 40 mini shells). This larger quantity is recommended because it is easier to prepare one large batch at once. The unused portions can be frozen for later use (and will come in handy for your last minute fruit tart needs!).

2.5 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup lightly packed ground blanched almonds
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
3.5 cups all purpose flour

Beat butter on low speed in the bowl of a mixer with paddle attachment. Add rest of ingredients, except flour, and blend on low speed, scraping down sides occasionally. Add flour in 3-4 additions, still on low speed, just until mixture comes together.

Divide dough into two or three discs, depending on the size needed, and wrap each in plastic. Chill/rest in refrigerator for at least 4 hours or freeze up to a month.

Grease tart shells (I used canola oil spray and that worked fine). Scoop out one tablespoon of chilled dough and press into each individual tart mold, filling it to the edges.  Set on baking sheets and chill dough for about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place tart shells onto baking sheets and bake for about 15 minutes or until edges brown slightly. Start checking the oven a few minutes before and watch that you do not overbake. Transfer to wire rack to cool and then unmold.

Pastry Cream
(adapted from a recipe from Chad Pagano. Enough to fill 20 mini tarts.)

10oz milk
40 grams sugar
3 egg yolks
25 grams cornstarch
40 grams sugar
20 grams butter
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (optional, or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

In a saucepan, dissolve first portion of sugar in milk along with half a vanilla bean, bringing to boil. Whisk egg yolks in a bowl. Sift cornstarch and second portion of sugar into eggs and beat until smooth. Temper yolks by slowly pouring hot milk into eggs in a steady stream (to avoid cooking eggs). Transfer mixture back to saucepan and reheat until boiling. Stir constantly. When mixture comes to a boil – it will be thick – remove from heat. Stir in butter and mix until melted. Transfer to a clean bowl and chill for at least three hours.

To assemble tart, place a dollop of pastry cream in shell. Arrange sliced fruits and berries in decorative manner. The fruits can also be glazed with a watered down apricot preserve glaze or clear cake glaze. The ones shown in this post are unglazed.