Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pad Thai

You know if I post about something that’s not a dessert, I must really love it. The Dough Ball is mainly about sugar, but every now and then I can’t hold in one of my favorite savory dishes. Enter pad thai. I do love this dish, I don’t know when it first started, but I usually always went more for Mexican than Asian food growing up. I do come from Austin, so that might explain things (and no, I ain’t complaining about being surrounded by buckets of queso, chips, enchiladas, and fajitas).

I’ve also always been a little intimidated by the thought of cooking Asian food. Honestly, I don’t attempt a lot of Mexican dishes because you can find the same thing, homemade, just as good (or better) and cheap. There was never any need to make myself some enchiladas…I could walk outside and they’d be falling from the sky (you get the idea: lots of Mexican food in Texas).

Anyways, this is about pad thai, not Mexican, and how another reason I always shied away from making it was the trouble with finding all the ingredients. Well, in Austin, that seems to have been taken care of if you head up North, and here in Barcelona, I’ve also found a store that will take care of most of my Asian ingredient needs. I mean, they have jellyfish. Thank god that’s not in pad thai, but I’m just saying, they got a range of ingredients, especially for being not huge and in Spain. I was able to find all my needs (as outlined by Chez Pim, who popped up when I googled ‘pad thai,’ and she gives a nice explanation of how to put pad thai together). I got little dried shrimp (I’m not sure those are necessary), and Chinese chives. There were some things they had, but I opted out of them, for example pickled turnips and tofu. I was happy to purchase my first shrimp at the Boqueria market here, and now I’m thinking I should do it more. They’re not the cheapest thing, but when they’re fresh and you cook ‘em up right, man they’re good.

How do I feel about the final pad thai? It was pretty good, and I’d make it again, but somehow, I can’t get it to taste like restaurant pad thai…why is that? Do I need to be Thai to make perfect pad thai? Either way, if you can find the ingredients, I say go for it, I’ll be doing it again (I mean, I do have almost a whole package of dried shrimp left).

Pad Thai
From Chez Pim

for the sauce
tamarind (if you just find pulp and not paste, that’s ok)
fish sauce
palm sugar (I used brown sugar…the store had palm sugar but it seemed so hard!)
something spicy, like chili powder or crushed red pepper

everything else (alright, there’s no measurements for any of this stuff, depends how many people you’ve got, you’ll be able to make about two servings at a time in the pan, so just plan on a handful of everything per panful)
fresh shrimp
Chinese chives (spring onion will substitute)
Bean sprouts
Peanuts (and some extra for serving)
Eggs (1 per panful)
Garlic (a clove per panful)
Dried shrimp
Flat rice noodles (you know how many noodles you can eat)
Lime and cilantro (for serving)

First, I started with my shrimp, preparing them all, getting that stuff over with. If you’ve never peeled and de-veined a shrimp before, here ya go. Pull the legs off, then the shell, but leave the tail and the next shell ring on, and careful not to tear the meat. Now, hold the shrimp on a cutting board and take a knife cutting a shallow incision straight down the middle of its back (over the dark vein, it should be easy to see) down to its tail. Then, using the knife put it under the vein and pull it up and out of the shrimp. Most of the time, it comes out easy, sometimes you might have to use your fingers. Now stick them in the fridge until you’re throwing them in the pan. And now you can make the sauce. If you have tamarind pulp, heat up some water (you can always add more if you need to) until almost boiling, and stir in your pulp. According to one of my favorite Time-Life Foods of the Worlds books, you need 2 oz. tamarind pulp to 1 cup boiling water. The liquidy bit should be the consistency of ketchup, says Chez Pim. When you’re happy with it, push it through a fine mesh sieve to get the juices. Now put ½ cup tamarind water over heat, with ½ cup fish sauce, ½ cup sugar, and however much spice you see fit. All this goes on personal taste, so if you want it spicier, or sweeter, or more sour, or perhaps, more fishy, you know what to do. Heat this up and stir together.
Now you can prepare all your other ingredients. First soak the dried shrimp in some water (I don’t think you need that many, I don’t think they’re totally necessary). Chop the chives into about 1-inch long shoots, chop the garlic finely, crush the peanuts into bits and pieces with a few substantial chunks, and get your noodles ready. To do this, you heat water up to boiling, remove from heat and put in your noodles, letting them soak until they’re flexible but still al dente because they’ll cook a lot in the pan. When you take them out of the water, make sure and put them in a bowl with plenty of oil so they don’t stick. But you should be ready now with all your other ingredients.
Get your wok ready (don’t worry, if you don’t have a wok, it’s ok. I used a non-stick pan). Put it over high heat and make sure all your ingredients are nearby and ready. Drain the dried shrimp and pat dry, take the fresh ones out of the fridge. So first, heat some oil in the pan, then throw in the garlic for just a minute. Next put in a big scoop of sauce and the noodles. Stir around to mix for a bit, then push aside and crack an egg, letting it set about 15-20 seconds, then start mixing it up, and when it’s almost all done, mix it around with the noodles. Add the dried shrimp, peanuts, fresh shrimp, and bean sprouts all with another big scoop of sauce. Cook until the shrimp just turn firm and are no longer trasparent where you de-veined them. Then you know they're done, but not overcooked (don't let them get rubbery and overdone!) Finally add the Chinese chives and turn the heat off. If you need to add more sauce, do so. Stir everything together, put onto plates, and sprinkle on some peanuts and a squirt of lime juice. Eat while hot (I definitely did...if you can't tell, I didn't even have time to wipe my plate off for presentation, I just went straight to eating). If you’re really lucky/special, you’ll have Thai beer to go with it, which is quite refreshing…

