A Keeper: The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard

Even when Christmas is the time for gift-giving, the month of March came this year with that ‘tis-the-holidays feel when this book finally landed on my lap:

I loveeet!

Mind you, this wasn’t even one of those baking book wish lists but I’d have to thank an Amazon.com member’s advice on finding the BEST baking book, who said that you just have to read it from cover-to-cover to learn the secrets of baking. Now, you might argue with me on that category but as far as I’m concerned, this one is for keeps—the way that Julie Powell had always kept Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking within her reach at home (that’s on my wish list). Gullible as I am (or desperate for a good baking book) I grabbed this the moment I found out from Fully Booked Greenhills Promenade that they have one copy!

To do a review on this book is to do the author an injustice. Sherry Yard is the Executive Pastry Chef of Spago—the famous Beverly Hills restaurant owned by the renowned chef Wolfgang Puck. She is known for consistently creating delectable and sophisticated desserts for the Emmys, Grammys, and Academy Awards. But aside from that reputation under her belt, her first and famous book, the Secrets of Baking, has not only become a bestseller but also an awardee of the James Beard Foundation for Book Awards and Sherry, for being named Outstanding Pastry Chef of the same Foundation in 2002.

The Secrets of Baking is not your run-off-the-mill-award-winning-baking-recipe book. As the famous Jacques Pepin described it, the instructions in the book are lumped together in groups, like the way they learned it in culinary school. An average and novice home baker (like me) would initially scratch her head when you see that Chapter One is all about Mastering Ganache and its related recipes. Sherry carefully and albeit painstakingly lumped recipes with similar but differing ratios of ingredients and created “family trees” of each. It’s pretty unconventional but I loved it! My first attempt on a recipe was “Mastering Lemon Curd.” After following the instructions to a T, I must say that it was foolproof–the kind of lemon curd that has the right amount of sweetness and tanginess that would make your lips pucker. My first ever attempt on cream puff (pate a choux) also came from this book and it turned out great! Pictures to follow.

The recipes are easy to follow and Sherry gave bits and pieces of insight about a certain recipe like, why pate a choux was called as such, or why you should mind temperature very much while preparing ingredients. She not only dishes out great recipes but she explains the science behind those methods. And that’s another thing I loved about it. A lot of baking books just dish out recipes without explaining the whys and why nots, and that is why I find Sherry’s work truly exceptional.

What I loved best about this book is Sherry’s passion for baking and desserts. One could sense the depth of her admiration and respect—with  an amusing touch of humor here and there—for the craft of baking by the way she strung words together. And her ultimate advice—“bake with love. It’s the only ingredient that you’ll ever need”—is the sum of all the reasons why baking makes it all worth it. ❤

The Secrets of Baking is available at Fully Booked for only P1,499. The price gets better if you have a Fully Booked loyalty card.

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Return and Review: Rose’s Heavenly Cakes

OK, so I just got back to the blogosphere (do they still call it that? Seems like ages ago!). But I did miss blogging so badly and I missed you—all those who are patient enough to read my rants and raves and love me unconditionally (which is why you’re still reading this at this point). But seriously folks, I really appreciate it. All my love goes out to you, too!

On a serious note, I am back to blog! Yay! Especially if I’m blogging with my newly-acquired 15-inch Macbook Pro and I am absolutely loving it to the core! This notebook layout is so cool! Sorry I couldn’t contain my excitement (since I got it for a steal!). Well, there’s that and on to my serious topic ( I keep saying that, I know)…

Even when I was not recording entries here, I had a lot of ideas of what to write. And one of the ideas is to do a review on the baking books I’ve been acquiring lately. Another is to blog about my recent food-ventures (foodie adventures). So to start of this series, last month I acquired this GORGEOUS baking book:

My First Official Baking Book: Rose's Heavenly Cakes!

