custard Tag

France Part II, and chicken w/ morels and rice pilaf

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ONE OF THE BEST DISHES I COOKED.

I AGREE.

Lourmarin is what it promises, a picturesque village in the Luberon region in Provence, and more.

No matter what kind of cynicism you bring along, or distaste for anything that seems to fit too squarely into Martha Stewart magazines, you come here, you see it, and it’s hard not to surrender, even just for a moment, under Lourmarin’s somewhat curated but irresistible, undeniable charm.  We arrived at 7 o’clock in a summer evening when this village draped with honeysuckle vines and buzzing bumble bees were casted under a slanted, pale blue light.  With just one deep breath of its brisk, floral and light beige linen atmosphere, everything felt just right.  May I even remind you that this was after 9 hours of driving from Lyon cutting through the gruesome, annual European migration to the south in the middle of August?  If it weren’t for the highlight of us stopping midway at an orchard, and me may-or-may-not having stolen a bright red apple and ran, the day would’ve all seem to be in ruin.

That ain’t pretty.  But Lourmarin made it worthwhile.

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(may or may not have stolen an apple from here…)

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ZERO-FOLDING PASTEL DE NATA, A HYBRID

Ever since I came back from Lisbon, the question haunts me.

What is a perfect pastel de nata?

Well for me, now more than ever, that depends on who you’re asking.

If you were from the Asian parts of the world as I am, growing up, this wildly popular pastry since the 90’s actually came from, and have always been, more as a Macao thing.  Sure it’s known as the Portuguese-style egg tarts from Macao, the former Portugal colony famed for its many Portugal-influenced hybrid foods, but notice that it is NOT called pastel de nada, not even Portuguese egg tart, but ambiguously, “Portugese-STYLE” egg tart.  Style?  The name itself oozes deniability, suggesting that on one level or another, these tarts can’t be expected as a 100% identical replica of the originals, but a mere adaptation of some sort.  Therefore with time, as the popularity of these tarts swept through every bakeries in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and even KFC (yes, they sell these at KFC here…), the Portuguese association sort of fell irrelevant, and the gold standard on what is a great pastel de nata, in Asia at least, is set on however it is made in Macao.  And really, most people don’t have a clue on what the real thing is like.

But I’ve always wondered about this.  I mean is “Portuguese-style egg tart” even a thing in Portugal?  Do people even actually eat this stuff there or is it another freaky fortune cookie-phenomenon?  And if they do, the question isn’t if it was the same from Macao, because I know there was no chance in hell that they’re the same.  But the question is, how different?

So a couple months ago when I finally visited Lisbon for the first time, I was on a quest for truth.  I didn’t know what to expect, but almost as immediately as we landed at the airport, truth no 1 revealed itself.  Pastel de nada is definitely a thing in Portugal.  I mean, they were everywhere, as common as bagels in NY or surfers in L.A.  Well great, fantastic, because it allowed me to conduct an in-depth and thoroughly tasted investigation on truth no 2, which is, how different are the real things from Macao’s?  Well, this was where the troubles began.  They are, as expected, quite different on many textural levels, and now…

I’m completely torn.

I ASSURE YOU THAT THIS CONCLUSION, WHETHER YOU AGREE WITH IT OR NOT, CAME AFTER MUCH TORMENTS, SELF-REFLECTIONS AND EVEN SOME SOUL-SEARCHING ON WHO I AM AS A SENTIENT PASTRY EATER… (BUT THE ANSWER TO) WHAT IS ULTIMATELY A PERFECT PASTEL DE NATA?

WELL, A HYBRID

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OMBRE SALTED CARAMEL FLAN POPSICLES

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IN A COOK’S UNIVERSE, THE BAKER’S REALM IS A MYSTICAL AND DANGEROUS WORLD

Recently, someone asked me what’s the typical number of trials I have to go through before arriving on a satisfying recipe.  And to that I said, “Two, I guess?  Most likely?”.  Well… in all honesty, I didn’t mean to lie.  I just forgot to ask, if they were asking the cook?  Or the baker?

I’m definitely more cook than a baker.  And as a more-cook, relatively speaking, I have a more optimistic repertoire of savoury things where I have demonstrated slightly more competence in not screwing up.  But in reality, if I were to take into account of the other side of the fence as well, the wild and parched, the untamed and unpredictable, the land of where the sweet things are… then my friend, I don’t think I have hairs enough to count my failures.  In a cook’s universe, the realm of the bakers is a mystical and dangerous world, governed by a whole different set of laws and physics and creatures who look beautifully from afar like a herd of pink unicorns, but once approached, will vaporize into a cloud of black smokes and swallow my expectations in whole.  It is scary.  And it is real.  And it is a place, unless guided by other wizards specializing in this black magic, that I do not like to enter lightly.

But sometimes the universe, especially my universe, is not perfect.  Sometimes there’s no precedent, or magic potion to follow for what I wanted to create, or more accurately, re-create.  For this instance, a childhood treat that Jason and I practically grew up with and hold dearly in our heart, the caramel flan popsicle (or as they called it in Taiwan, “pudding popsicle”) that we used to be able to buy in almost every convenient stores, but mysteriously vanished in the past decade.  And in times like these, I just had to hood up, bid the loved ones farewell, climbed over the fence, into the woods, and hoped that something, anything, would make it back in one piece.

Well, it didn’t.

