AlexRast's Profile

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Help with a chcolate cake recipe

This will require some experimentation no doubt because a fairly complex recipe like this has been finely tuned, in all probability. Actually, what it looks like they may have done, based on the ingredients list, is started out with a fairly basic chocolate cake recipe and then experimented with various "tweaks" to see whether they could come out with a better recipe. In general, though, my thoughts are these.

1) Yes, you could certainly substitute milk chocolate for dark, although it will have a small effect on the outcome; the cake will be a bit more tender, less dense. Also when melting milk chocolates you need lower temperatures.

2) Discard the coffee altogether. That simply yields a darker, roastier flavour. In fact, even for the dark version I'd be tempted to discard it anyway; if the intent is to create a *mocha* flavoured cake then coffee is a good addition but for a *chocolate* cake it alters the flavour. Coffee is often used in an attempt to disguise poor chocolate - for that scenario the better choice is, self-evidently, to use better chocolate.

3. However, I also notice that they use buttermilk, presumably for the acid. My actual guess is that their basic recipe may have been something like a devil's food cake that relies on acid/alkali reaction without baking powder (hence the non-Dutch cocoa recommendation) to provide rise; this would also explain the use of baking soda as well. In that scenario, coffee would add additional acidity. Finally, with chocolates and cocoas particularly of West African origin (by far the most common), a high acid content helps to prevent what is often a tannic, astringent quality resulting from the basic bean variety used. Again this second problem is solved with better-quality chocolate. If you want a high-acidity chocolate the best origin is Madagascar and the obvious choice of chocolate would be Michel Cluizel Mangaro Lait 50%. However, I'm not sure acidity is what you want in a milk chocolate cake anyway; it's more commonly used for dark chocolate flavours. Assuming that's the case, I would use whole milk instead of buttermilk. Lower acid, which means you will have to substitute baking powder for the baking soda.

4) As for the cocoa, yes, no doubt that's contributing to the dark-chocolate flavour. However by inverting their choice, and going for a Dutch-processed cocoa, you'll end up with a milder, more milk-chocolate-style flavour. Possibly Valrhona cocoa powder, one of the better Dutch-processed varieties. It will yield a darker colour, but don't associate that with stronger flavour.

5) I see the recipe uses oil, possibly to compensate for the drying effect of all that cocoa powder (cocoa powder is very good at removing moisture). However, for a milk chocolate like effect, it might be worth experimenting with butter or clarified butter. The result will almost certainly be crumblier, less silky; whether or not you find this acceptable will depend a lot on personal preference.

6) Don't underestimate how much using a milk chocolate ganache for the icing will make the resulting cake seem in a "milk chocolate style" regardless of how the cake bit turns out. If you look at the relative amounts of chocolate in each it's clear in any case most of the chocolate is actually in the icing. Milk chocolate ganache is hard to make. You need to monitor the temperature very carefully, not overstir, not let it get too hot. Don't boil the cream, bring it to hot but not boiling. Whisking isn't the best technique, while the mixture is hot; at most, stir very gently and slowly with a smooth folding motion. If the intent is to create a fairly light, air-bulked frosting in American style, then whisk as the mixture starts to cool and stiffen. You can start when it stiffens noticeably. On the other hand, if the intent is to create a denser, thicker icing in French style, then don't whisk at all; merely gently fold and then pour. The recipe they have would create a quite stiff ganache, though, so it's likely they want at least some aeration, unless the intent is a hard icing in English style. I would consider both corn syrup and sugar entirely optional for a milk chocolate ganache too; it's just adding sweetness and a bit of additional stability. The additional sweetness may be too much of a price to pay for a small increase in stability.

Let me emphasise here that you should take my suggestions as ideas for experimentation rather than exacting directions for how to adapt a recipe. Adapting cake recipes is quite difficult to do "by eyeball"; you almost always have to try it and see how it turns out; certainly I have no particular confidence that my suggestions will lead to any specific outcome.

Dec 09, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Please give your recommended recipes that use unsweetened chocolate - thank you!

Yes, I know Chocosphere very well.

"Belgian" chocolate is almost always Callebaut, occasionally Belcolade. Also Cacao Barry is part of Barry Callebaut, although they have separate branding (for the moment).

Good to hear the brownies turned out well. Indeed, that's my own recipe. I've never tried them warm, though - I leave to cool completely and then allow them to mature for 3 days (yes, the brownies actually improve with a certain amount of time to sit). I'd think the centre would be a bit fluid while still warm. What was it like?

Dec 08, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

How to make thin soup with strong mushroom flavor?

I would just simmer some mushrooms in a pot for a while, then reduce just as you would for a meat reduction. You can do multiple simmerings, with a new lot of mushrooms added, to concentrate the flavour. Like meats, mushroom stocks can be simmered for a very long time indeed - it's feasible to do for 24 hours. When you're finished the colour will be very dark brown indeed.

As mentioned by some posters, the very best are ceps (porcini). Dried ones lend a stronger flavour than fresh (perhaps surprisingly). But even ordinary brown mushrooms do a splendid job.

Dec 08, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Please give your recommended recipes that use unsweetened chocolate - thank you!


340 g unsweetened chocolate
400 g muscovado (dark brown) sugar - the darker, the better.
150 g unsalted butter
150 g (by weight) strong white bread flour
3 (UK large) eggs
1 vanilla bean
A generous pinch of salt - perhaps 5 g

Thoroughly grease a 23cm/9" square baking pan. Preheat the oven to 175C/350 F.

Melt the chocolate over a double-boiler. Using a wooden spoon, mix the sugar, butter, salt and the scraped insides of the vanilla bean until fully blended, minimising air incorporation (do not cream). Mix in the melted chocolate. Add the eggs one at a time, blending fully to incorporate each one before adding the next. Mix in the flour, using vigorous motions to develop the gluten to the degree possible (the mixture should become very stiff). Spread into the prepared pan; you will probably have to squash it down with a palette knife to get it uniformly spread. Bake for about 25-30 minutes; the point to take them out is when the aroma becomes densely chocolatey; be sure not to overbake or they will scorch and dry. Allow to cool and then cut into squares.

A note on the brown sugar. I use Billington's Molasses Sugar. Billington's generally, I think, makes the very best sugars; their molasses sugar is the darkest. (its colour is basically the same as a good dark chocolate). Light-brown sugar; anything with a tan colour, would probably be OK but it won't have the same dense richness.

