Darth Vader Cake

dv

 

I was asked to make a Darth Vader cake two weekends ago, and the mere thought of it make me laugh so hard that I thought, “why not?” The recepient is a four-year old boy, who is probably not super-critical of the cake’s imperfections. And hooo boy, they were many!

This is a cake of firsts. Not only is this my first Darth Vader cake, this was my first-ever cake iced entirely with fondant, and the first ever cake I have ever molded freestyle, without a template to follow.

And I so thank the Lord that Xenos has ready-made fondant! No more making my own and worrying about how to get the color! I bought two bricks, for 3 euros each. With fondant this cheap, it was perfect for experimentation. This cake was very instructional for me on how to work with fondant. As you see, things didn’t patch up quite nicely. Lesson number 1: Do not break up fondant to flatten, as the seams will show. Maybe it is better to roll, then flatten?

Under that fondant is my standard Chocolate Buttermilk cake, although any kind of cake will do. I baked two cakes, one in a lined, buttered and greased  round springform and another in a square pan. Make the cake the night before and freeze to dry out. In my case I just left it outside, since temperatures were hovering just above zero (40°F).

The next day, I liberated the cakes from the forms, cut the round one across in half and placed the dome-shaped top at the bottom of the glass plate. Spread some icing (I used Magnolia’s choco buttercream) to even the surface, then placed the other half over it, bottom-side up. I did the same thing to the square pan, but instead I cut the cake again in half, then in triangles. The proportions were just estimated to suit the size of the round cake, so I couldn’t give any exact measurement. All I can say is that I cut a right triangle, slathered it with cream, then put another triangle on top of it. Then slather the whole thing with frosting, locking in all the crumbs.

After that, I rolled the fondant on a marble surface dusted with starch, and draped it over the cake. I cut the excess in some places and it tucked in the cake, but there were places that came up short and I had to add a few more fondant strips to the sides.

The details were made using white and gray fondants, based on this Darth Vader cake. Despite the imperfections, the birthday kid was happy, the parents were happy, and the children happily ate Darth Vader. So I guess I’m happy, too!

 

Pinoy-style Empanadas with Puff Pastry Shells

I love empanadas! The Spanish version of the sandwich is a shared culinary legacy among all Hispanic countries, and this quick recipe is even made easier because ready-made puff pastry (Blätterteig)  is available in German supermarkets. No more making my own dough! I would, however, not recommend re-rolling to re-use the rest of the pastry because then they puff up too much.

I was under pressure to make these empanadas and clocked myself making them in 1 hour and 30 minutes total, from start to finish including waiting time. It also helped that cubed chicken bits are available pre-packaged in supermarkets here.

I normally use 4 rolls of puff pastry from the supermarket. 3 garlic cloves and 1 small onion, finely chopped, 1 (about 420 g) pound cubed (maybe 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch?) chicken breast,100 g frozen green peas, 100 g raisins (could be less, or optional), 1 small potato and 1 small carrot, diced

Pre-heat oven to 200° C and bring out the green peas to defrost. Sauté the garlic and onions in about 2 tablespoons of oil, then add the chicken, and fry until no longer pink. Add two to three dashes of salt to bring out the juices from the chicken. Add the potatoes and carrots, letting them absorb the liquid from the chicken. Stir fry for about five minutes, add the green peas and then the raisins, and season with salt and pepper. The raisins should absorb the rest of the liquid from the chicken, and maybe the remaining ice/water from the peas. When the potatoes and peas are done, put the mix in a collander and let the excess liquid drip off. Wait for the filling to cool! Puff pastry is mostly butter, and the heat could weaken the dough.

empanadasMeanwhile, I got to work on the shells. I used a small bowl about 7 inches across to cut out circles into the unfurled puff pastry. A Tablespoon of the filling in the middle, fold the dough in half, then crimp and seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Pierce the shell three times, and bake for about fifteen to twenty minutes, until golden. The filling is enough to make 35 empanadas, or you can only buy two puff pastry rolls, set aside half of the filling, then add tomato sauce and a bay leaf to make Philippine-style chicken menudo from the leftovers. I am getting better at this waste not thing.

Lasagne Bolognese

This recipe from The Silver Spoon cookbook is a recipe that I could very well get behind. It is very easy to make, the ingredients are not hard to find, even in the Philippines. It also emphasizes the simplicity of Italian cooking.

