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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pink Ombré Strawberry Shortcake

I have been rather remiss in posting this past few weeks. If you noticed, the last post didn't have any pictures and the previous one on Levain Boulangerie consisted of photographs taken way back during Vesak. The ironic thing is that although I've been baking rather diligently the past few weeks (for a colleague who is my first huge (and paying) customer), I've been way too lazy to whip out the camera to take photographs. And usually when I'm done baking, it's evening or night, so that means lousy pictures. 

Anyway, I had high hopes for this sponge cake, because it appeared rather highly raved, and one blogger even wrote "不珍藏一辈子后悔". BUT I was disappointed because it turned out to be a rather 'rough' sponge cake, although it baked up pretty high. And to make things worse, this was supposed to be my 'birthday' cake, because I wanted to commemorate my birthday with a nice pink cake. So to say that I was VERY disappointed would be an understatement. One thing's for sure, I'm definitely sticking to my usual sponge cake recipe until I find a better alternative. And to think of it now, I'm definitely going to bake another nice cake as my replacement birthday cake, hopefully soon because it's been way too hot these few days to fire up the oven and I've been resorting to cool treats like froyo for my sweet fix. 

So why post something that I'm not too satisfied with? Well, I had thought I decorated the cake quite nicely on the outside and it would be a waste not to post the photographs up, especially since I had carted out my cake stand and other props to take photos. (Although on hindsight, I realized that the camera did catch a great number of flaws on the frosting which I was not too aware of at first glance).

I first got an idea for this cake when I saw Yossy's beautiful pink ombré cake here, way back at the start of the year (on pinterest I think), then I saw it again on Lisa's blog - this time a purple version. Alas, as with many other wonderful pages/ideas that I bookmark, they get pushed back in the queue and I forget about them. It was only in late May that I got reminded by Steph (who has crazy beautiful ideas on her blog) about the ombré cake that I wanted to make. And yes, if you can't tell, I am a fan of ombré. I've always had this fascination for gradients, so it's of no surprise that ombré cakes are on my to-do list. (I'm also a fan of the ombré hair color trend, considering that I just highlighted my hair a few shades of gold and brown ;p) I've made cakes in both pink and green, but this is way easier since it's just a matter of tweaking the frosting - très simple!

Sponge Cake 
Adapted from Huan's Sweets
Makes a 18cm sponge cake

150g eggs (about 3 large eggs)
110g castor sugar
100g all-purpose flour
26g butter
40g milk 

  1. In a metal mixing bowl over a bain marie, add in the whole eggs and castor sugar and whisk until the mixture reaches about 40°C. Remove from the bain marie and using a mixer, beat the egg-sugar mixture on medium-high speed until you get almost stiff peaks. The mixture should take about 20-30 seconds to disappear into itself. Following that, reduce the speed to low and beat for 15 seconds. This is to ensure that the air bubbles in the mixture are not overly large. 
  2. Then, heat the butter and milk until the butter is melted, and allow it to cool to about 40°C.
  3. Sift the all-purpose flour into the egg mixture and gently fold the flour such that the egg mixture does not over-deflate. Once all the flour has been folded in, add in the cooled butter-milk mixture and continue to fold gently until it is fully incorporated. Pour the batter into a lined and greased cake tin, and make sure to rap the cake tin against the counter a couple of times to ensure there are no huge air bubbles in the batter. 
  4. Bake the cake in a preheated oven at about 160°C (fan-forced) for about 25-30 minutes. Allow the cake to cool on the counter for at least 15 minutes before releasing from the cake tin. 

As for the other parts of the cake:

I skipped on the sugar syrup (although I think this would have greatly helped the dry cake) and used the stabilized whipped cream from my strawberry shortcake recipe, but added a couple drops of natural red coloring to get the desired shades of pink. I also added fresh strawberries in the middle cream layer.

Janine's jots: 
  • Taste: Sponge was sufficiently sweet, although the egg smell was very prominent because no vanilla was added. 
  • Texture: Like I said, I was not a fan of the cake. I found the texture way too rough for a sponge cake, although it was fluffy. 
  • Storage: The cake stores pretty well in the fridge - it lasted about a week, but if you didn't add sugar syrup to the sponge layers, beware that the cake will be VERY dry. 
  • Would I make this again?: Unlikely for the cake, although the ombré is definitely something I'll repeat because it's so simple to achieve but the results look fantastic!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Where to get chocolate in Malaysia [Valrhona, Barry Callebaut, Cacao Barry, etc]

Right at the start, I think I should qualify the title to state that it's mainly just Johor Bahru (which I'm most familiar with) and a little bit of Kuala Lumpur. I'm not familiar with the other states/baking places, so I really can't definitively say. For details of shops and prices of ingredients in Singapore, check out these two links. For shops in JB, here's the link.