Curious about the brand of the chocolate "chips". If you say large that actually usually means baking drops, e.g. Callebaut "callets", Valrhona pastilles, Felchlin pastilles, Guittard baking drops, etc. etc. Do you have a label on the bag? Some unsweetened chocolates are better than others...

Dec 07, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

I'd like to, but I've never tried homemade . . .

Soda bread doesn't really require any particular "trick" but there are some points worth noting.

The very best soda bread is made with sour milk, not with buttermilk (although buttermilk is perfectly honourable). Getting genuinely sour milk is difficult in modern times; it's achievable if you buy "pasteurised" rather than "ultra-pasteurised" or "UHT" milk, but the window is short; a day or so. It goes from sweet to borderline but still drinkable to sour in about 48 hours. From that point you have about 24 hours to use it before it curdles, separates, and goes completely bad.

White pastry flour is best; something low-protein (9-10%). Ordinary plain white flour is OK but can turn out heavy. Strong bread flour works badly. Don't use self-rising flour because it's got baking powder, which sort of defeats the objective. It will be said, though, that baking powder doesn't do any irrevocable damage.

Adding a bit of butter will also improve the texture; rub it into the flour before adding the milk. When mixing and shaping the dough, work quickly and with a light touch; like making scones, the critical point here is not to overmix but just get it to hold together. Don't use any strong kneading either.

A HOT oven is critical. At last 225C/435F and even better at 250C/480F to start. After about 15 minutes you can reduce the temperature to 200C/400F to prevent the bottom from burning. The dough should go into the oven literally the second you've finished shaping it.

If I were to guess from what you've said what's going on in your case, my conjecture would be that you're working too slowly and carefully. It's literally one of those things that you have to "throw" together.

Dec 07, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

I'd like to, but I've never tried homemade . . .

Thanks for the suggestion. The real problem is that I want actual smooth hazelnut and almond butter, not coarse-ground, which as I understand it is about as well as food processors can do. Also, I prefer almond butter raw - not for any health-related reasons; I just prefer the flavour. Roasted almond butter seems to me a bit "generic", too much like other nut butters; the flavour of the roast predominates. Likewise I'd like raw hazelnut butter.

Not as interested, really, in cashewnut butter; or for that matter most of the very oily, soft nuts that easily grind into butters; the nuts I'd prefer (in order of preference, first to last) are hazelnut, almond, pistachio. I've *never* seen raw hazelnut butter. Raw almond butter is available, pre-ground, without too much difficulty - the issue here is one of freshness. I've also never seen pistachio butter at all.

*Really* effective general-purpose grinders are very difficult to find; I've been offered suggestions (some on CH) for this several times but all have turned out not really to be what I'm looking for - usually because the milling fineness isn't good enough, and often because they're not designed to handle certain types of foods. Oily ones in particular are difficult.

I've made chocolate myself before; a difficult process requiring similar equipment; I did manage to bodge together some DIY machinery but it was very temporary and not something I'd really care to repeat.

Dec 07, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Address our concerns, please

There is a BIG problem with this policy, and it doesn't affect just Chowhound but many other sites. The justification "for privacy reasons we won't discuss..." or similar wording indicating the site will absolutely NOT offer any concrete explanation of why a given post was deleted to a person, even in private, whose post is deleted, is in essence unethical. It pronounces a summary judgement while giving the "deletee" no ablity to explain or elaborate their own reasons for doing what they did, and no appeal of the decision, while at the same time offering no specific rationale for the decision to delete. Any reasonable ethical standard recognises the need for accused parties to be able on the one hand to understand the specific accusations being brought against them and on the other to defend their actions. Systems that do not are tyrannical and prejudicial.

(As a side issue this also indicates that ethically there are necessary limits to the right to privacy, it should be noted.)

Without access to the specific reasons why specific posts were deleted (this access need not be made public but does need to be provided on demand to those whose posts have been deleted), the comment "rest assured that before any action is taken we do a careful and thorough analysis" is not credible. For similar reasons any claims CH might make that they are not accusing anyone of anything are equally invalid. Deletion of a post without explanation is a de facto accusation. The people involved have no way of verifying this allegation and therefore capricious deletion of the posts must be seen as an equally possible and plausible explanation. Such a policy certainly provides a convenient shield for arbitrary decisions made by anyone within the organisation, even if arbitrary removal is not "official" policy.

Meanwhile if the problem is that threat of potential lawsuits is so great in CH's eyes that they feel it necessary to try to give themselves every possible legal advantage while systematically denying it to others then they need to evaluate their own fears. But if those fears are actually genuine, and the likelihood is near 100% that CH would go out of business without these policies, then they need to reevaluate their business model because it is untenable. And if a thorough business assessment indicates that NO business model could be successful, that the threat of lawsuits is sovereign against all businesses unwilling to adopt unethical tactics in the name of self-defence, then the legal structure of liability in Western society needs to be completely reformed from the ground up, because were this situation to be the case, then society would have completely lost one of its necessary properties: general trust between parties operating in good faith.

Short ribs vs. oxtails?

With other posters, I would also advise the oxtails. Very rich flavour indeed. Also consider getting enough additional meat with some good gelatinous bones for a stock. DON'T make the stock with the tails you intend to eat; make it with other meat which will be discarded after the stock has been made by simmering for 12 or perhaps 24 hours). Only then, after skimming, use it with the oxtails. Stewing oxtails in a rich beef stock will futher intensify both the flavour and the richness. Some sort of stew, generally, will be the best choice - start with a base of well-caramelised onions and also sear the oxtails themselves in the pot you'll use for the stewing. Other than that, what else you add is completely a matter of what final flavours you want to achieve.

You could also consider stewing the oxtails until tender, allowing to cool, and then baking in a pie (after de-boning) - particularly warming for winter.

I see one poster has commented on low ratio of meat to bone. That sounds like they've only ever seen the tip bones. You want the big ones close to the base of the tail that are heavy and very meaty; they should each be about the size of a large apple. Don't neglect the smaller ones; they are also very nice, but most of the meat is in the bigger ones.

Dec 04, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Globe article on local chocolate

As you already know, I think, Taza is something of an acquired taste; certainly the coarse texture is different from what most people would expect.

Bean-to-bar manufacturers are almost always more interesting that couverture remoulders, if only because if you want the couverture it's usually easy enough to get it from the original manufacturer at a fraction of the price.

