Tuesday, October 21, 2014
It's been what, a full year since my last post? On a touchy subject that is termed endearingly "Dan" which I didn't even write much about because the words just kind of dried up, like water. Like feelings.
This is me. A year later. Trying to find back that spark that blazed me a road towards pastry superstardom. I didn't even realise that I have lost that spark, amid the social ladder-climbing, the politics, the ugly greed of business-making. Worse still, I got comfortable.
You know how in the most unlikely of circumstances, something jots your mind, and a memory pops up? It was 5 years ago, in one of my first jobs in this industry, my then most-esteemed chef told me this: "It is okay to lose your passion. It is okay to take a break. This industry is not meant for everybody."
It took me a long time to accept it. That I am not one of those superhumans/ genius/ prodigy. I am Heidi, a human girl with very human abilities. Humans fall down and get back up, they start lessons since they were babies.
I get it now. I burnt out. But I am not going to run away anymore and pretend that everything is fine. So I am going to go back to where I started. Where baking was an enjoyment. Where I would document the process, evaluate the result, then cut the cake up and share it with friends and neighbours.
This is where I'll start.
With an Apricot Tart.
My forte has always been tarts and pound cakes (or buttercakes), although right now as a professional, I deal so much more with the finer aspects of the craft such as genoise sponge, pate a choux, and le mousses etc. Even before culinary school, while the simplest of sponge cake from the packet cake mix would explode in my oven, making a tart comes easily to me. It is something of that a la rustique that draws me to it. I rationalize it as watching one too many Jamie Oliver shows when I was younger. (I still do.)
This Apricot Tart, or tartes aux abricots, is a lazy-man's version, or what I like to call, an evolved version. It takes only fifteen minuted to prepare. I took away the pate a sucre (pardon my lack of accents as I have not figured out a way to add the accents), expanded on the frangipane (a.k.a almond cream) portion by lightening it with unbleached plain flour. And tadah! you get a very buttery buttercake filled with apricot halves. So basically the only thing that is tart-like about this cake is that is that it is baked in a tart mould.
I used frozen apricots for this recipe, because I had some in my freezer, and because my mum had been pestering me to get rid of it. Fresh apricots will also do. So will plums, dates, figs, blueberries.. the list goes on. Experimenting is always fun!
Unsalted butter 450g (softened)
Brown sugar 300g (I used brown because I like the flavour. White sugar will also do.)
Unbleached plain flour 200g
Ground hazelnut 250g (can be substituted with ground almond.)
Eggs 350g (or 7 numbers)
Frozen apricots halves around 500g (it is really up to your own preference.)
1. Preheat your oven to 180℃, on bake function. (depending on your oven, if it has fan function, you make want to drop your temperature by 20.)
2. Oil your moulds. Especially the fluted mould. You'd want to make sure that all the grooves are well-oiled if you want a clean finish to your tart. When baking at home, I usually just use the used wrapper for the butter to wipe the insides of the mould. No need for fancy brushes, plus you'll be up-cycling your used butter wrapper.
3. Weigh out everything into a large mixing bowl. With an electric mixer (I used a hand-held mixer, with the beater attachment), on medium speed, beat everything together until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps. Your batter should not be watery.
4. Fill the moulds to 3/4 with the cake batter.
5. Arrange apricot halves faced down, or in whatever way you prefer.
6. Stick it in the oven for 40 mins for the smaller fluted mould, and 1 hour 20 mins for the larger round mould.
7. Let the tart cool before unmoulding.
Monday, November 25, 2013
I believe in this world of strangers, there are people who only exist in your world during that brief one second when you make eye contact, and people whom you meet and make incredible connections with, and sometimes meeting them will change your life in ways that you can never imagine. It was during the last dregs of Spring in Japan that I met Petra, a strong, beautiful woman with an equally beautiful mind.
Petra translates into rock in German. In many ways, Petra was like a rock. She likes and she doesn't like. She likes watching movies, technology, seafood. She dislikes bad table manners, the heat, camps. She has a dogged determination to master Japanese, no easy task I can assure you. Most importantly, she was my rock. She pulls me back when I am too far off in my fantastical world. She scolds me back into reality. She taught me my German numbers. Together we could eat thirteen plates of sushi in one seating, watch a detective Japanese movie without subtitles AND understand the story, just simply walking and talking for hours.
It was strange because despite our very different backgrounds, and having never met before, I felt that I have known her for the longest time.
During one of our first dates, we sat on a wooden bench, eating strawberries and tomatoes that were in season. I don't quite remember what we talked about, but I know I found her a little strange, and she thinks I'm weird too (for eating strawberries and tomatoes together), but I didn't mind. I felt comfortable enough to be myself around her.
Petra laughed at my taking pictures of trees (she finds trees like these mundane because she sees them all the time back in Venice). I laughed at her attachment to her iPhone.
Together we laughed at the Japanese who were walking their tiny Chihuahuas and Pomeranians.
Petra, I miss you.
Monday, October 21, 2013
Katherine and I were English conversation teachers for a day. We were paid 4000yen for talking about random things to Japanese strangers (who later on became friends) for two hours. For my part, my group of Japanese students were fascinated by the fact that I speak Chinese as well as English (surprisingly Japanese consider Chinese to be one of the most difficult language to master.), so we spent the better part of the session translating Japanese verbs into English into Chinese. The other half of the session we talked about Singapore (the country I am from), cakes (my profession), and Japan's flagging economy (go figure).
It's been too long since my study break in Japan. 6 months to be exact. I was afraid if I don't pen it down soon, I would start to forget the details, ie. the temperature of the streets, the colours, smells and sounds of the people, how I felt about everything I have seen, heard and learned. In fact, the forgetting has already started, but thank god for cameras and its ability to capture time and space, for I would have forgotten even more. :P
I think it is important to record the place I lived in during my 3 month stay in Japan as it was my base where my introvert self would return to to recharge after a day of making new friends, finding new paths, and learning new Japanese vocabulary. So I stayed in a dormitory style apartment in Ijiri, a small suburb of about a 20 minutes train ride away from the city of Fukuoka. My room is a tiny thing, that is right at the end of the corridor of the second story, and has a bathroom attached to it (that was mine and mine alone), and a slightest of a balcony that looks over a Japanese cemetery. It was clean and functional so I had no complaints. (That being said, if I had more money, I would get a bigger room. I am mildly claustrophobic.)
On days when I literally have nothing to do (after school), I would fill my bathtub with scalding hot water, empty a packet of onsen powder into the bath, and sit in there till my head starts to buzz. Then I would challenge myself to stand up with my head still spinning, shower, pop back into my room and help myself to dinner that I had bought from the food heaven at the department stores in the city on my way back from school. Most of the time I would have a huge futomaki,a wakame salad, and a flask of hot green tea.
Life was good, and free. I didn't have anyone to answer to except myself. I did whatever I liked. I didn't particularly want to make friends, so I didn't care what other people thought of me. I skipped class when it suited me (not that it happened very often), ate whenever I felt hungry, smile only when I felt like it. It was liberating. It was great. And, I ate a LOT of cakes. Yay.
The pictures in this post were all taken in Ijiri, on my trusty Leica.
Really random things that caught my attention.
In the most beautiful light which is dusk,
When the air cools, and colours saturate.
And you know that the only reason you are walking around with a camera in your hands is because
you are not quite hungry for dinner yet.
I own a Nissan March, and it is nice to see that it is very popular in Japan. As in, if I ever need to hijack one in an emergency, I know I'd be completely comfortable driving it. :)
The coin laundry that never closes.
As spring bleeds into summer, these creepers grow leaves and bloom flowers which colour I don't quite remember.