Written by the famous James Beard Awardee Rose Levy Berenbaum, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes is sort of a loose sequel to her award-winning book, The Cake Bible. Rose’s Heavenly Cakes will transport the reader to another realm where cakes—in whatever shape and taste—are the ultimate state of heaven. Most of the cake recipes come with vivid pictures that are so good you would want to reach into the picture and grab a piece of that heaven. The downside is, these are not all Rose’s. A lot of the recipes are created by bakers and chefs whose work Rose has come across with and admired. Tips and instructions on ingredients, technique, and equipment are condensed at the latter part of the book. Kudos to those bakers who have created these recipes! This is sort of a recipe-go-to book. But if you need an in-depth explanation on baking science aside from the recipes, this is not the book you would take out from your shelf. But it still has an awesome collection of cakes and confections. I learned a great deal on baking cheesecakes the way that I have always planned. This is h-e-a-v-y; being over two pounds, but definitely a keeper.

More books to go and recipes to bake. Til then! And remember, there’s always room for GREAT desserts! (Sounds like an infomercial, doesn’t it?) J

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P.S. Valentine’s Day: Chocolate Cheesecake

Chocolate+Cream Cheese: A match made in heaven!

This should have been posted pre-Valentine’s. But fulfilling orders and keeping up with my day job filled my days of late.  But this new Chocolate Cheesecake recipe is worth mentioning as a post script (P.S.) to my Valentine’s Day blog.

A friend of mine requested a cheesecake for someone special on this special day. And knowing the recipient is also a foodie adventurist, it was the best time to experiment on a recipe I’ve been itching to try. I’ve always wanted to bake a chocolate cheesecake–one that’s rich and creamy but not too sweet; luxurious but not over the top, and definitely chocolate-y but still striking a balance with its cream cheese counterpart. And I remembered the recipe where I could base it from. This chocolate cheesecake was a recipe published by my favorite Domestic Goddess (next to Martha), Nigella Lawson. I tweaked it to my liking and voila, my Chocolate Dreamboat Cheesecake is born: rich, velvety, and creamy chocolate-y. It’s truly the marriage of two favorite indulgence: chocolate and cream cheese–a match made in heaven. And there’s no better day to introduce it to the market than Valentine’s Day itself.

Ah...What a Dreamboat!

After delivering this requested order for my friend, another order came to try it. I’ve received none but great reviews for this baby. And this chocolate cheesecake is definitely close to the [my] heart.

Happy Hearts’ Day, folks!

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Cheesecake Love at Eileen’s Confections

Sweet, tart, and creamy--totally hits the spot!

Who doesn’t love cheesecake? Like my previous post where I mentioned there are as many recipes for tiramisu, well, the same thing goes for cheesecake. There are as many variations of cheesecake just as each person is created–unique.

Cheesecake is a time-old recipe, dating back to the Greek Rennaissance. Believe it or not, this crafty and creamy cheesecake has been evolving since the first Olympics began. Greeks have celebrated this as one of their favorite desserts until the Roman conquest where the Romans adopted this dessert as their own.

But what made cheesecake famous was the height of immigration in the United States. Jews have celebrated their cultural heritage even in their new homeland through cheesecakes. The recipes have evolved. And the rest is history.

Basically, there are two kinds of cheesecakes: the one made of cream cheese (just as how Jews made it) and the ricotta version which great Italian cheesecakes are known for. Some say there’s also the New York style which has a tart and creamy taste while on the other side of the country, its creamy and sweet. Well, there are more classifications than I could remember but hey, as long as it tastes great, it doesn’t really matter.

My version of cheesecake is mildly sweet, tart and creamy–infused with flavors that blend and opens each one up to the palate. Just like this Strawberry Cheesecake I made for my siblings upon request.

Baking this is pretty tricky but the best method I’ve tried so far is using bain marie while baking in the oven for about 40 minutes on a 350-degree oven.

So for this Valentines’ Day, treat your loved one to this decadent dessert and give the cheesiest expression of your affections. 🙂

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Tiramisu to Obsess Over

This dessert is a great way to cap a long day's work. Yum.

There are as many recipes of Tiramisu as there are versions of the Italian Spaghetti. I settled on one that’s closest to the traditional recipe and tweaked it a bit for a creamier texture.

Being a coffee-based dessert, the secret of this layered cake is good espresso. Zabaglione (creamy custard-like) with Amaretto liqueur filling is spread over each layer of espresso-dipped lady fingers (which we call ‘broas’ at home). For me, premium ingredients are always full-proof, despite the slight price hike. So I refuse to settle for anything less because it’s always worth it.

In our home, it takes more time to prep this baby than seeing the dish polished out. Best served chilled.

Enjoy!

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We Heart Chocolate!

Inset: Classic Chocolate Truffles, Pistachio Overload, and Nutella Coated Oreo Truffles

Surprise someone special this Valentines’ Day with the sweetest and most decadent expressions: Belgian chocolate truffles. Inspired by the truffles that grow in France, these sweet treats are made from the finest ingredients around the world–rich Belgian and couverture chocolate and French cocoa, heavy cream, and butter. These chocolate truffles come in three exotic varieties: Classic Chocolate Truffles, Pistachio Overload, and Nutella-Coated Oreo Truffles. Distinct flavors. Distinct Aroma. A one-of-a-kind-luxurious gift for that special someone on this festive Hearts’ Day.

Comes in a box of six or a dozen. Now accepting pre-orders.

For inquiries, please call 732-0087 or call/text 0922-881-0330. Ask for Eis.

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Banchetto: Food Haven at the Center of Emerald

Smacked right at the heart of Emerald Avenue is Banchetto. Banchetto is Italian for “the feast.” And boy, I thought the term was an overstatement until I’ve seen the site myself. It would drive a foodie (like me) into food shopping madness. The stretch of tents along Emerald Avenue would seem endless and every aroma is just as great.

Banchetto is a night food market event held three times a week at three different locations: Emerald Avenue (Ortigas), Libis, and Pioneer. Banchetto only opens every Fridays at Emerald Avenue. Food hopping begins by midnight and lasts until eleven o’clock in the morning (or at least until you had your hearty fill) of the following day. I thought the set up is reminiscent of the Jordan Night Market in Hong Kong, except that this one revolves around food. One side of the Avenue (the Post Office side) is blocked to make way for the stretch of tents offering different delicacies that appeal to every palate.

Initially, I thought the concept was a bit bizarre, to think that it would not be much of a fanfare because of the time but it came as a surprise that at the strike of midnight, people from everywhere—especially from the BPOs surrounding the area flocked and filed themselves into a single lane right at the center of the market. I found myself being squished and directed forward involuntarily (while protecting my Mango Crepe Samurai—which I bought for a measly P45—later for that) by the huge crowd trying to make their way to the different stalls inside Banchetto. It, too, was reminiscent, but of something horrid: like shopping in Divisoria during Christmas season. It was THAT crowded.

Every kind of dish—popular and otherwise—is there. You feed your eyes first because everything I saw, particularly the pastries and the pasta, looked scrumptious. I was surprised to see in one stall a P50-worth of Blueberry Cheesecake bar and a P45-worth of Mango Crepe Samurai. I settled to try out the pastries from two more stalls and shared it with our company. So we ended up trying two cheesecakes, one mango cake square, and the crepe. To me, the taste was not outstanding; pretty much what I would expect for the price. Despite the big serving of the Mango cake, the margarine on the frosting was quite dominant while the crepe, although it tasted good, was tough and hard to chew. My friends and boyfriend did not like it much either and agreed with me. So we weren’t crazy about the desserts there.

But the lasagna we tried was really good. For P80, the hefty serving of lasagna shared to us by our housemate was impeccable and generous. We also got a dory with toasted garlic and oil meal for P90 and it was delicious. My friends gorged on two big chunky skewered Isaw and hotdogs. We also sighted some delectable-looking huge skewered kebabs on the grill which the vendor sells for only P55 per stick. Perhaps, on our next visit, we would focus on the entrées instead. Who knows? Maybe we would even get ourselves our very own stall.

If you plan to visit, observe precaution. The police officer on duty advised us to keep watch over our belongings because of rampant pickpocket incidents in the area. If you have time to spare, it’s more advisable to go there around two in the morning and onwards. By then, the crowd would have thinned and you can enjoy your savory treats with more sanity.

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The Secret to Great Chocolate

I’m a self-confessed chocoholic. I love the idea of incorporating chocolate not just in my quick candy fix but in the stuff that I bake. I don’t know…But as far as food is concerned, the aroma of a block of premium quality dark chocolate gives me a high like no other. The sweet, rich, nutty aroma of melted chocolate in a baine marie is the sweetest scent to my nostrils—especially if it’s Belgian chocolate J The scent of chocolate is a flavorful aroma not to the palate, but it appeals to the other senses, too. No wonder cosmetic companies rode on the wave of this euphoria by incorporating chocolate in their products.

But what makes a good, if not great chocolate? Some may present lengthy lectures on the process of producing the world’s finest cocoa but I prefer the simple and obvious: the ones with great quality. Premium blocks of chocolate produce the best quality of chocolate treats. Are these limited to a few brands? Hardly. But famous labels also symbolize decades of perfecting the craft of premium chocolate making. By tradition and length of time, their commitment to perfection has garnered esteemed reputations among their peers; thus, the rise of the famous brands of Ghirardelli, Callebaut, Guylian, and Valrhona. The first is of American origin while the last three are European.

But there’s a disclaimer here: the price goes with the territory. Admittedly, it feels like buying gold whenever I get Belgian chocolate supplies for making chocolate truffles (aside from the other pricey ingredients like heavy cream and premium butter). I almost always feel this burden but whenever I see the finished product and the delight the taste of it brings, the fulfillment outweighs everything else. The rich and robust aroma of fine Belgian chocolate, its velvety texture gliding through the palate, and the wonderful taste of pure luxury in the mouth are enough reasons to drive me (and my friends) to chocoholic frenzy.

It’s understandable that not everyone would be willing to buy chocolates that costs like a casual dining meal. But those who are chocoholics to the core—whose palate always craves for that deep, smooth, silky, and flavorful taste of the finest chocolate the world has to offer—there is an experience like no other. It is indulgence at its best and the investment is always worth it.

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Mango Chiffon Cake

Being a tropical country that we are, mangoes come handy all the time. This spongy cake is a heavenly treat to be enjoyed throughout the year and has become a favorite of guests who have come to try it!

I took a recipe for chiffon cake and tweaked it to my liking. Here it is:

Ingredients

For the chiffon cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

¾ cup mango puree

½ cup vegetable oil

¾ cup water

7 eggs, separated

2 tsp vanilla

½ tsp cream of tartar

1 tbsp Amoretto

For the buttercream frosting:

½ cup butter, softened

½ confectioner’s sugar

¾ cup mangoes, chopped

2 cups whip cream

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Sift flour and baking powder together. Add the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT eggs and cream of tartar. Mix well but do not overbeat.
  3. Separate egg whites and yolks. Place the yolks on the cake mixture. Place egg whites on a separate bowl and add cream of tartar. Beat on low speed until fluffy.
  4. Fold in the cake mixture to the egg white mixture until incorporated.
  5. Pour the batter on an eight-inch cake pan and pop in the oven. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the cake surface springs back when lightly pressed.
  6. Cool for one hour.

For buttercream frosting:

Cream the butter until smooth, add in sugar and cream. Beat until soft fluffy and soft peaks form. Fold in the mangoes.

Apply the cream frosting and chill for at least two hours.

Enjoy!

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Easy Bread Pudding with Vanilla Sauce

Before I had an oven, I have been dreaming of baking bread pudding with vanilla sauce. The kind of creamy pudding that’s moist and scrumptious and vanilla sauce that’s over the top. Now that I have an oven, I made sure that this would be one of my first bakes. Tonight, that dream has become a reality and voila, my first bread pudding with vanilla sauce—a delectable comfy and homey dish that definitely hits the spot. Can be served as dessert or breakfast.

I have to say, preparing the bread pudding was easy; but preparing the vanilla sauce was more difficult, ingredients included. To make a four-inch high dish, you will need the following:

For the bread pudding:

6 cups of stale bread, cubed (I used pan de sal)

1 big can of condensed milk (I used Alaska)

1 cup of full milk

½ cup of brown sugar

2 tsp of cinnamon

2 large eggs

For the vanilla sauce:

See recipe and instructions here. Do NOT substitute the pure vanilla extract.

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325-degrees F. Put all the cubed stale bread on a baking dish. Combine condensed milk, eggs, milk, brown sugar, and cinnamon and pour over the bread. Use your hands to press and soak the bread into the mixture to make sure everything is soaked. Pop it into the oven and bake for about forty minutes or until the top of the pudding springs back when lightly touched. Cool for an hour.

Prepare the vanilla sauce. If you prefer, add a tablespoon of liqueur such as Amoretto or Bourbon (keeping it Southern).

Serve with vanilla sauce.

Enjoy!

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