Friday, March 21, 2008

Plaisir Sucre, obviously

If there are two things that are mentioned and cooked more than anything in the foodblogging world, it would be 1) matcha (or green tea) and 2) Pierre Herme. (I think bacon used in desserts is quickly working its way up on this list, but that’s for the future to tell). I went through a phase where I wanted to make something with matcha, I’ve seen everything from opera cakes to gelato with green tea as the secret ingredient, but then it passed as I felt it was just a fad. I think Pierre Herme is here to stay. I wonder if I he just recently gained wide, international recognition, or if I just happened to notice him recently. I think it’s the latter, but he seems to be everywhere now. Not only on some of my favorite foodblogs, but even at a serious cook/baker’s shop here in Barcelona. They had stacks and stacks of chocolate molds, cake tins, pounds of pistachio paste, and of course, a few hefty Pierre Herme cookbooks.

The dessert that I’ve seen most (or probably been most attracted to, as it combines my two favorite ingredients) is the plaisir sucre. It’s a wonderful layered bit of chocolate and hazelnut flavors. First thoughts: I can’t do that, it’s too difficult…you’ll see, just google it and there are some fancy pictures of his creation, and even perfect re-creations by other bloggers. Also, it uses milk chocolate. I’m a huge fan of milk chocolate, I’ve expanded to dark chocolate lately, I know it’s better for you and blah blah, but I’ve always loved rich milk chocolate. However, when baking, dark chocolate seems to be the norm and come out better, but the plaisir sucre used all milk chocolate. Third thought: do I have the proper ingredients or equipment? Yes, and no. I’ve mentioned ground hazelnuts that you can get in Germany, I’m stocked with 3 bags (well, now 2). Thank god for them. With the equipment though, I had to use my imagination. No piping bags? No problem. Cut the corner off a Ziploc bag and pipe away.

So yes, I ended up making the plaisir sucre, and it was very good. I think the best part (that received the most compliments) was the hazelnut dacquoise with the crunchy nutella topping. One thing I did change…I just couldn’t do layer upon layer of milk chocolate (milk chocolate nutella, milk chocolate ganache, milk chocolate sheet, ganache, sheet, milk chocolate whipped cream, and final milk chocolate sheet), so I threw in a few drops of orange oil and some dark chocolate to my ganache. I think it spiced things up a bit, good to experiment.

Oh, and it wasn’t that hard. Actually pretty easy for what you might expect at first sight. And remember, mine’s not perfect, but I worked with what I had.