The recipe serves 4.

3 Tablespoons olive oil, 1 chopped carrot, 1 chopped onion, 300 g ground meat. 100 ml dry white wine, 250 g tomato sauce, 25 g butter, plus extra for greasing, and Bechamel sauce. 

Make the noodles beforehand. While waiting for it to rest, make the sauce by sauteeing the carrots and onions in low heat, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Add the meat and stir until browned, then pour the wine and cook until evaporated. Season the salt, add the tomato sauce, and simmer for 30 minutes. Then season with pepper. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Grease a small baking dish (9×11 inches approximately) with butter.

Meanwhile, roll out the pasta to appropriate thinness, and into 4 inch squares (10 cm). Let dry for 2-3 minutes and then cook in a pot of salted water in a rolling boil, a few at a time. Take out with a slotted spoon and place on a damp tea towel.  Arrange a layer of lasagne, meat sauce, and bechamel sauce on top. Sprinkle with parmesan sauce and dot with butter flakes. Repeat the layers until the dish is full, ending with a layer of bechamel sauce. Bake for 30 minutes.

 

Noodles Toodles

The summer of my 11thyear was spent poring over my aunt’s cookbooks and made my own noodles. I think I even had noodles as an afternoon snack, since I made so many noodles,  with the obsessiveness that only an 11-year old kid can muster.

So I find it surprising that it took me over twenty(!) years to make my own noodles again using the recipe in the book “The Silver Spoon,” which I got as a present last Christmas.

So basically it’s just two eggs, 250 grams of flour, and a bit more to dust the surface. Create a depression in the middle, crack one egg in the middle, add a pinch of salt, mix. Crack the next egg, and mix. The dough should turn shiny and elastic. If it is too dry, wet your hands and knead. If too wet, add a bit more flour on your mixing surface. Form into a ball, then let it rest for fifteen minutes to an hour in the fridge, or use it the next day after covering the ball with plastic wrap.

I don’t have a pasta machine. People are surprised that I don’t have one, nor a rice cooker. I have tiny kitchen syndrome, so I am trying to avoid buying something that is so specialized. Rolling the dough manually was much easier with a plastic pastry rolling pin rather than a wooden one. I first rolled the ball as flat as I could, then halved it, rolling it as flat as I could, then halving it…you get the pattern.

As you see, the results are indeed quite thin. We made Farfalle, my son’s favorite. And since the noodles are fresh, they only need to be cooked in boiling water for one to two minutes. Unfortunately, the dough does not keep well for over a day or after it has been rolled, so it has to be eaten almost immediately.  Serves four.

Der Perfekte Schnitzel

Schnitzel is something that many cultures have, claim to have invented, and love to eat. Really, it is impossible for a meat eater like me not to like. My first favorite Boneless Breaded Pork Chop came from one my beloved greasy spoons near my university, BRB. If you know where BRB is, then you know where I went to university in the Philippines. It is what I exclusively ordered when I ate there, with rice, a small side of coleslaw, and sweet and sour sauce.

Then I met Pork Tonkatsu. We met at a small Japanese restaurant at the side of the A building of SM Megamall, which I am pretty sure doesn’t exist anymore. I loved eating Tonkatsu-Don, which is chopped up porkchop in a rice bowl, if I was not in the mood for Tempura.

Then of course, I landed in Germany, the land of ze Schnitzel. Please don’t say that to Austrians, as they would get very upset. Yes, ze Germans eat Schnitzel with noodles, but mostly with potato or potato dumplings, a side of boiled cauliflower or broccoli, in a butter-breadcrumb sauce, and a lemon wedge that is squeezed over the Schnitzel.

schnitzel1German Schnitzel is made of pork slices, while the Wiener (Viennese) Schnitzel is calf. Yes, baby cows that go moo. It took me a few years to get Schnitzel right, I really had the hardest time with it! The first few years I started cooking Schnitzel, it really looked awful because they were almost charcoal. Pan frying them made the crust brown and the meat raw! Until a Schnitzel that I ate while on vacation in Heigenbrücken changed my life. It was really the most perfect Schnitzel I’ve had in my life, and the lady who owned the place was generous enough to tell me her secret: Schnitzels are deep-fried.

DUH!!!

It really was the simplest thing on earth, really, and I smacked myself in the head for not thinking that. I immediately experimented once I got home, and I’ve been churning out great Schnitzels since then. As you see in the picture above, Schnitzel is just basically pork slabs, eggs, and breadcrumbs.