That said, very new B2B manufacturers have a tendency to be "experimental" without yet having fully mastered their craft, and quality can be uneven to say the least. You want people who have at least enough process maturity to understand what fine chocolate is like and what you need to do to get it.

I would therefore go for Rogue Chocolatier, who have an established reputation and good chocolate. Balao is very nice. I have not tried the Jamaica or Porcelana yet so can't comment but there's no reason to expect they won't be good. Beware, though, that Jamaica as an origin can be uneven due to indifferent post-harvest processing (ferment, drying, storage). Also "Porcelana" is used (one might say abused, in some circumstances) to cover a bewildering variety of possibly-white-bean cacaos, without any necessary genetic link to the "true" Porcelana of the Maracaibo region in Venezuela (and also grown to great success at Hacienda San Jose on the other side of the country). So like anything precious you have to approach things with some caution or at least awareness of the market situation.

Dec 02, 2014
AlexRast in Greater Boston Area

I'd like to, but I've never tried homemade . . .

Brioches (because of the labour involved; not intimidated by the technical challenges. But on the other hand, I've made croissants successfully)

Phyllo (I understand this really does require practice, and a large work surface)

Nut butters - especially hazelnut and almond (requires special milling equipment that can grind these nuts very fine and can handle oils - not easy to acquire or even find. Would love it if someone has some sources for them)

Hazelnut and almond praliné (combination of technique and equipment required)

Macaroons (The trouble here is that Pierre Hermé is just too available relative to the number of times I really want one)

Doughnuts (Same situation as brioches, with the additional complications and risks associated with deep frying)

Dec 02, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Rule #1...always...

Nuts go from slightly brown to completely burnt in a flash. Literally, seconds count. The smaller they are, the more the problem is exacerbated. Unfortunately, your rebellion is probably doomed unless you can develop a sixth sense for the timing.

Nov 26, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Which foods do you wish were more popular?

High-quality, non-sourdough white bread. Hard to find almost everywhere. You usually have to make a determined search. Usually at modern quality bakers the choices are between sourdough whites and various forms of variety breads (non-white). Even guidebooks tend to be of little help thanks to a quirk in the English language that mean that almost all "bakeries" listed in such books turn out to be pastry bakeries much more than bread bakeries.

High-quality, plain chocolate layer cakes. NOT some fussy French-style gâteau, although don't be mistaken, these can be lovely, just not what I seek. Just chocolate sponge with chocolate icing. Dismal versions of these abound, as do excellent French-style pastries. But not good plain chocolate cakes.

Blueberries. For some reason, they've never been particularly popular. I can't understand why. They're one of my favourite fruits, less tart than the other summer berries and with a denser, "heavier" flavour. Incidentally, for those interested, I've found that consistently the "Star" varietal is markedly superior to all others (other than wild bilberries, of course). Get them if you can.

Barley. Obvious reason here: most of it is ingested in liquid form. But as a grain, it's easily my favourite.

Porridge. A stodgy reputation does no favours for it. But it's unrivalled in winter as a warming breakfast. And it's astonishingly versatile too: in addition to plain porridge, you can add all variety of things to it.

Beef fore rib roasting joints. Sadly, even here in England, most of the fore rib is disappearing into steaks. The classic roast is almost disappearing into the past.

Chuck joints. This is now disappearing into mince. Good braises, pot roasts, steak and kidney puddings, and all sorts of other wintry things are becoming harder and harder to make.

Chocolate hazelnut spreads that aren't Nutella. In Germany this is almost a national obsession. Why can't we have the same thing here? The world of chocolate spreads is so much more (and so much better) than Nutella.

Gianduja. Along similar lines to the above. Like the above, a national obsession - in Italy this time. Why not here?

Nov 25, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

What type of cuisine do you NOT like?

The "barrier" I see in this discussion is conceptual:

Making statements about cuisines you do and do not like in no sense necessarily means any sort of implied value judgement about the cuisine, much less the culture and people, of a region or country.

And for the same reasons, making suggestions to someone about cuisines or dishes they ought to try in no sense necessarily means any sort of implied value judgement about the person to whom suggestions are being made.

A conversation that must limit itself to flat statements of "I like X" or "I don't like Y" without explanation, further discussion, or debate is sterile and will degenerate into banality.

Taste is one of the most strongly hard-wired of the senses when it comes to our reaction, and it is unrealistic to imagine that most people don't have strong preferences, or that you can arbitrarily put aside or change your strong preferences.

But by the same token taste isn't entirely subjective; there is an element of basic quality (or lack thereof), and of shared preferences, that cuts across personal and even cultural divides. You can't avoid noticing good food when it's put in front of you.

That's why like/no-like conversations can be interesting: you learn something more about the person you are talking with, and maybe you learn something more about foods you're talking about. I make a plea to all not to reduce conversation either to a duel of ad hominem attacks or to empty banalities by becoming too concerned about value judgements where none may exist.

Nov 25, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Rule #1...always...

And also, before going out on a major shopping expedition (particularly for a festive occasion such as Christmas), check your stock to see what you have and don't have for what you plan on making. Could save an embarrassing gap in the table.

Nov 23, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

What are your 3 favorite cuisines to cook other than your own?

1) Turkish
2) Italian
3) Mexican

An interesting aspect of this question I think is that 3 favourite *to prepare* may not necessarily be the same as 3 favourite, because of things like ingredient and equipment availabilities, recipe repertoire, and specific cooking skills required. There are also some cuisines where at least the well-known dishes are elaborate and time-consuming, making them something you might do more rarely simply because of the practicalities.

Nov 23, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

What type of cuisine do you NOT like?

For me, Indian, Thai. Which is a far cry from saying either wouldn't be well-received if offered or have nothing I don't greatly like, but is to say that, asked to choose, they'd probably be my last choice. Generally, South Asian cuisines tend to be my least favourite. And it's definitely not from lack of exposure or low quality. The flavour combinations to me tend to have a quality that would be the gustatory equivalent of dissonance.

Nov 22, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

2015 Guides

Late reply, but to your question on my opinions, what I'm saying is close to your point:

"4) Also want to note that even places studiously presenting solely the products of traditional local hand labor — right down the handwritten daily chalkboard— is meant to appeal to the luxury/elite in 2014. To be poor is to have little option but to consume what is mass produced."