Plaisir Sucre
From Pierre Herme, as seen on numerous other foodblogs

135 g hazelnut powder + halves/pieces of hazelnut (hazelnuts should be roasted and peeled) for topping
150 g powdered sugar
150 g egg whites
50 g granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 170 C and line large baking sheet with parchment. Mix hazelnut powder and powdered sugar together, then whip the egg whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar as you go, until it stiff. Fold in with the hazelnut mixture. Now pipe into a rectangle on the parchment (if it’s with a Ziploc bag, so be it). Sprinkle with more hazelnuts. Bake for about 25 minutes until starting to brown, and let cool on wire rack.

crunchy chocolate
200 g Nutella
50 g milk chocolate
30 g rice krispies
15 g butter

When the dacquoise is cool, melt the chocolate and butter and mix with the Nutella and rice krispies. Spread over dacquoise, cover with another layer of parchment, and freeze overnight.(I found I had to make more of this, so make sure you have extras of everything in case you need to put more on).

orange ganache
115 g cream
125 g milk chocolate
50 g dark chocolate
a drop or two of orange essence

Boil cream and pour over the chocolate, stirring until smooth, then add orange, continue to stir. Then let cool.

chocolate sheets
160 g milk chocolate

Temper and spread onto parchment paper, but not too thin b/c then it will break when trying to remove from parchment. When it starts setting, cut into little rectangles and keep in the fridge. (Try and keep all the rectangles the same size, and cut them how big you plan on cutting your dacquoise).
whipped chocolate cream
200 ml heavy cream
50-100 grams milk chocolate, melted

Whip the cream, until it has stiff peaks. Fold in the melted chocolate until everything is mixed well. Keep in fridge until you need it.
Now you’re ready to assemble everything. Take out your dacquoise from the freezer and cut into rectangles. Be careful, it is breakable, some of mine crumble, but if you insert the knife carefully, it should be ok. Now that you have your rectangles, spread them with a thin layer of ganache so that the chocolate sheet will stick. Now you guessed it, a chocolate sheet, ganache again, a chocolate sheet, and finally some blobs of whipped cream (if you have an actual pastry bag, you could pipe some onto it and it might look nicer, but I had already tossed my makeshift pastry bag, so I spooned it on). And the last step is to top it off with another chocolate rectangle sheet. Some people garnish it with a hazelnut, or the initials PH, but I just left it simple. I strongly urge you to make it if you have any interest in chocolate, hazelnut, chocolate and hazelnut, or desserts.

P.S. These are obviously two differenet plaisir sucres...I couldn't wait for the ganache to harden in the second one, and had to eat it, but in the first one you see the ganache fully set. I kind of like the texture and color contrast of the second one, though.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cupcake Spectacular

Oh cupcakes. To most they will be a reminder of childhood, in which case they either came homemade or grocery-store-bought, with neon pink, sugary icing and blue confetti. They’ve really made a comeback in the past few years, and are now starting to take on interesting flavors (why didn’t people ever think of it before?). Maybe there was no need to stray from the regular vanilla or chocolate cupcake with buttercream frosting, I don’t think there necessarily is now, no one can deny its simple American goodness, like brownies or chocolate chip cookies. But now people are having fun with cupcakes.

Before this Cupcake Spectacular, I think the most exciting variations I experimented with my cupcakes was rainbow chip icing (and I think that’s plenty exciting. I’d be eating it right now but a) I cannot get rainbow chip icing in Spain, and b) I would end up like Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her, sitting on the couch eating tubs of it). I also can’t remember the last time I made cupcakes, it might’ve been a while ago, so this is a good excuse to do it. Oh, and another reason I haven’t made them here—I don’t have a cupcake tray. I stuck my cupcake paper holders inside little soufflé dishes.

But as I said, now it’s time to have fun with cupcakes, and expand my horizons. I’m not at the level of Cupcake Bakeshop, but I’m exploring. I’ve done this flavor combination before, I’m sure lots of people have, but that’s probably because it just makes sense: orange and rosemary. It works well together. Orange is easy to get into desserts, but rosemary, that’s another thing. I didn’t want huge hunks of rosemary inside cakey softness, so in came the pestle and mortar. If you don’t have one, find some other heavy equipment or something that will crush it into a powder. I normally go straight for cream cheese frosting, it’s definitely my favorite, but I’m here to try new things, hence white chocolate frosting to accompany my cupcakes.