Firstly, choose the meat wisely. Pork well-marbled with fat is the best bet for Schnitzel. Not too fatty! Just marbled. Then heat a scary amount of oil into a shallow pan or skillet. The Schnitzel must “float,” as the lady said. A cup of oil (about 200 ml) in medium-high heat in a small pan is enough. Germans have different techniques in tenderizing the meat. Some use their fists, other a meat tenderizer mallet. I use the blunt edge of a knife and “chop” the meat sidewards and lengthwise. Then season it with salt and pepper (preferably cracked), dip it in egg, roll in the breadcrumbs, and straight into the pan. Wait for one side to becoome brown, turn once, and that is it!

It really is the simplest things that are the hardest to master, and it took me three to four years of burned Schnitzel before I was able to consistently make the perfect Schnitzel

Yay Waffles!

Yay! Got myself a new waffle iron for Christmas. So I get to make waffles, thus ending the monotony of Saturday morning pancake breakfasts. It came with a cookbook on how to make waffles, it is quite easy.

For 20 waffles:

A block of soft butter or margarine (250 g), 200 g sugar, 2 packets vanilla sugar, 5 eggs, 500 g flour, 5 g baking powder, and 400 ml milk.

Scramble the eggs, stir in the sugar and the butter/margarine into a smooth dough. Add the vanilla sugar, flour, and baking powder. Slowly add the milk until the batter has a smooth consistency.

The batter is much heavier than pancake batter, it doesn’t run or spread as much as pancake batter, and has a stiffer consistency after cooking,

I was also pretty stoked that I got a Raclette grill, cookbooks galore (I Know How to Cook and The Silver Spoon), and new china. What did you get for Christmas?

Tokwa and Togue

Photo by: K. Simbulan

Sorry for the long silence, I’ve been very busy juggling a couple of projects. This weekend is all about me and my bed, uh-huh.

I had to cook a meal for 200 people! It had to be easy to make, cheap, vegetarian, and Filipino! It’s surprising that Filipinos would spice up any vegetarian dish with meat, it was difficult to think of something where all ingredients are found in Germany. I ended up with making Togue and Tokwa, or bean sprouts and tofu, a very easy vegan stir-fry.

To make enough for four to five people, you’d need a block of tofu and about 150 g bean sprouts. One can use more to strech the dish to feed more people.

First take the tofu block out of water, strain, and blot with a towel until the tofu is dry-ish.

Take a large clove of garlic (or more if desired), smush it up with a pestle or the back of a knife, and chop it up. Cut up the tofu in 1 inch blocks. Warm up three tablespoons of oil in a pan with higher walls. Sauté  the garlic in the oil and remove when brown. Fry the tofu blocks to brown, for five minutes, stirring every so often. Add the sprouts, then add four tablespoons of soy sauce. Add the garlic, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Other veggie strips like carrots and bell peppers can also be added.Eat with steamed rice.

Hijiki Seaweed and Chicken

I have a packet of seaweed that has been sitting in my cupboard since 2010 which I had no idea what to do with until I came upon a recipe in the book Sushi and Japanese.

While the recipe called for 90 grams, I only had 5 grams. Oops. But it didn’t really matter, since I didn’t have enough chicken anyway, because I had chicken wings and not chicken breasts. Taking meat off a chicken wing is a bitch, however the results were amazing, so I am sharing this recipe from the book.

Soak 90 grams of dried hijiki seaweed in water for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, peel the skin off 150 grams of dressed chicken breast. Parboil the chicken skin in boiling water for one minute, drain, then scrape the yellow fat underneath. Discard the clear membrane between the fat and the skin. Cut the skin into thin strips and the chicken in bite-sized chunks. Peel a small carrot and chop it into thin matchsticks.

Heat one tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan , and when the oil is hot, carefully put in the chicken skin (be careful of the splatter!) in the oil and stir fry until golden. Add the chicken meat and stir-fry until the color changes. Drain the seaweed, put it in the pan, stir around for a minute, then add the carrots.

Season with half a cup of daishi stock, 2 tablespoons of sake, 2 tablespoons sugar, and three tablespoons of shoyu soy sauce and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Lower the heat and cook for five more minutes before removing the pan from heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes. Serve in small bowls.