The first part of my post was saying that essentially this is the dynamic that prevails. Price and quality don't necessarily have a "reliably discernible relationship" in the sense of some sort of deterministic linear curve. Certainly I'm not saying there aren't cheap places where the food is good, nor expensive and elite places where the food is disappointing. There is a broad, noisy correlation between price and quality, so that *statistically* you're likely to find better quality at higher price, but this relation applies statistically rather than on a case-by-case basis.

But if you want the *ultimate possible* version of a given dish, where no compromise whatsoever is made on ingredients, preparation, or anything else, that's not going to come for free. So "elite" restaurants with higher budgets can in principle probably prepare a better version of most things. That's not to say that they actually will but they have the budget to try harder if they want to. When in comes to guides, meanwhile, they have to distinguish between the very good and the ultimate possible. That makes it virtually certain that the places selected at the very top - representing "ultimate possible" are going to be "elite" restaurants. You can disagree with their particular choice of restaurant but the pattern would be likely to hold.

The second part of my post acknowledges the existence of "an entire class of restaurants and restaurant clientele that is really only aiming to please a very small group of diners whose passion is experimental food" and like you doesn't see anything wrong with that as a category, but on the other hand I *do* lament the relative paucity of "elite" restaurants with no particular aspirations to experimental cuisine and a strong grounding in local tradition - because of market forces.

I have to agree with you on

"5) In Italy today, the percentage of restaurant-goers dearly hoping to be the only non-local in a restaurant is getting pretty huge."

As you imply this is unrealistic, and I have to wonder, why should that really be a criterion anyway? It doesn't correlate particularly well to quality.

Nov 19, 2014
AlexRast in Italy

Fish & Chips - What kind of fish do you like?

Cod and haddock are, of course, (as Harters says) the common options - the ones every chippy will have.

Personal preference, when they have it, though, for me is plaice. White side if they can (the top side has grey skin, the bottom side white) Along with sole, it's in the "next tier" of common but not universal. However it's (plaice) ubiquitous in Conwy and Llandudno. Neither fish, incidentally, is more than trivially more expensive than either cod or haddock. Not many have "expensive" options. Every now and then you see John Dory.

Nov 13, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Christmas Dinner: Adults-Individual Beef Wellingtons; Kids-???

Echoing other posters, why do you think the kids wouldn't enjoy it? I think most kids would love it - Beef Wellington is packed with flavours that are well-received by almost everyone; nothing intimidating (or even particularly strongly-flavoured) in it. Make them a little smaller than you would for the adults but otherwise identically and they should be very happy.

Nov 13, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Kuching; Singapore: Worth visiting

Just came back from a conference in Kuching, Malaysia. Not necessarily a city where, I suspect, the crowds are going (not the foodie crowds, at least) but some places very much worth visiting.

First, on the way there, taking advantage of an almost full-day layover in Singapore, I stopped there for lunch. Considerations of logistical practicality made me consider central options that didn't involve impossible bookings or "event" restaurants which led to an obvious choice of the Blue Ginger. This well-known Peranakan place ticked all the right boxes for me. Smaller than I expected, I'll say (it can't have been more than about 10 tables (or maybe I didn't see an entire additional section) but clearly popular, and with the locals. Location makes it a spot where a lot of people seem to "drop in". Relaxed, informal cafe-like atmosphere, the kind of place that's unintimidating for anyone. Service was effective but unremarkable.

So I had:

Ngo Heong (fried pork/prawn rolls)
Udang Nonya (sautéed whole prawns)
Ayam Buah Keluak (rich chicken stew with black Buah Keluak nuts)

The Ngo Heong are awe-inspiring. Perfectly crisp outside, succulent and flavourful filling. I could gobble these all day. Desperately addictive. Udang Nonya was OK but then again, I've had prawn dishes like this all over Southeast Asia (and elsewhere) and so it felt a little generic. But the execution was perfect, as good as you'll get for what's on offer. The Ayam Buah Keluak, though, is a life-changer. I've not had those nuts before. It cannot be imagined how rich these are, almost chocolatey. I can see why they offer additional ones for extra charge (and how difficult it would be to resist piling them on) The chicken, meanwhile, was among the most flavourful I've had, and braised properly, not overdone. I'm not going to say the Blue Ginger, on the whole, is a restaurant that will transform your life, but it proved ideal for a good lunch for me. I'd unhesitatingly stop again if going to Singapore. Excellent value all things considered.

On the value front, Kuching will be hard to beat. VERY reasonable prices everywhere for everything, almost a steal. They like their cake there. Those who have been will know Kek Lapis; you can't miss it really. 2 shops on Jalan Bishopsgate compete for the best, I think; in another league from the numerous sellers along Main Bazaar. These 2 are Maria Kek Lapis and Liza Kek Lapis. It must be understood that these cakes are impossibly rich, so much so that they literally ooze with butter (and yes, literally means *literally*!) Of the 2 Maria Kek Lapis is marginally the more butter-overloaded, Liza the one with the more interesting and perhaps more balanced flavours. However, the fluorescent-green pandan Kek Lapis from Maria is a thing of beauty. No need to stop with one: try both shops; they are literally across the street from each other.

On the whole the hawker centres are fairly ordinary; most of them won't really give you anything beyond basic eating (albeit at preposterously cheap prices); it's definitely a case of you-get-what-you-pay-for. There is one exception, which is so well known by all in the city that at night there is a constant stream of people into it, almost like crowds gathering for a concert: Top Spot. Fish is what's on offer here, all gloriously fresh, and vegetables too, same thing: it's the freshness that stands out. You can basically assemble your own meal and tell them what you want done. I opted for steamed pomfret with a simple dish of carrots, mushrooms and mange-touts. Again freshness was the key; they didn't overdo the preparation and let the ingredients speak for themselves. Particularly brilliant fish. It's not the cheapest option in Kuching, but undoubtedly it's one of the best

But the star visit, and really the reason for this report, is the one place in Kuching that is a destination unto itself, reason to visit the city in its own right: The Dyak. Clearly this is a restaurant with ambitions on an entirely higher order from the rest of Kuching. Much more formal, fine-dining ambience, but beautiful and relaxed, elegant, not stiff and snobbish. Lovely service; the waitresses there exemplify what good service should be about. Attentive and efficient, friendly, yet they don't get in the way either. Most of the dishes here have names and ingredient combinations you probably won't be familiar with (or remember in their entirety, if you're me) if you're not a local. I was so impressed overall I went there twice. Trying to decode the hand-written items what I got was (Day 1) Pusu Guring; Manuk Lulun; Palus. (Day 2) Daun Ubi, Changkuk Labu. Spellings may be wrong or entirely off.