Rosemary Orange Cupcakes with White Chocolate Frosting
Vanilla cupcakes adapted from Magnolia Bakery

½ c (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature (113.5 g)
1 c sugar (200 g)
2 large eggs, room temperature
1-1/3 c all-purpose flour (167 g)
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
½ c milk (118.5 g)
a few rosemary sprigs(dried or fresh, but I think fresh will be stronger), ground to a fine powder with a pestle and mortar
orange flavoring

Preheat oven to 350 F (170 C). Beat butter until soft, then add the sugar and mix together until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time and mix between each addition. Mix the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a bowl, then add to the butter mixture and stir well to combine. Now add the milk, mix everything together well. Finally, add a drop or two of orange flavoring, depending on how strong it is, and press the rosemary powder through a fine mesh sieve, and give the batter a final stir to incorporate everything. Fill cupcake holders about 2/3 full and put in the oven until a toothpick comes out almost clean, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool.

White Chocolate Icing

1 stick (½ c) butter, room temperature (113.5 g)
1 ½ c powdered sugar
about ½ c white chocolate, melted (or 100 g)
2 Tbsp milk

First mix butter and powdered sugar together, then add the white chocolate, and depending on what kind of consistency you want, add the milk. Now frost the cupcakes, and decorate with a sprig of rosemary.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Texas Tea Cakes

Tea cakes mean something different anywhere you go, or depending on who you talk to, or where you go, even within the States. To me, there’s only one kind of tea cake and it’s all that matters, and it comes from a little place in Nashville, Tennessee called Ham’n’Goodys. The name alone says it all (the tea cakes can be classified in the latter part, or a ‘goody’). I used to live in Nashville and I don’t think through all my four years there I had something savory; it was hard to go and not crack under the display of cookies and cakes and freshly glazed tea cakes. Even their strawberry cake was delicious (and I’m a chocolate girl).

But these tea cakes are really the draw at Ham’n’Goodys. They are literally the talk of the town, at least the limited college community I was involved in, but man, they leave a mark on you. They were thick, round patties of cake-like cookies that were always so soft, and turned to liquid in your mouth, and they were iced with almond flavor glaze. These could change your day, your week, or possibly your life. They’re also perfect fresh, but keep pretty well, it’s not necessary to have a hot one because they somehow retain that ability to melt in contact with your tongue.

So now the problem, after not living near them, becomes recreating them. I was desperate one time and searched for them on the internet, but of course got all kinds of recipes for tea cakes. Then I searched for ingredients and found something called ‘sweetie cookies’ or something like that, and I think it’s close enough. These are pretty dang good. You got to remember to roll the dough out thick though, so the cookie’s not too thin and crispy, and it’ll end up being more of a cakey cookie.

One note about the shape of these cookies: I realize I was inspired by a place in Tennessee, but I am in fact a Texan, so any chance I get to display that and make it known to others, I take advantage of it.

Texas Tea Cakes

1 cup butter (227 g)
2 cups sugar (400 g)
3 eggs
2 tsp almond extract (which I couldn’t find here, so I used Amaretto di Saronno)
4 cups flour (500 g)
1 Tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp salt

1 cup powdered sugar (120 g)
½ tsp almond extract (once again, Amaretto, which was a pretty good substitute)
2 tsp plus 1 Tbsp evaporated milk

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add almond extract, flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, and salt. Chill dough thoroughly (I know how hard it is to wait for this, and I was thinking it’s not necessary, but it’s really hard to roll if you don’t. Blast it in the freezer for a few minutes while you clean up and take out portions as you roll).
Roll chilled dough into sheets and use your favorite cookie cutter (if it so happens to be the state of Texas, all the better), cut and put on baking tray, but not too close together, because they spread a lot. Bake until the edges are set, but not very dark, you want them to be very soft. Take out, let cool slightly, and mix the glaze ingredients together. You can glaze the cookies while still warm. At first I tried to keep the glaze within the state borders, but as it was very runny, it would sometime run over the edges, so it’s up to you it you glaze the whole state and let it cover every inch, or if you’re a bit cleaner in your icing. Enjoy, and god bless tea cakes (and Texas!).

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Margarita Cheesecake

Remember that Tex-Mex night I had? Well, I need to have one again. I’m working on supplies, although today at the store I saw some cheddar (I know, it’s nothing compared to Velveeta, but it could be a good substitute). Anyways, I still haven’t posted about the dessert we had. There are a couple Mexican desserts that come into my mind, but once again, it’s hard to find the ingredients necessary, and they’re nothing that will blow your mind. If I were to make something Tex-Mex, it would be sopapillas (delicious fried, puffy tortillas covered with honey) or tres leches cake, but you know how I’m partial to cheesecake. I just took this as another opportunity to expand my growing cheesecake menu.