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HOKKAIDO MILK BUNS AND PINEAPPLE CUSTARD

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These super gorgeous crochet-printed side-plates are from the lovely DishesOnly.

TO MY SHAMELESS AND UNDESERVING SELF I SAID, YES I’LL HAVE FOUR OF THOSE PLEASE

This post, on top of the rare fact that it’s the third dessert-recipe within two weeks, is also going to take a rather unconventional introduction.  Instead of my usual babbling on my, more often than not, unpleasant stories/inspirations behind a certain recipe, I’m going to gratefully credit this entire post to the unexpected blogging-perks that have been recently showering my life like a long-awaited rainfall.

First of all around 2 weeks ago, a mindfully packaged box from Italy oozing the kind of anticipation and excitement not even the strongest duct-tape can confine, quietly arrived at my doorstep.  Carrying with it, among other gorgeous sample-ceramics, were 4 beautiful crochet-printed plates that marked the exciting collaboration between me, and the lovely Italian ceramic company – DishesOnly.  In all honesty, calling this sort of thing a “collaboration” where I shamelessly ask for things without paying, sounds all too undeserving on my part because I feel like I’m taking advantage.  But when I saw these unbelievably delicate and understatedly elegant side-plates called crochet, I simply couldn’t help my greedy self.  The desire of having them among my now-seemed-comparatively-unattractive collection of plates, overrode any remaining ounce of self-consciousness.  So to my shameless and undeserving self I said, yes I’ll have 4 of those please.

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gateau a la sour cream + blueberry custard

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For someone who’s technically unemployed, I don’t know if this would violate the definition of such word but actually, for the past 2 weeks, I’ve been enjoying some sort of a “holiday”.  Well… a holiday on house-arrest if you will, but nonetheless, a holiday.  Despite the… minor inconvenience that we’re currently bound to the last place on earth that we’d like to spend more time in, Jason had decided to take the longest vacation-days he’s ever taken in his entire work-life, ever, an entire 14 blissful days to spend on doing something that we’ve practically elevated to an art-from… that is to do ab-so-lute-ly… nothing.READ MORE

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CARAMEL ESPRESSO FLAN/BUTTER ROUX CAKE

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THE CAKE HAS VENTURED BEYOND CHEMISTRY, INTO THE REALM OF PHYSICS…

EVERY time I unearth a truly fantastic recipe out of the landslides of materials and inspirations that bury most of my time nowadays, regardless whether it is original or reinvented, I experience a flush of anxiety which I’d like to call the competitive blogging disorder.  Symptoms include increasing heart-rates and twitching ankles, a not-exactly-little voice inside my ill-motivated head saying things that don’t exactly reflect my best, generous self.

Things like, gah I hope I’m one of the few living bodies on earth who know about his.  Gah I must publish this recipe now, like right now!, like in any given second somebody else might hijack my discovery.  Gah I hope when I Google “flan cake”, nothing, and I mean nothing… in the English-speaking world at least, would show up on the first page.

But of course, like most of my wishes nowadays, the answers from God-gle, are usually negative.

When I stumbled on an Asian baking-blog by accident last week, and discovered something called the “flan cake”, I thought ding-ding-ding!  I mean after all, it isn’t everyday that I look upon a cake-recipe that has ventured beyond chemistry, into the realm… of great physics.  A cake with two distinctively different layers that bake simultaneously, but magically self-separates.  A cake that bakes on the laws of physics, that lighter mass in weight (in this case, the sponge cake-batter), will float above denser mass (in this case, the flan custard), and that there’s nothing you can do to sabotage it.  It’s not just a failsafe cake.  It’s an anti-fail cake.  Guaranteed by science.  How could I not be excited?

But of course as it turns out, like all other great ideas, God-gle already knew a few.  Fuck.

BUT again, a closer look into all the flan-cake recipes shown up on the research, my CBD relapsed.  Not only that most of these recipes uses a cake-premix, but even the ones that don’t, involves the dull and tiresome sponge cake-method of using vegetable oil or creaming butter.  Gah, I’m back!  I could still be the first second third… number of handful people to tell you about this, ahem, fucking awesome cake.  Because. the true genius of this particular flan-cake lies not only on the magic of the two self-separating layers of flan and sponge cake, but also on the miraculous outcome of a butter-roux cake batter.  Yes, a roux cake.  The combination of the two wonders, a cocktail of miracles, from what I can tell, is still a relatively under-exposed secret.

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TIRAMISU CHURRO + WARM COFFEE CUSTARD

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The problem with me as a recipe dreamer hallucinater during the still-ongoing Thanksgiving carnival is that every year, in utter rudeness, I always feel like leaving the table even before the turkey makes it out of the oven.  Evidently from my premature and inappropriate blabbering of the X’mas blend coffee bars in last November while the whole town was still chattering about tweaking pumpkin pies to death, to now this uncooperative side-tracking dessert that doesn’t even rhyme with “ies” and ” akes”, it is obviously true.  I have no table-side manners.  Now before I leave, pass me the damn stuffings.

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pizza alla carbonara

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You’d think that for someone who weeped slightly while watching SATC the-Village-wet-dream in her Vancouver apartment 15 years ago, and now replays movies like You’ve Got Mail the-Upper-West-Side-porn to ease her New-York-home-sickness, if now given the chance to move back to the city, would of course choose Manhattan in a heart beat. Well, almost.

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