However, the flavours are ones I will never forget. Day 1 included by far the best chicken soup I've ever had, terrific, tiny crispy anchovies, and ferns stir-fried with anchovies, crisp and spicy. Everything just explodes with flavour and has a brightness, a freshness, a lack of heaviness, that will redefine your concept of the possible. Everything is served with interesting brown rice.

Day 2 included addictive, basil-like sweet potato leaves in garlic, and surprisingly satisfying pumpkin stew with another exotic leaf. Vegetarians should note that the Dyak will be your delight; they have a LOT of vegetarian options, NONE of them anything like the "typical" offerings elsewhere. And vegetables are a particular specialty here.

There aren't many restaurants in the world that I would consider true "destination restaurants"; this is one. Not only are the flavours very different and delightful from what you'll get elsewhere, but they are prepared with consummate technical skill into something that is surely a global reference for the cuisine. I can't possibly evaluate in any sense how "authentic" it is, but with food this good, does it really matter? It's felicitous that someone is being the exponent of an unusual, unfamiliar local cuisine rather than producing yet another "internationalised" style. Let us hope the chef here doesn't succumb to temptation and decamp for the brighter lights and higher revenues of Kuala Lumpur or Singapore! We have here one of the world's great talents in what is a local treasure, something to savour hopefully for a very long time.

Can you help me replace walnut with hazelnut in this recipe?

Never. Might be a trans-Atlantic or regional expression.

...However if I specifically heard anyone say "Starbucks is life" I'd question their sanity - or at least wonder if they weren't a marketing agent for them :-D

Nov 09, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

What makes Oreos so dark?

Oreos don't actually have carbon black in them. At least not in all countries, though I can't speak for some; if it did it would have to include it in the ingredient label (possibly using an obscure e-number)

It will be said that pure carbon black is perfectly safe because it's just - carbon. (As it turns out pure carbon in amorphous form is among the blackest substances available)

But Oreos use a very particular type of cocoa specifically formulated for dark colour - "black cocoa". It's not just Dutched, although that does improve the darkness of any cocoa, it's very specifically strongly alkalised and uses particular cocoa varieties to get that very black colour.

Nov 09, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Amsterdam: Trip report

So about a year ago I posted a set of questions on restaurants in Amsterdam (which because of the way it was worded generated something of a running-debate response)

In the event a raging cold when I went that time more or less nullified any report I could have given. We come around to the same time, a year later, and this time I went without any awful diseases.

First of all, it must be said that I mentioned last year that atmosphere wasn't particularly important, but it was obvious from seeing the restaurant scene "on the ground", as it were, that atmosphere is in fact a central element, if not *the* central element, of what is thought of as mattering in Amsterdam. That goes a long way towards explaining the direction of the subsequent replies.

With a highly constrained schedule this time I focussed on central locations. This generates some no doubt predictable choices; notwithstanding some of them are worth mentioning.

3 breakfasts. The first was a simple baguette at De Bakkerswinkel. Words cannot convey the utter superiority of this loaf, one of the greatest baguettes I've had anywhere. It puts even most of the bakeries in France to shame. World-class. Based on that experience I visited again, this time going for a more comprehensive French toast, (chocolate) cake, and croissant. I can't say they were as accomplished as the bread. Serviceable, definitely. Exceptional, well, not really. It's the bread that is what I'll go for again. And again. Now a must-stop every time I'm in the city.

The other was at Gartine. Fantastic service. I can only hope they will forgive me for a rather small tip as at the end of the meal I found myself curiously short of small change. I had the raspberry/pistachio pancakes. Pancakes are a Dutch specialty of course but here they really were worth it; not a basic disc of something vaguely starchy but light yet substantial items, with plenty of flavour, and an interesting topping as well that diverged from the norm. Worth going to again although not with the same urgency as De Bakkerswinkel.

2 lunches. Interestingly I made no particular plans with respect to either; just stumbled across both. It's nice that Amsterdam has a configuration that encourages random wandering and where it's genuinely easy to simply stumble across somewhere without having to know where it is already. The first was t'Kuyltje. Finally, somewhere that can do a sandwich properly, with proper meat AND proper bread. Usually either one or the other is sort of an afterthought. Not here. I had a smoked rib-eye and a ham sandwich, both on the square white rolls. Splendid rolls, crisp outside, chewy inside, lots of flavour. The meat is even better. It's very impressive to see someone serving a "premium" cut like rib-eye as a sliced cold meat. I would say both sandwiches defined what I'd expect. One of the most obvious and best places to stop.

Second was Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs. One that definitely falls into the "it's all about the atmosphere" places. I shared a table with a fellow "stumbler-upon". Pancakes there - I had 2, one with bacon and one with strawberries and chocolate - are satisfying but I wouldn't say exceptional. It will be said though that the bacon one has an addictive quality to it. I wouldn't make any particular effort to return but then again if I were in the area at about lunchtime I wouldn't mind at all going back: in terms of time taken for reasonable food received they offer an attractive ratio of value-for-minutes. Which was a relief to me at the time because I didn't really want to take time on a long lingering lunch.

3 dinners. First was van Kerkwijk. Here is a place in an obviously Dutch idiom without making any self-conscious effort to be so or to be some sort of museum piece. Impressive job by a tiny staff (it appears: 1 waiter, one barmaid, one chef, one dishwasher) to keep pace with a heaving restaurant. Long wait (1 hour) but it was a Friday night and the place is convivial. I had steamed mussels followed by a salmon in soy sauce with bok choy and then apple pie. The mussels were the star of the evening, lovely and fresh, with just the right amount of garlic and salt; I'd had my eye on them for the entire hour while I waited. The salmon was an unexpectedly good match for the soy sauce, and in fact I tried dipping the (rather ordinary) bread in the sauce but that didn't really work. Bok choy was OK if uneventful. Apple pie was interesting, something of a cake-cum-pie take on the crust which actually worked rather well; they give you a huge slice, almost disproportionate when you consider the size of the other dishes. Excellent balance of apples and cinnamon; I think they had a few raisins in there as well. All in all a place worth waiting the hour for though don't expect eye-opening revelations.