Also, I thought there might be some confusion about the chocolate brands, so a little history might be helpful here.

Barry Callebaut is perhaps one of the world's largest chocolate manufacturer. When I was in Belgium, Callebaut was THE brand to buy, and with good reason too. The chocolate really is good, although I'm not sure how it compares to Valrhona since I didn't taste them together. The name "Barry Callebaut" actually comes from two companies - Cacao Barry and Callebaut. Cacao Barry was the French company and Callebaut was the Belgian company, and both of them merged in 1996 to form Barry Callebaut. Ironically, Barry Callebaut is now based in Zurich - neutral territory perhaps? 

To add to the confusion, Barry Callebaut, after merging, decided to come up with a new brand, SICAO, presumably to cater to the Southeast Asian consumers, retailing it as a cheaper alternative. So you can probably visualize this as a three-tiered thing, with SICAO being on the lowest tier (the cheapest brand of chocolate), followed by Cacao Barry and then Callebaut right at the top - with price and quality being the top too. 

Valrhona on the other hand, is still located in the same town it was founded in - Tain-l'Hermitage in Hermitage, near Lyon. I wish I could say I've been there before, but the most I did was to bypass Lyon twice, once on my way from Paris to Geneva, and other from Paris to Nice. Oh well, there's always next time! They also hold classes at the same place, although they have set up schools in Tokyo and Versailles as well. 

PS: Did you know that there is a Chocolate Academy in Port Klang which run chocolate-related classes and which is owned by the Barry Callebaut group? :] (and no, I am not paid to say all these)

Where to get baking chocolate in Malaysia (mainly Johor Bahru)

Common brands in Malaysia
  • Tulip
  • Nona
  • Van Houten
  • Hersheys
  • Beryl
  • Cacao Barry
  • Felchlin 
  • Barry Callebaut
The first three brands I have listed are the typical brands you can find in any supermarket - relatively cheap, and not exactly 'real' chocolate since it's a compound chocolate. What do I mean by compound chocolate? Well, 'real' chocolate is made with cocoa butter and cocoa solids, but compound chocolate uses vegetable fat (like coconut or palm oil) as well as sweeteners and emulsifiers :/ Call me elitist but there is a difference in quality and taste okay! 

Anyway, something to be proud of as a Malaysia --> besides Tulip which is manufactured in Indonesia and maybe Callebaut or Cacao Barry which might be manufactured and packed in Europe, all other chocolate brands above come from Malaysia! Malaysia does have quite a number of cocoa plantations, and I hope to visit one in the near future! The chocolates are listed in increasing price. As you can see, if the chocolate retails for less than RM30 per kilogram, it is most likely chocolate compound - so don't be fooled yeah!
Now, as far as I'm aware, Valrhona is almost impossible to find in JB, but available in KL. I've listed a couple of places in JB (and KL) where you can find the chocolates:

1. Perling Indah
  • Perling Indah has the largest variety of chocolate available in JB that I know of. You might notice that I might be a little biased towards Perling Indah as compared to other baking shops in JB, but that's really because I stay near this shop and I can't say for the prices in the other shops!
  • Here are some prices: 
    • Van Houten - RM9.20 for a 150g 'baking chocolate' bar
    • Beryl white/dark/milk chocolate compound - RM15.80/kg
    • Beryl 62% chocolate buttons - RM50/kg
    • Tulip - RM16.50/kg
    • Tropica chocolate compound - RM15/kg
    • Le Bourne chocolate compound - RM16.50/kg 
    • Selbourne milk/dark chocolate compound - RM18/kg
    • Callebaut - RM140 for a 2.5kg pack (53.8%)
    • Cacao Barry - RM58/kg
    • SICAO milk/dark block - RM62 for a 1.5kg pack, RM72 for a 2.5kg pack
    • Cacao Barry amber cocoa powder - RM78/kg

2. Aeroshield JB
  • Aeroshield has its headquarters in KL at Pandan Indah (check out its website here). If getting it in  JB, contact Mr Danny Lai at 010 6623542.
  • Here are some prices: 
    • Callebaut dark coverture - RM97.50 for a 2.5kg pack
    • Callebaut cocoa powder - RM40/kg (available only in 5kg pack)
    • Cacao Barry extra brute cocoa powder - RM50/kg 
    • SICAO 70% chocolate callets - RM45 for a 1.5kg pack 

3. Pastry Pro
  • Pastry Pro is located in Kepong. Check out its website here
  • It only carries Felchlin, which is a Swiss brand. Felchlin Maracaibo 65% retails for about RM22.35 for 250g pack. 
  • Just as a comparison, Felchlin retails at ToTT in Singapore for $72/2kg, and this is the smallest size available. 

4. Gourmandines
  • This is an online only retail shop, which provides free delivery for purchases above RM250. If I'm not wrong, it is the only place in KL to get Valrhona chocolate. It sells a whole lot of other things too, such as gourmet cheeses and pasta, at pretty cheap prices. 
  • Here are some prices: 
    • Valrhona Manjari (64%) / Jivara (40%) / Ivory Buttons - RM25/200g; RM108/kg
    • Valrhona Guanaja (70%) also available but prices not online. 

5. Classic Fine Foods
  • I also found this website which appears to retail Valrhona chocolate, but the e-shopping website is under construction for the longest time, so them if you really want to know if they sell Valrhona?

6. Artisan Supplies
  • Pei-Lin graciously provided details of this shop she frequents in KL, where you can get quality branded chocolate (no Valrhona) as well as frozen purees. 
  • Their fb page is here. See her comment below for more details! 

And last but not least, I have received a number of queries and am glad to announce that if you are in Malaysia and would like me to help you in getting any chocolate products (in Singapore or in JB), I would be more than happy to help you to get them in my own time. You will have to, of course, pay for my transport, the price of the item you want to get, as well as postage fees (preferably registered/pos laju) for mailing it to you. I don't really want to discuss details here, but just email me if you have any queries!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: Levain Boulangerie and Patisserie, Kuala Lumpur

I can’t believe this is only my 9th instalment of Travel Tuesdays! I first started this to make sure that I was diligent about uploading and sieving through my travel photographs, but I’m afraid I’ve yet to stick to that goal. I have to admit that sometimes, when I do look through my photos, I too am surprised by what I see - photographs do tend to record things that you never did notice ;p

As I have alluded to here, I went up to KL on a short impromptu trip over the Vesak Day holiday weekend, and the aim of the trip was to stuff myself silly with good food. And that I did. I always have this ‘list’ of places to eat at for almost every destination that I want to visit, so it’s no surprise that I’ve got a very lengthy list for KL, which I regard as my third home, after JB and Singapore.

High up on the list was two places – Levain Boulangerie for the breads, pastries and cakes, and Les Deux Garçons for their French entremets. I was not disappointed at each place. Maybe it’s because I’m looking at the prices with a ‘Singaporean’ eye, but everything was so darn cheap! Cakes per slice in Singapore cost anything from $6 up, so for a cake to cost in the vicinity of RM10 was a pretty good deal for me.
Sadly, I didn’t get too good photos of LDG’s cakes or the place itself, because it was pouring cats and dogs and I didn’t take my camera with me. The cakes didn’t make it back well either, but suffice to say that they are really good! I was very impressed with the care they took in the packaging and the entire look of the place, although I do hope that they come up with some new cakes by the time I return to KL in August because there were probably about 10 types of cakes and tarts in the counter and when I asked, they said that this was all the variety that they had and the flavours don't change. Huh.

So back to Levain. Levain is my kind of bakery. It's one of those large homey refurbished colonial houses, or 'cottages' as I would like to call them, and the entire place has been renovated (for a cool million I heard). It actually reminds me of MANY such places in Australia, which have these types of bakeries in abundance, and not so much European/continental bakeries. I was half expecting for Levain to let me down in some aspect, because it sold everything – warm food, breads, pastries, cakes, and even macarons! But...I must say that I am pretty impressed on the whole! I went with a huge group of relatives, so I was able to try just about everything. Their beverages, pastries, pizzas, spaghetti, soup, cakes, macarons, breads – ALL CHECKED! Everything was more than passable, and I was very impressed with a few items.

Let’s go down to the nitty gritty shall we?

When you first walk into the bungalow cottage, (you first have to get pass the problem of very-hard-to-find-parking), you will be greeted by the cashier and the bakery proper on the left. On the extreme left, lies the bakery which contains the stone oven which they use for their breads. Mind you, I see normal commercial ovens too, so I suspect only pizzas and the crusty continental breads get their baking in the stone oven.

I liked the self-service aspect of it – if you're just getting the breads to go, you can grab a tray, then head to the cashier to pay up. If you're looking for a seat, I'll recommend you looking for a seat first, noting down the number and going down to order. There's seating downstairs and upstairs, inside and out. The view differs from room to room, so take your pick! You can (or have to) ‘chope’ your seat with a ‘reserved’ tag before making your way to get your food. As for warm food and beverages, they’ll be served to you, so be sure to remember where you are seated. Water and other cutlery are available at counters in each room.