Some people might disagree with me, but you can never have too much Margarita. I’m not speaking strictly of the drink, and this is why I don’t say ‘too many.’ I wanted to make a margarita cheesecake, which I thought would be fairly successful and simple. Most plain cheesecakes are flavored with lemon, so why not put lime instead, and then add a few extra flavors, like tequila and salt? At first I thought of putting all the flavors in one layer of cheesecake, but I realized that alcohol usually doesn’t come out very strong after being cooked in cheesecake (I’ve experienced this before. You have to use a lot for a little flavor). Not that I want to put people over the edge with the dessert, but I want you to know you’re eating a margarita cheesecake, not a lime cheesecake that tastes a bit like something else. The solution? Salty crust, lime cheesecake, and a shot of tequila (this last bit was a stroke of genius on my part at the last minute, before I had been thinking of doing a separate layer of tequila). The only problem is that shot of tequila might be hard to get down after a dinner already laced with margaritas, but it’s nice to sip on between bites.

I’m just going to link back to my first, plain cheesecake because you basically follow that recipe to a tee, with a few exceptions, which I’ll note below. iAndale!

Margarita Cheesecake

Follow this recipe with the following changes:
-In the cookie and butter mixture for the crust, add about ½ - 1 tsp of salt (or as much as you can handle. I put in a whole lot, and you could definitely tell, but it was balanced with the rich, fatty cheesecake, and of course the tequila)
-In the cheese mixture, instead of lemon, use the juice and zest of 2-3 small/medium limes, and a drop of lime flavoring if you have it

Now serve with a shot of tequila (I think silver would go down smoother than gold, but it’s your pick), and remember to sip slowly…

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Cousin Calçot

I did something very Catalan the other day. I ate calçots and romesco sauce. Unfortunately I can’t say I went to a calçotada, but I did make my own romesco, so that’s good. Now for an explanation: calçots are in the onion family. You could say they’re the Catalan cousin of leek and spring onion, but they don’t really like to leave Catalunya, they don’t even have a Spanish translation. Cousin Calçot loves to hang out in the countryside, that’s where he thrives, especially at huge group, with lots of people gathering just in his honor, they even call it a calçotada. Calçot is pretty close to a special red sauce, romesco. They always go together, especially at these calçotadas.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been to a calçotada, but I’ve heard about them, and it doesn’t sound like a bad deal. Lots of people hanging out in Spanish spring weather, drinking cava and wine, eating grilled calçots dipped in romesco sauce.

I should go, but until then, I have my back-up plan: a grill pan that I put over my burner, and some homemade romesco. I’ve never heard of calçots outside of Catalunya, but I think you could grill up some spring onions (cousin Spring Onion, that is) if you want a substitute.

You can find romesco at most grocery stores here, regular or gourmet brands. The strange thing is when I’ve asked my Catalan friends what’s in it, they’ve said, “oh, I don’t know, lots of things, almonds…?” I never really got a straight answer. I knew it was a red pepper based sauce (here they’re called piquillo peppers, I think they’re like small red bell peppers),

but the strange thing is none of the ingredients of the store-bought jars list peppers. The first ingredient is usually almonds and hazelnuts, followed by tomatoes somewhere in there, but not peppers, which I’m pretty sure is the authentic way. Anyways, not being able to use some fancy jarred romesco as a loose guide, I went to one of my favorite websites, There I found a really good recipe for romesco, and I only slightly changed it.

Romesco Sauce
Adapted from

1/3 c whole blanched almonds, toasted
1 slice firm white sandwich bread, crust discarded and bread torn into pieces
1 large garlic cloves
½ tsp dried hot red pepper flakes (or one little, crushed hot red pepper)
½ c coarsely chopped drained bottled roasted red peppers (I didn’t drain, and that way I didn’t have to add olive oil, you can add some of the juice if the sauce is too thick)
1 small-medium ripe tomato
2 Tbsp white-wine vinegar
½ tsp salt, or to taste

Easy: grind everything together in a food processor until you get a thick sauce, but consistency can be changed by adding red pepper juice or olive oil. Serve with calçots if you can get them, or one of its cousins if you can’t (spring onion, leek) or any sort of grilled vegetable.