Second was d'Vijff Vlieghen. Here is a restaurant clearly of an entirely different order in terms of ambition and refinement compared to everywhere else I went. And - if atmosphere matters in Amsterdam, this is carried over into the atmosphere which really is unforgettable and charming. Service is extraordinary, almost psychic. I admit I booked here so they could have looked me up on-line, but if they did so that shows another level of attention to customers. This is what I'd think of as being a true high-end Dutch: the menu features items that are clearly recognisable as drawing from local traditions but at the same time making an effort to rise above the usual standard. I started with a mushroom and veal stew in puff pastry shells, proceeded to cod with mashed potatoes, and finished with a warm chocolate torte with cinnamon ice cream. Relative to expectations, I would be hiding the truth if I didn't mention a slight disappointment with the starter; the stew was nice enough, but the puff pastry didn't have a really dense butteriness and the whole was served tepid; probably this is what was intended but I was expecting something hotter. All, though, was forgiven when the cod arrived. This was the precise definition of what I expect of a great restaurant: something that does conclusively better than what I can manage myself at home on a simple dish where substance matters over concept. The fish was *perfectly* cooked, with crisp skin, supple flesh, and a suffusive flavour of the freshest possible cod. And if anything the mash was better, bursting with potato flavour and properly mashed, not whipped or pureed. A dish I'll remember forever, marvellous in simplicity, impeccable in execution. After that spectacular main the dessert somehow managed to seem pedestrian in relative terms, although the ice cream was very good indeed; in any other context though it would itself be a winner. Another place I'll return to again and again.

Third was Haesje Claes. This was a simple choice that (obviously) I found on the way to d'Vijff Vlieghen. High tourist quotient here. But it seems like a place for very typical Dutch cooking. (So, indeed, do I understand, looking subsequently at reviews). Not with any a priori intent to do so, it will be said, I ordered an almost clichéd series of choices, pea soup, followed by stamppot with carrots, sausage, meatball, and bacon, then followed by semolina pudding. Glorious stodginess all round. Some people would find this leaden but I liked it: the pea soup was a textbook rendition. The stamppot was VERY satisfying (something for the depths of winter) although very much basic cooking without any aspirations to greatness. Same, really for the semolina pudding. Service is a bright spot, very attentive, friendly, no trace of a cynical mind-set which in this sort of establishment I imagine would be very easy. Not necessarily a place I'll run to return to, but on a cold winter's night it would make for a very agreeable option.

Overall, I found nothing to suggest that the reputation of Amsterdam as something of a food desert when it comes to quality is deserved. I don't feel I had a genuinely substandard meal there, although yes, you do have to get used to rather stodgy presentations (exception for van Kerkwijk). On the other hand, I do get the feeling I stayed with, for the moment, obvious choices: with more time and opportunity to venture further afield I wonder what I might discover? Time, perhaps, for a wander...

Oct 27, 2014
AlexRast in Europe

Does This Chocolate Candy Need Refrigerating?

You may not need to refrigerate but with the oil in the tahini it will take a while to set (possibly several days) if you don't fridge it, and if you've not taken care with blending to create a smooth emulsion, the mixture will separate. Fridging it gets the mass through the transition point quickly and stabilises it before it would fall out of emulsion.

Also depends on the temperature of your room. In reasonably cool conditions you will probably have better luck than at higher (>20 °C) conditions)

And it will also depend on the composition of your milk chocolate. Very fatty milk chocolates (e.g. Bonnat) will be more difficult to work with than lower-fat versions (e.g. Domori) although the final result should be equally good if perfectly done. The fattier the milk chocolate the faster it will set once tempered and mixed, because there's more solid cocoa butter to speed the setting process.

Tempering the milk chocolate might make a difference but it's likely to be slight. However if your milk chocolate is high-fat the difference will be more pronounced and I would recommend tempering first. Think of making a cream ganache - or for that matter chocolate hazelnut paste. Usually you can just melt the things together and as long as your stirring isn't too vigorous (notice how they caution against this in the recipe!) then it just comes together as an emulsion. As they recommend, make sure the tahini is *thoroughly* mixed first, and also make sure it's a fine-ground type (coarser types will give poor, strangely fudgy results)

Oct 19, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Genoa - 2 1/2 days during the floods

It seems I was in Genoa at the same time as another unfortunate CH'er. Those who were there cannot possibly forget the rain, coming down at the intensity of the most freakish cloudburst for hour upon hour. Utterly horrific. My sympathies to the people of Genoa at this time.

However you still have to eat, and some brave restaurants and businesses stayed open during the deluge. During what was surely a period of short staffing, I admire the courage of those who stayed open, as much as I sympathise with those who were forced to shut. I ended up visiting:

Trattoria Rosmarino
Gaia Vini e Cucina
Douce Patisserie
Panificio Patrone

I went to Trattoria Rosmarino at the height of the downpour on Thursday evening. We actually arrived just before the rain really started coming down, but once inside, it just started sheeting. At the time nobody paid it much heed; we all assumed it would pass. Trattoria Rosmarino could hardly be more central, in a small lane immediately off Piazza de Ferrari. The restaurant, on 2 levels, is atmospheric and cosy, vaguely formal with its linen tablecloths and fine cutlery; I'd say it was closer to a ristorante in feel in that regard. However menus are on blackboards. I give them a lot of credit for staying aggressively seasonal with a constantly changing menu.

I started out with a Ligurian classic: Brandacujun. Near-perfectly executed, the puck-shaped mass was light and balanced in flavour, not overly fishy yet with enough flavour to identify what was involved. Easily on a level of technical execution worthy of more ambitious restaurants, it set a good tone for the rest of the meal

My primo was a seafood paccheri with some bits of ham and tomatoes. I wouldn't say it was as delightful as the antipasto; merely satisfying and straightforward. The pasta was perhaps the barest shade overdone, but not to excess by any means. Gratifyingly they had removed all the shells so one was not stuck with a plateful of shells; although some may quibble that one has no certainty of freshness here it was clearly not a problem in this case.

As a secondo I took tuna done 2 ways. One was crusted and fried, the other grilled (I think; memory a bit poor here). Either way they were done to perfection. The waitress made sure I didn't have any problem with rare tuna - a thoughtful touch - so that when it arrived it really was properly rare. The crisp outside of the crusted version was particularly splendid; a very different way of presenting tuna and one that I'll remember for a while.

Only the dessert - a coffee creme brulee, was a bit of a disappointment. They have an enviable selection of dolci; I think I just happened to select the wrong one in this case. It seemed overcooked and slightly broken, and the coffee flavour wasn't as pronounced as I would have expected. I emphasise however that this is an aberration; I think generally speaking you shouldn't hesitate to order pudding here.