Onto my review proper. For the clueless, levain actually refers to a starter that French bakers used in their baking. And this is perhaps the selling point of this bakery, that all their breads make use of this special levain, or natural yeast as they like to call it. I personally prefer the term sourdough, but well, to each his own. Admittedly, because I was there for the 'levain' items, I was quite disappointed to see a very small variety of actual European-styled breads. I guess that's mainly because Malaysians still like their soft and sweet buns, so European breads, which tend to be crusty, can be pretty hard to sell. Besides, other than the usual baguette, I'm sure more than half of the patrons probably have no idea what European breads I'm referring to.
I tried the 'natural yeast' baguette, which I asked them to slice and toast for me. I didn't quite like it - although it was nicely crisp and all, I expected a slight tinge of sourness or at least some complexity in the taste of the baguette but... nothing. It was a very flat taste, and very reminiscent of normal yeasted baguettes, so I was disappointed that their levain didn't taste good enough. But mind you, I am comparing to the baguettes that I had the privilege of eating in France, so it is perhaps an unfair comparison. The baguette was good, just not great. 

As for the other breads, I read that the bakers actually come up with at least 4 new items each month, which is really impressive! I managed to snitch bites of a couple of other breads, such as the walnut ring thing that you see in the background in the photo above, as well as other 'japanese' style soft sweet breads. The breads were pretty much standard, and the prices were quite hefty (at least RM 3) for each, but I guess we're paying for the experience? A good bet however, would be their sandwiches. They have quite a few varieties available, and the portions are enough for one for lunch.

As for the pastries, I liked them :] I had the croissant, the almond croissant as well as the danish pastries (the sultana one). I liked that they used the yeasted versions of these pastries, and that each layer/lamination was very crisp and well done. The almond croissant was really good - I liked the almond paste on the inside - it didn't reek of almond extract, and the sweetness was just right. Same with the other pastries.

As for the macarons - MAJOR GRIPE. WHY WHY WHY do they spell them as macaroons? For a bakery to name themselves after something French, it is unacceptable that they got the spelling of MACARONS wrong! It’s not macaroons for goodness sake! GAH. I certainly felt that it was incongruent to sell French confections and not know how to spell them properly >.<

I can't remember the exact price of each macaron, but I was told by my cousin that the macarons here are quite costly as compared to other places. However, they are also one of the best. So I guess you're paying for good quality stuff! Levain has approximtely 15 flavors on sale each day, and out of those I tried, I was pretty impressed with the strawberry, which had fizzy candy to give it an extra pop. The other flavors were good as well, not overly sweet and overwhelming, and all very well done. I was impressed also with the fact that the feet were nicely frilled for most of the macarons and the sizes and filling quite uniform across the board. Thumbs up!

As for the cakes, I had the Noisette (Hazelnut Dacquoise, Dark 62% Mousse, Chocolate Flourless Cake, Pralinosa Mousse), Mango Passionfruit tart and Raspberry Pistachio Cake. I'm not sure if those are the exact names for the latter two, but I can't seem to find them on the website any longer. They probably are out of season by now. In any case, no loss if you want to try them because out of the three cakes I tried, I was most impressed with the Noisette. You can probably give the other two a pass since the raspberry tasted very sugary and fake, as did the pistachio (there just wasn't enough real pistachio) and the mango-passionfruit quite normal. I tend to prefer a crispier and more well baked pate sucree, so the tart crust was below par for me. Nevertheless, I think each cake cost me RM7-9, so it was pretty cheap and value for money! Do try the noisette - I really enjoyed the praline mousse and the hazelnut dacquoise - I thought the layers were very well balanced between chocolate and hazelnut.

As for the other hot meals, we had two pizzas, which are available from 12pm to 8pm, and we had spaghettis and soups as well. The pizzas start from RM14 for medium sizes and RM20 for large sizes. The large is probably enough for two people for a meal. Very decent prices, and you get to choose whether you want a thin crust or a 'roman' thick crust. The bottom pizza picture shows the thick crust. Really pretty good stuff!

As for the soups, I had the minestrone and mushroom, both to dip the sliced baguette in, nothing too fantastic to rave about, but nothing below average either. Their spaghetti was pretty good - I had the spaghetti in arrabbiata sauce, and the sauce was nicely hot with chilli padi and the spaghetti nicely al dente.

So all in all, Levain gets my two thumbs up! Definitely worth a visit if you're in the vicinity, and if you're a tourist, the place is just off Jalan Imbi, but it's quite a fair walk (especially under the harsh sun) and I'd certaintly recommend taking the taxi there if you can afford it. It's a great getaway in the middle of the city, and definitely a novel experience :]

Levain Boulangerie & Patisserie

Address: 7 Jalan Delima, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Contact: +603 2142 6611
Opening hours: Mondays to Sundays, 0730h to 2100h
Price: $ (starts from RM3 for a bun)
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