Tow Mater Cake

cakeSo my boy’s birthday just rolled by. Wow, I gave birth to him how many years ago? Time flies so fast…

This time of the year, I turn into a baking dervish (is that a term?) cooking and baking for my kid’s birthday party. This year was a little different. Since I have a full-time job, I was a little pressed for time to make a 3-D Mater Cake–my kid’s special request this year. So I made a compromise and adapted a cake from this recipe.

I am not a big fan of box cake mixes, so I made my go-to recipe for moist chocolate buttermilk cake. Like with all other cakes I’ve made the past birthdays, challenges cropped up when I least expected them. First of all, I am so grateful to have found ready-to-roll out fondant at the local Xenos shop, and not the liquid goop they sell at the supermarkets here. This means I did not have to make my own fondant this year.

Basically the hardest part was finding substitues for the American products suggested my the recipe. No way in hell I was gonna order a whole pack of Jolly Ranchers online when I only needed two of them for a cake. My goodness, I had no idea that finding chocolate chocolate donuts were gonna be a challenge. I finally found them at the local McCafe for a euro fifty a pop–quite steep but I hoarded all three left at the stand. This place seriously needs an Dunkin’ Donuts.

So basically the side mirrors and wheels were made from two donuts, the bars holding the mirrors in place were yellow fondant, the eyes and teeth were made of white fondant, and irises were a mix of white/green/yellow, and the busted headlight black fondant cut out using a cough medicine bottlecap. The other headlight is a Haribo Jogi-Bussi. The pupils are brown mini-Smarties

Now the recipe had a template for the eyelids and the mouth, but it was more difficult to get the fondant in that dark color. It was easier to mix more brown coloring into the chocolate buttercream icing, and just free-style scratched out the areas where they were supposed to be and carefully spread out the darker icing in that area.

cake1I guess my frustration at not getting to make the 3-D cake that I wanted drove me to make three mini-Mater cupcakes made of honey loops, M&Ms, and white fondant (God forbid I use Eclipse gum on a cake!). The one pictured came from my 4 inch springform pan and a normal cupcake, while the two others were made with normal.sized cupcakes and mini-cupcakes. I left out the frosting except at the places where the wheels and the headlights had to stick.

All in all, I was quite happy with the results and the best part was that the party was a success. I am looking forward to Disneyland next year when I don’t have to do any baking at all!

Julia Child’s Simple Meat Stock

When I first started making broth, I was given one piece of advice by my former roommate. Her mom told her that broth should have “eyes,” globs of fat swimming on top.

So when I started making the Julia Child version of meat broth, I was very concerned about the instructions to de-scum and de-fat the broth. I can get it with the scum, but without fat?

Now, I’m not a big fan of this stock. I find it a tad bit bland, and since this is specifically made for consomme or aspic. That said, I have to admit that this stock is healthier because of the reduced fat content, and it doesn’t spoil so easily for the same reason. And while this is not labor intensive, it requires the cook to devote at least six hours partially to making it.

Her recipe asks the reader to collect bone scraps of whatever meat you have in the freezer or fridge, and then when you have gathered enough, put it in a stock pot and pour cold water until it covers the meat by two inches. Put it over low moderate heat and allow it to go on a quiet simmer, meaning you’re overdoing it when the water comes up with a boil an inch wide. It really should be steaming, and maybe tiny bubbles break the surface every now and then.

When you notice the stage that scum starts collect to the top, ladle it out with a spoon and repeat until it almost stops producing scum. Put in two scraped carrots, two peeled medium-sized onions, and 2 celery stalks (or celery root, which is more widely available in  Germany). A stalk or two of leek is optional.

Make a tiny cheesecloth pouch filled with 1/4 tsp thyme, 1 bay leaf, 6 parsley sprigs, 2 unpeeled garlic cloves, and two whole cloves. Tie it into a bag and drop it in the water, along with 2 teaspoons salt. You can partially cover the kettle, leaving at least an inch of space to let steam escape. Julia Child said to never cover it all the way because it will turn sour, so only cover the pot when the stock has cooled completely. Add water if the stock goes below the level of the ingredients. This period lasts 4-5 hours. When done, season according to taste. Scoop up solidified fat when the stock cools, and strain and store in a jar or in the freezer.

The great thing about this is that you can stop the process anytime you want and you can pick up where you left off. So while the wait is inconvenient, you can arrange the making of the stock to your schedule.