What I've not said, saving for last, is that what really stood out here was the service, some of the best, most welcoming, most generous I've ever seen in any restaurant. This is a standard that all restaurants in Italy ought to aspire to - capturing the essence of both personable welcome and professional care in a way that seemed so effortless, so natural as to be almost instinctive. As a result I can't recommend the Trattoria Rosmarino highly enough; a delightful place to go while in Genoa.

Second night we had a recommendation from a local to visit Eataly (normally somewhere I'd avoid), but in the event it was shut anyway; thus we ended up at Gaia. This is probably the sort of place that everyone imagines in their head when they think of Italian restaurants: in a narrow lane, with vaulted ceilings, straightforward regional menus, essentially no English spoken.

Here we started to come up against the short-staffing issue. I think there were really only 3 people to do everything: a chef, a waitress, and a waiter-cum-front-of-house man. They really showed spirit in trying to keep up things, in spite of the trying circumstances. As a result service was predictably slow, but in fairness, no slower really than a busy trattoria in Rome on a Saturday night. My Italian is improving so I can reasonably negotiate a meal without any problem but if you really aren't up to it you may find communication difficult.

After some negotiations involving dietary restrictions about what would be possible off the (gratifyingly large) menu I took a green pasta with clams and cod with mushrooms and potatoes. The pasta was serviceable; nothing really to get excited about but competently executed. A bit oily but that does seem to be the way in Genoa. However the cod was marvellous. There are times when something simply prepared, using seasonal ingredients, just comes together and so it was here. A simply steamed cod lay atop a pile of potatoes and (porcini) mushrooms stewed in the mushroom stock. Hearty and very satisfying, it had a spectacular earthiness which was exactly what I was looking for after having been soaked several times over the last 2 days (although I was dry at the time).

I opted to finish with a chocolate hazelnut cake. No pretense here; this was something like you'd get in a traditional home, not a poshed-up torta in fine pasticceria style, simple ingredients tasting of themselves. Again I wouldn't say it was spectacular or world-changing but as an end to a meal it was quite pleasant; which seems to sum up Gaia. You're not going to come here for culinary innovation or displays of technical prowess; you're coming for simple food done basically but competently. It's the ideal place for an evening where you just need to eat, don't need to be swept away, but also don't want to go somewhere dismal.

Speaking of the poshed-up torte - for that you go to Douce. Unabashedly French in style, but with a Milanese slant to the decor, in one sense it captures Genoa's position near both. It's located in the ideal tourist-trap location, next to the Palazzo Ducale, and no doubt functions in that capacity, but in this case in a way that you wouldn't mind being trapped. (It was also about the only open place to go for breakfast on the Saturday as well as for coffee on Friday evening). Coffee is excellent, well above Italian norm, so if all you're there for is to sip a coffee and take in the atmosphere it's a great choice. However as a breakfast venue it also makes the grade. I took a brioche con crema (croissant with pastry cream), a pane al cioccolato (pain au chocolat, naturally), and a chocolate mousse torta. The puff pastry in the 2 pastries was supremely flaky, almost rivalling Cristalli di Zucchero, although admittedly with less of the densely buttery flavour. (It may also have suffered by comparison to Pierre Herme in Paris, who I'd been to the day before). The pastry cream in the brioche was decent although not at Cristalli's standard, far less that of the unbelievable version on offer at Luca Mannori in Prato. Still, the breakfast pastries were, I felt, about as good as one has any reason to expect of anywhere. The chocolate mousse cake was a technical tour de force, with a delightfully crisp bottom, a light mousse, and a well-executed chocolate glaze. The quality of the chocolate could use some improvement though; it felt like bulk Callebaut or some other commodity chocolate. Be that as it may, the combination of position, excellent coffee, and obvious willingness to make an effort in a tourist-trap location where it would be so easy to fall into cynical exploitation makes Douce another destination worth visiting.

Finally I ended up eating a lot of focaccia from Patrone, again by virtue of the fact that they were open in a central location. Quality seems a bit uneven; on one visit I got the most tremendous puffy top and crisp bottom with beautiful flavour; on another a bland, soft mass that didn't have the same texture or flavour contrast. People rave about Patrone; I feel like they're just another typical Italian bakery in a usefully central location (and handily close to a metro stop) - which is to say, not bad, but certainly not setting any sort of reference point for bread in Genoa, much less Italy. However the service is friendly, in contrast to many other Italian bakeries which can have a perfunctory character, so maybe they're winning people over on that.

One point I'll also relate, for the previous poster's reference, if too late for their actual visit, and maybe it'll help others. I was fortunate and was booked into a hotel by our local Genoese hosts. They booked us into the Best Western Porto Antico. I can't really think of a better possible hotel. Absolutely central, in small street of the Old Town just east of the Darsena metro stop, next to the port and within instant walking distance to everywhere, the rooms are comfortable and immaculate, the service exceptionally personal and helpful, the atmosphere tranquil in spite of the central positioning. Definitely book if you're planning to visit.

Oct 19, 2014
AlexRast in Italy

2015 Guides

Bad experiences at supposedly good restaurants definitely happen. Sometimes either through repeat visits or through the testimony of others or simply through observation at the time it's clear this was not a freak one-off either. Indisputably there are restaurants that will leave you wondering what other people see in them. The experience can be particularly disheartening when the place is very expensive - problems at a €20 a meal restaurant can be overlooked but at €100 or more they really are inexcusable. I've had those experiences several times and it really does cause me to doubt the whole restaurant-ratings industry.

When the same "usual suspects" claim all the top spots in guides it's very easy to conclude that there is internal collusion going on, particularly in the formation of cliques whose main aim is to magnify their own importance. And yes, there is always going to be *some* bias - in the first place because guides usually have a target audience that they need to appeal to, but also because reviewers are human beings and in a subjective area like this it's impossible not to inject your own opinions to some degree. Sometimes this does have the effect of overrating certain restaurants or putting them in a higher category. But on the whole I am fairly certain that the guidebooks do make an effort to provide a reasonably balanced presentation - if for no other reason that if they didn't they would quickly lose relevance and become something of a laughing stock; most people aren't fooled forever. In short I have enough faith (and to be fair, enough good experiences) in the high end to believe that it's not all about magnifying their own ego.

And in the main the guides' recommendations give at least a better chance of a good meal than competing methods - unless you happen to know for every major region in Italy a food obsessive with comprehensive knowledge of the region. (Even then to a degree it presupposes that the expert you know has similar tastes). That's not a position most people are going to be in and the person dropped randomly (or effectively randomly) into a city or village they know nothing about and where they have no contacts will have precious little chance of finding anywhere good.

The very top ratings in the guide will always excite dispute, simply because by virtue of the small number of such top ratings available (here I mean not in the sense that there are only a few restaurants of the "creative" type but rather in the sense that high ratings are always going to be limited to a small number of entries in the guides), there's likely to be more contention as others will have different opinions.

There does exist a culture amongst some diners of deifying certain chefs, of treating restaurants with a sort of "tick-list" mentality, of giving little space or credit to restaurants that provide a traditional format rather than something "innovative" or "creative". This is mindless behaviour and I think merits sharp criticism as a result. Particularly I think there ought to be a movement for the promotion of ultimate quality in a traditional idiom. But I do think the criticism should be directed at the right target - against the *mentality*, not against guidebooks who are in the main only doing the best they can with the restaurants they have before them.

Oct 15, 2014
AlexRast in Italy

2015 Guides

As mentioned, this is a common pattern not just in Italy but most everywhere in the world. Even for great cosmopolitan cities. Few people anywhere go to the "elite restaurants" - typically because as you say they can't afford the high prices, or don't really care for the type of food on offer. Or sometimes, in a combination of the 2, they don't think the prices being charged are justified by the type of food on offer.

However, by the same token, at some level there are real differences in food quality possible as the price level and degree of obsession about making absolutely no compromise whatsoever go up. That's not something that's really feasible at the level of the cheap and basic trattoria or even the relatively upscale ristorante. At the level of ordinary prices there are limits to what you can achieve because you have to make some compromises in the name of managing the costs. So we ought to expect that the "elite" restaurants, can, in the limit, do "better" food and there can be no denying the technical skill and ingredient quality that goes into those sorts of "cutting edge" places.

But unfortunately, there seems to be a question of market expectation, whereby as the price increases to the level where genuinely uncompromising quality - worthy of the highest ratings in guides - becomes possible, people also expect "cutting edge" innovation rather than traditional or simpler dishes, to the point where on the one hand traditional/simple dishes are held to be intrinsically of lower maximum potential, and on the other it's very difficult for a chef, no matter how passionate his intentions, to be able to make a top-end restaurant based around tradition and simple dishes succeed. To me that seems to be attaching too much weight to novelty value.

In another sense though, it would be condescending to expect all restaurants to hew closely to tradition and keep to very simple dishes - that would stifle the creativity of the chef and keep a given region (e.g. Piedmont or Tuscany such as in the examples above) in a sort of anachronistic time warp. There is value in having at least a few restaurants, anywhere, exploring the boundaries of cookery.

However, the practical upshot of this mix of market pressures, customer expectation, and budgetary limitations means that inevitably the types of places producing food at the highest possible standard will be the "cutting edge" places - because they command the market segment where a no-compromises approach can be successful as a business proposition. So in that sense the guides are not to be faulted; they're only reporting quality as they find it on the ground.

It would be wonderful indeed if some restaurants offering traditional, regional cuisine of Tuscany or Piedmont or Emilia Romagna or whereever and with a no-compromise-whatsoever ethos existed, but until there are enough people prepared to spend €100 or more per person, not including wine, on that type of meal, that's not likely to happen. I'd be willing to spend that much, without difficulty, although like most it's not something I could afford more than every once in a great while, and so what's needed is to get to the mind-set of the wealthy business and travel clientele, to suggest to them that such would be worthwhile.

But for the moment, I think the guides are probably reasonably fairly reporting the quality - at least at the ultimate level - it's just a reflection of what's actually possible from a market perspective.

Oct 14, 2014
AlexRast in Italy

Wild atlantic salmon?

It definitely does exist, on a commercial level. Here in the UK, we get wild Scottish (Atlantic) salmon for a relatively short season in late July/early August. At this time of year, it's likely that the restaurant's salmon was frozen, but there's no reason to suspect it could not have been wild.

Oct 13, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Food mythbusters . What's your belief or not ?

It's possible that potatoes have some particularly unique cellular structure, but if so, you didn't mention it - you just said "dense cellular structure" - which is why I brought up other examples of foods; I'd expect to see something more specific identified if there really were a unique property. It should be noted that, notwithstanding that carrots are sometimes found as heavy and bulky as potatoes, and sometimes baked, parsnips are certainly found as heavy and bulky as potatoes, and frequently baked.

Meanwhile, any "short venting path" provided by piercing would seem to be defeated by dense cellular structures, assuming the structure involved has nonpermeable walls, and if the walls were permeable there would be a venting path anyway - so it would be difficult to see how this structure by itself could be a cause of explosion, again unless there is something particularly unique about potatoes in this regard.

Sausages can burst (I've not seen one literally explode, although bursting can be violent), but the skin of a sausage (pigs intestine) *really is* nonpermeable. That's precisely why sausages are encased in them, in fact: the nonpermeable skin keeps moisture in. In this respect a sausage is quite different from a potato. Other meats, not so encased, do not seem to burst in this way.

Oct 13, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Last minute cake planning! A SPHERE!

I've made "concentric" cakes (chocolate, in fact) for many, many years now using exactly the method you suggest - sinking bowls into the centre of the batter. You do need a fairly substantial amount of weight (because the batter rises while baking, pushing the bowls around) but as long as the batter is dense enough the bowls won't sink through. Be advised that the centre bottom - immediately underneath the bowl, cooks a LOT more slowly than the top rim, so careful adjustment of oven temperatures (not too hot) and constant monitoring are important.

Filling the entire centre with a ganache will seem too rich for almost everybody, although a dead-centre part (Jupiter's rocky core, perhaps?) that's ganache is OK. You'll want something lighter but that holds its shape otherwise to fill mousse is ideal. If you're not using double cream, whipped cream is a bit too soft and insufficiently dense; it tends to flow around while cutting. It's also quite difficult to pack whipped cream uniformly and with no gaps into a shell; not so with mousse which is nice and conformal. A bavarois-type filling (gelatinised custard) is another lovely idea - in fact you could make 3 internal layers if you wanted to get ambitious: mousse (Jupiter's liquid hydrogen layer), bavarois (the metallic hydrogen layer) and ganache (the core). But that's a Herculean amount of preparation, the sort of thing you do if you're trying to win a professional baking contest.

Oct 12, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking