Raspberry Frangipane Tarts

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It has been an absolutely crazy holiday season so far; not only was my family in NYC for five days, where we proceeded to stuff our faces with as much NYC deliciousness as possible (or maybe that was just me and my lack of self-control), but we’ve also attended three parties within the first five days of our return to San Jose. And we have another one tomorrow. Talk about holiday weight gain…

But no regrets! Life is about savoring all the memorable moments, and I assure you that this is a recipe that is truly memorable. I made some of these raspberry frangipane tarts for a New Year’s Eve party and my family stole a few while they were still warm, and I gotta say this is one of the best things I have eaten this entire year; the fragrance of the almonds and vanilla plus the floral sweetness and slight tartness of the raspberries are a match made in pastry heaven. This may even edge out tiramisu as my favorite dessert. Shocker, right?

It’s really a labor of love; you have to make a pâte sablée, a crème pâtissière, and a crème aux amandes. But if you break up the process through two or three days (the pâte sablée must sit in the fridge overnight anyways) it won’t feel like that much work. And please, do yourself a favor, forget about your new year’s resolutions to “eat healthy” and “lose weight,” and make these. I’m not joking when I say that these things are a revelation.

Crust, pastry cream, and almond cream recipes adapted from The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer

Ingredients:

Pâte Sablée

  • 88g (3oz) European-style butter, 82% fat
  • 1g sea salt
  • 145g all-purpose flour
  • 17g almond flour
  • 55g confectioners’ sugar
  • 1g vanilla extract
  • 40g egg yolks

Classic Crème Pâtissière (Pastry Cream)

  • 187.5g whole milk
  • 19g European-style butter, 82% fat
  • 24g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 7.5g cornstarch
  • 7.5g cake flour
  • 24g granulated sugar
  • 45g egg yolks

Almond Cream

  • 75g almond flour
  • 75g confectioners’ sugar
  • 2g cornstarch
  • 2g cake flour
  • 75g European-style butter, 82% fat
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 1g vanilla extract
  • 45g whole eggs
  • 15g dark rum

Raspberries, sliced almonds, and confectioners’ sugar for garnish

Instructions:

Day 1: Make the Pâte Sablée

  1. Place butter, sea salt, and all-purpose flour in a medium or large mixing bowl. Using a fork or pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is sandy and crumbly; avoid over-mixing.
  2. Once your mixture resembles coarse sand, add the almond flour and confectioners’ sugar and mix until everything is just combined. Add the vanilla and egg yolk and mix until the dough just comes together.
  3. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a flat surface and press into a 1/2-inch thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Day 2 (or 3): Make the Crème Pâtissière

  1. Line a sheet pan with plastic wrap and set aside.
  2. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. In a saucepan combine all but 3 tablespoons of the milk. Add butter, 24g sugar, and the vanilla bean seeds and pod. Stir and place over medium heat.
  3. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, add the cornstarch and flour with another 24g sugar. Add the reserved 3 tablespoons of milk and the egg yolks and mix together.
  4. When the milk mixture on the stove comes to a boil, turn off the heat and remove the vanilla bean pod. Set it on a paper towel to dry for another use (I like to put them in my sugar containers, but they can also be used to flavor tea). Pour half of the hot milk mixture into the yolk mixture. Then strain the egg yolk+milk mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture to remove any solids.
  5. Turn the heat back on to medium and whisk the mixture very thoroughly, making sure to scrape all nooks and crannies of the pan so the cream doesn’t scorch. The second you feel the mixture start to thicken slightly on the bottom, remove the pan from the heat and mix for about 30 seconds until the mixture is slightly thick and uniform. Return the pot to medium heat and bring back to a boil. Once it has reached a boil, cook for an additional minute before removing from heat.
  6. Transfer your cream to the plastic-lined sheet pan and spread it into a flat even layer. Cover the cream with another layer of plastic and then place the sheet pan into the freezer for 10-15 minutes (this will stop the growth of bacteria).
  7. Remove from the freezer and place the cream in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk until it has a creamy texture, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready for use.

Day 2 (or 3): Make the Almond Cream

  1. Sift together the almond flour, confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and cake flour.
  2. Add the room-temperature butter, sea salt, and vanilla mixture into a medium mixing bowl. Mix on medium speed for about a minute.
  3. Add the nut mixture to the bowl and mix for another minute. Then gradually add the egg and mix until it is incorporated. Finally add the rum and mix.

Day 2 (or 3): Assemble and bake the tarts

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9-inch tart pan (or several mini tart molds). Be careful not to use too much butter, as doing so may cause the dough to slide off while baking. Press the dough into the pan or molds and refrigerate for about 20 minutes to cool and harden the dough before baking.
  2. Mix the pastry cream and the almond cream together to make your frangipane. Fill your cooled tart pan or molds with the frangipane. Arrange raspberries on top and sprinkle on some sliced almonds. Bake at 350 degrees F until the frangipane starts to brown slightly on the edges; for two-inch tarts, this will take about 30 minutes.
  3. Once your tart(s) is/are done, remove from the oven and let cool for about 10-15 minutes before unmolding. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm.

Note: If you have leftover pâte sablée, you can turn it into sablée cookies by rolling the dough out to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness, cutting out cookies using a cookie cutter, and baking at 325 degrees F for 10-15 minutes until the edges are golden brown.

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Balthazar

Hooray for the end of yet another semester of college!! It has been a memorable one with lots of great times with even better people, and not surprisingly for me, a lot of those great times involved eating (or preparing) amazing food.

But of course there were some not-so-bright moments as well. I’m pretty sure that this past reading week was the most intense one I’ve experienced so far, since the semester was technically supposed to end two days before Christmas but most professors pushed up their finals to the week before they were supposed to be scheduled so there was basically no time to prepare or study. I mean, I’m pretty sure that plenty of people had it much worse than I did, but I’ve still earned the right to be relieved that it’s all over right?

But me being me, I made it a point to go out to eat at least once during reading week. My favorite gals from my French class second semester freshman year (can’t say last semester anymore) and I had been talking about going to Balthazar since February, and we finally did about ten months later! Shoutout to Margaryta, Kylie and Sara for being the absolute best!

Yup, nothing says basic b•tch New Yorker like brunching at Balthazar. But I was careful not to allow my expectations to get too high since I’ve been disappointed too often in the past after eating at so-called amazing restaurants; Sarabeth’s definitely comes to mind. But I gotta say, pretty much everything we ordered was on point.

We started with a steak tartare and a goat cheese and caramelized onion tart to share. The tartare was seasoned well and was pretty tender, but I wasn’t wild about it; for some reason the beef didn’t taste extremely fresh. But the tart was phenomenal. I mean, it’s hard to go wrong with such a classic combination, but I loved the rich creamy, smooth and thick texture and sour tang of the goat cheese paired with the fragrant sweet onions. There was some olive paste on the side, which added an extra acidity and complex earthiness to prevent the cheese from being too heavy.

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Steak Tartare
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Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Tart

After what felt like hours, our main courses finally arrived! Sara and I split a duck confit and a beef stroganoff, both of which were ridiculous. The beef was incredibly tender with a perfect fat-to-meat ratio; it wasn’t too stringy but still had enough structure. The broth was hearty, comforting and incredibly flavorful, and the broad egg noodles were fun to slurp. There was plenty of sauce left over in the bowl after I finished my half, but thankfully there was a huge basket of bread that was perfect for sopping up the leftover juices. Carb overload!

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Beef Stroganoff

I had been craving a nice duck confit for a while, and Balthazar’s rendition of the classic French dish was richly satisfying. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender with a slight fragrant crisp on the exterior, and I loved the flavor of the pearl onions and roasted potatoes that accompanied the dish. Duck confit is invariably made with a ridiculous amount of duck fat (how else would it be so delicious?), but it didn’t taste too oily or greasy at all. Another super hearty and delicious plate to make the tastebuds happy.

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Duck Confit

This indulgent meal at Balthazar was just what I needed to get me through a rough end to the semester; each dish seemed to be giving me a warm hug, and miraculously my tears from crying about finals didn’t ruin the textures. The food brought back great memories of eating at bistros in Paris and made me look forward to a year abroad! While nothing was life-changing, everything was done extremely well. Prices were steep, but definitely worth it; I can say that Balthazar has earned its great reputation.

Rating: 4.5/5 spoons

Hundred Acres

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In which I go to brunch downtown and eat all sorts of fantastic food instead of studying for my midterm (because food>school, obviously).

Hundred Acres is another one of those New York restaurants that has a wonderful reputation; everyone who goes there inevitably raves about it. So true to form, the best food buddy Cindy and I decided that we would just drop everything else and catch up over a nice meal there on Sunday. I certainly thought that ceding to the appetitive part of the soul was necessary to understand Plato and his conception of self-control and virtue.

Paltry excuses aside, I really did feel like I needed to take a brunch break (though let’s be real; I could always use a brunch break). This was one of the cutest little restaurants in the cutest little neighborhood; I adored the fall-themed decorations and the comfortable dining space. Everything was cleanly and elegantly arranged yet still pretty casual and fun.

Having made a reservation, we were seated as soon as we got there, which was great because they were already booked to capacity and we would have had to wait at least an hour otherwise. Because we were in a self-indulgent mood (having been reading about Plato and the appetites), we sprang for the chicken liver toast ($10) followed by their baked eggs in a tomato stew ($14) and their famous goat cheese and sage bread pudding ($16).

Oh, what a glorious meal.

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The toast was piled high with chunky and tender chicken liver flavored with onions and garlic, and it was incredible how well-balanced everything felt. While the liver was creamy and rich, it wasn’t so fatty that it felt overwhelming (thinking about foie gras), mostly because there was a perfect ratio of topping to bread. The bits of sour pickled beets and fragrant fried onion crisps made for a truly luscious dish.

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Then there was the baked egg dish, which reminded me of a shakshuka. Intense tomato flavor and beautifully poached eggs, but I wish they had provided more than the single tiny slice of toast to sop up the whole thing. There was just so much intensity that it needed something to ease the sudden assault on the tastebuds. It wasn’t bad, but nothing incredibly special either.

But the sage and goat cheese bread pudding. Oh. My. God.

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There are few times I will say that something is life-changing; besides Nobu, Obicà and Jack’s Wife Freda, very little has blown my mind and completely made me rethink everything I know about food. But this dish was life-changing. The bread was gloriously soft and tender and moist with a sinfully rich butteriness that paired perfectly with the aromatic sage and creamy goat cheese, and the yolk porn from the poached eggs was real. The dish had an interesting duality of sweet and savory that intrigued and tantalized more than confused the tastebuds,  and the spinach provided a nice freshness to balance out the richness of the rest of the dish. The result was one of the most decadent brunch dishes I’ve had the privilege of eating. I think I’m going to have fantasies about this bread pudding for a very long time.

Portion sizes weren’t the biggest, but we were more than satisfied by the end of our meal. I’ll definitely be looking for any excuse to return for that bread pudding.

Rating: Overall 4.5/5 spoons, but the bread pudding gets an extra spoon 🙂

Obicà

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’ve always been a huge, huge fan of Italian food, and luckily for me I don’t necessarily have to go all the way to Italy to enjoy it (although I must say that nothing here can quite compare). Obicà had been on my to-eat list for months now, ever since one of my favorite food buddies Cindy raved about it after her Restaurant Week experience last semester (be sure to check out her blog post about it here). But alas, I haven’t had a chance to try it for myself. Until now.

Since I’ve started working with Try the World, I’ve been stupefied by how much good food is within three blocks of the office. Trust a bunch of foodies to pick a location that’s surrounded by some of the best eats in New York. One day, as a few coworkers and I went out searching for lunch, we walked for about a minute when, lo and behold, I stumbled across the one and only Obicà!

I managed to convince the others that the steep prices would be worth it. I guess it helped that it was Friday and everyone was feeling a bit self-indulgent, especially since things at TTW were getting pretty busy. We went in and were promptly greeted by a cheerful waiter, who led us through a dimly-lit dining area that was elegant enough to proclaim the restaurant’s status as a high-quality dining establishment yet still disheveled in a way that made it feel more casual and approachable.

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Everyone at our table went with the lunch prix fixe menu, which offers two courses for $19. For my appetizer course, I chose the Zuppa di Zucca, a butternut squash soup topped with fresh herbs and goat cheese. Presentation was beautiful; the soup was a lovely pale orange with a dollop of cheese in the center, with cheerful flecks of green herbs. After mixing the cheese into the soup, the soup took on a thicker consistency but still maintained a fantastic creaminess with a slightly grainy texture from the squash. They achieved a mind-blowingly perfect balance of sweetness from the squash and subtle sour tanginess from the cheese; it was almost like eating a dessert, since the cheese truly brought out the sweetness of the squash, but the presence of the herbs gave it a savory feeling. The flavors were more subtle than strong, but they complemented each other so well that it felt like I was consuming a melodious masterpiece of a symphony; the chef used the relatively few ingredients to their maximum potential.

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This bowl of deliciousness was followed by a plateful of even more deliciousness: a Pappardelle Ragú di Anatra e Arancia (pappardelle pasta with duck ragú and orange zest). As any Italian restaurant worth its salt (so punny) would do, Obicà prepared the thick pappardelle noodles to a perfect al-dente consistency, but this dish was unlike any other pasta I’ve ever had. The ragù chunks were the perfect size; just big enough to give the dish an extra dimension of bite instead of graininess, without overwhelming the pasta. They chose to pair the flavors of the meat and rosemary with the unique choice of orange, which I must say was a stroke of genius. The sweet and bright citrus flavors were subtle, but they were mind-blowing with the fragrance of the rosemary. And again they were able to achieve a perfect balance of flavors; any more citrus and the dish would have felt too cloying. Adding an extra drizzle of their luscious olive oil imparted an additional complexity with a beautiful nutty flavor and truly made for a decadent meal.

If I were a billionaire instead of a broke college student, Obicà would be one of those restaurants to which I would return time and time again. But I’ll have to settle for the privilege of experiencing yet another life-changing meal in New York. Here’s to many more!

Rating: 5.5/5 spoons 😀

Buvette

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Round 2 of college life in the Big Apple has officially begun! Hooray for another year of fun, food, and friends! Oh, and I guess school and studying too*.

A couple of friends and I took advantage of our last few moments of (relatively) blissful freedom to kick off our second year in style. There’s nothing better than fangirling over Jane Austen with two of my favorite English majors (thanks, Jennifer and Anvita!) while pigging out on some of the best food in the city! Seriously though, Pride and Prejudice is one of the best books ever written, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.

And this most adorable French-style restaurant in West Village, Buvette, was the perfect place to discuss all things Darcy and Bingley, Bennet and Lucas. It has a quaint rustic charm with the teeny tiny menus and the wooden tables placed cozily close together, and while Caroline Bingley probably would have considered the setting terribly provincial, not even she could have complained about their excellent service or even better food. And though we didn’t have the chance to sit in their garden, we could tell through the window that it was magical.

All of us were starving and we held absolutely nothing back. I went for the waffle sandwich, which consisted of an egg sunny-side up and bacon sandwiched between two pieces of Belgian waffles all drenched with maple syrup.

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Can we say food porn?

The waffles had a soft and fluffy texture without any crisp, and though they were completely drenched in maple syrup, they weren’t soggy. The batter packed an extra buttery punch that, far from making the waffle taste too heavy, added to the overall fragrance of the dish and paired beautifully with the high-quality syrup. The bacon was oh-so-crispy and had that ineffable fresh-from-the-farm taste that only comes from the best meat. While the egg wasn’t cooked too thoroughly to be sunny-side-up as advertised on the menu, the yolk was still soft and chewy without being too dry, and again there was a sweetness to it that proclaimed its freshness. The maple syrup, instead of being too sweet or cloying to properly contrast with the smoky bacon and savory egg, unified everything in a perfect quartet. While such a breakfast would probably be categorized as American comfort food, and while I will forever worship the first person who came up with the “wafflewich,” Buvette put their own little French twist on it to bring it to the next level. It also helped that the portion wasn’t unreasonably huge; I polished it off with a comfortable feeling of satiation in my stomach.

Perhaps even more popular are their steamed egg dishes, which consist of toast with a topping and steamed scrambled eggs. The crunchy toast contrasts perfectly with the egg, which is softer, silkier and less greasy than your traditional scramble, and the toppings are jam-packed with flavor. Definitely a must-try.

In Buvette I’ve found another favorite NYC brunch spot, and I can’t wait to go there again! Next time I’m bringing Pride and Prejudice with me.

Rating: 5/5 spoons

*Alas, these are not optional. Most of the time.

Croissants

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I honestly believe that there are few experiences that can eclipse that of eating a freshly-baked croissant. A well-made pastry is great served at any temperature, but nothing comes close to the degree of fluffiness and flakiness of one that’s fresh from the oven. It’s the closest to heaven that I’ve come so far in this lifetime.

But, like most classic French pastries, it requires lots of time, patience, and technique. Jacquy Pfeiffer, one of the founders of the French Pastry School in Chicago and author of The Art of French Pastry, includes plenty of tips and tricks in his recipes to help readers of his cookbook bring a little bit of France into their kitchens. So here’s Jacquy’s croissant recipe, with some of helpful pointers I’ve picked up through many, many attempts at making these little bites of heaven. This is quite a long and detailed description, but please read through the entire thing before you begin! Being meticulous in every step is crucial for success. Bear with me for a little bit, and I promise the end result will be completely worth it!

Ingredients (Use exact measurements):

  • 100g all-purpose flour
  • 100g warm water
  • 5g active dry yeast
  • 200g bread flour
  • 38g granulated sugar
  • 15g softened French-style butter, 82% fat*
  • 45g warm water, same temperature as the other 100g water
  • 30g egg
  • 7g sea salt
  • 150g French-style butter, 82% fat, cold
  • Egg wash: 1 whole egg mixed with 1 tbsp water
  • Dark chocolate bars if making pain au chocolat
  1. Put the warm water (slightly cooler than hand temperature) in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast to the warm water and stir. Sprinkle 100g all-purpose flour on top; do not mix. Set aside for 15-20 minutes so the yeast has time to activate. It’s activated when there are cracks in the flour and when you can see foamy bubbles around yeast clusters.
  2. Once the yeast has been activated, add the following ingredients in the order listed: bread flour, sugar, 15g softened butter, 45g warm water, eggs, and salt. Mix together either by hand or using a mixer. The key here is to make sure that everything is incorporated thoroughly, but you don’t overmix the dough; you do not want to encourage too much gluten development. The dough should be smooth, soft, moist and just a little bit sticky, and when you press a finger into it there should be an indent. If there is not, then that means you have overmixed it, and your croissants will not come out well. There should be no traces of dry ingredients in the bowl when you’re done mixing, and the dough should not feel lumpy.
  3. Transfer the dough to another bowl dusted with flour, and dust the surface of the dough with a little more flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a towel, or if your bowl has a lid, then cover it with the lid, and let it rise for 1.5 hours or until it doubles in volume. Make sure the temperature of your rising environment does not exceed 80 degrees F, or else the butter will melt out.
  4. Once your dough has finished rising, dust a large work surface/counter with flour and place the dough on it. Shape into a ball; do not knead. Flatten into a 1-inch disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for an hour.
  5. While chilling your dough, prepare the butter layer. Take 150g of butter from the refrigerator and put it on a sheet of parchment paper. Fold the parchment paper over the butter so that both sides are completely covered and pound/roll the butter into about an 8×6 inch rectangle. Once you’re done, refrigerate the butter for 45 minutes.
  6. When both the dough and butter have finished chilling, remove from the refrigerator and check to see that they’re both cold. The dough and butter should have a similar softness/consistency. Pound lightly on the butter to soften it up. Roll out the dough to a 16×8 inch rectangle. Place the butter on the lower half of the dough and fold the dough over so that the butter layer is completely sealed in. You should not be able to see any butter; otherwise it will leak out as you roll.
  7. First roll: Make sure that the dough and butter are cold but pliable and that your work space is generously floured. Gently start rolling your dough until it’s about 20 inches long. Keys to remember: make sure to check every 10 seconds to see if your dough is sticking. If it is, sprinkle some flour onto the dough and add more flour to your work surface. If you feel like your dough is too soft or if it feels like it’s melting, stop rolling immediately and return it to the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes. If your butter is brittle and starts cracking as you roll, that means it’s too hard. In that case, leave on the work surface for a couple of minutes until it starts to soften a little. Working with melting dough will cause the butter and dough to mix together as you roll and destroy your butter layer, resulting in a product that’s more breadlike and not flaky at all. On the other hand, if your butter is too brittle, shards of butter may cut through the dough layer and become exposed to the surface, which also ruins the butter layer. It’s important that you maintain the dough-butter-dough arrangement as you roll. Be sure to also roll all the way to the edges, so that your layer is perfectly even.
  8. When your dough is about 20 inches long, do a book fold: imagine that there are two lines dividing the dough in thirds along the longer edge. With one of the shorter ends of the dough facing you, fold the top third down along the top imaginary line, and align the edge of the dough with the bottom imaginary line. Gently pull and stretch on the edge so that it is perfectly straight, or else your layers will come out unevenly. At this point, one half of your dough will have two layers, and the other half will have one layer. Then, fold the single layer on top of the double layer to create three layers. Again, make sure that the corners and edges line up as perfectly as you can make them. Once you’ve completed your book fold, carefully wrap your dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour.
  9. Re-flour your work surface if necessary. Take the dough out of the refrigerator, unwrap it and place it with one of the open ends facing you; this should be the shorter end. Again, roll out the dough to about 20 inches in length, making sure to maintain the butter layers. Follow the same technique as the previous rolling: keep the dough well-floured, pliant, and cool, and make sure to roll all the way to the edges. Once your dough has reached 20 inches in length, complete another book fold and cover and store overnight in the fridge. Your dough now has 9 layers.
  10. The next day, take the dough out of the fridge, again making sure that it’s not too hard. If it is, let it sit outside for a couple of minutes until it’s pliable enough to handle. Once it is ready, roll the dough out again to a 20-inch-long rectangle, do a book fold, cover, and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes. Your final dough should have 27 layers.
  11. Final rolling: roll the dough out to a 20×7 inch rectangle and get ready to shape!
    1. For regular croissants: on one long edge, make a notch every 4 inches. On the other long edge, make a notch 2 inches from one short edge, and every 4 inches after that. Cut out of the dough by making diagonal cuts connecting the notches from one edge to the notches of the other; your cuts should form a zigzag pattern. You will end up with 9 isosceles triangles, with two extra half-triangles. Gently press these extra half-triangles together to form a tenth isosceles triangle. To roll, take a triangle and place it base facing you and tip pointing away from you. Make a 3/4-inch cut in the center of the base. Take the sides of the incision and fan them outward, and roll the croissant like a scroll from base to tip. Place on a baking sheet covered with either parchment paper or aluminum foil. Repeat with the remaining croissants, and be sure to leave at least an inch between each croissant when placing on the baking sheet.
    2. For pains au chocolat: Cut the 20×7 rectangle in half width-wise into two 20×3.5 inch rectangles. Divide the two rectangles into five 3.5×4 inch rectangles each for a total of ten 3.5×4 inch rectangles. Take a small rectangle and place it longer edge facing you. Line some chocolate along the left short edge about a centimeter away from the edge, and fold the left edge over the chocolate as if you were going to roll it into a scroll. Place some more chocolate along the edge as before and continue rolling it into a scroll. Place on a baking sheet with the seam side down. Repeat with the remaining rectangles.
  12. Once you’ve shaped your croissants and have put them spaced out on a baking sheet or sheets, brush with a simple egg wash (just beat one whole egg with one tablespoon of water together until thoroughly scrambled). Let them proof for about 1.5 hours. To check if they’re completely proofed, dip a finger (or a chopstick or something similar) into some flour and gently poke one of the croissants. The croissant is fully proofed if the dough does not bounce back. If the dough bounces back quickly, it’s not ready yet; proof for another half-hour before testing again. From the side, you should be able to see the glorious layers that will eventually puff up into buttery flaky goodness. If you shake the pan, the croissants will jiggle like jello.
  13. Once your croissants are fully proofed, brush again with egg wash (be gentle so as to not deflate the croissants) and bake at 375 degrees F for 18-20 minutes or until they are golden brown in color. They should also look slightly rough and wrinkled and flaky. If you’re using multiple baking pans, be sure to rotate the pans and swap their positions halfway to ensure even baking.
  14. Let the croissants cool for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Notes:

-Using European-style butter with 82% fat is crucial, since it has less water. I’ve been able to find it in Whole Foods, Safeway, and even Walmart. Cheaper butter has less fat and more water, but more water means more steam during baking. This steam will cause the pastry to rise greatly, but it will eventually collapse.

-Using exact measurements is crucial in pastry, which is why you should use a digital kitchen scale to measure out the ingredients.

-Make sure you’re working in a relatively cool environment; if it gets too hot, then the butter will melt before you can roll out your dough properly.

-You can create an optimal proofing environment by putting a cup or bowl of boiling water in your oven and letting your dough or croissants proof in there with the oven door closed. Your proofing environment should be humid and warm without any drafts, but it should not be so warm that butter starts melting out.

-Croissants are obviously best served fresh, but they can be frozen for two or three months after they’re baked. When you want to eat some again, just let them defrost and then blast them in the oven at 450 degrees for 1 minute. If you want, you can even freeze the croissants right after you shape them. When you’re ready to bake these frozen raw croissants, let them defrost for a couple of hours and then proof and bake as instructed.

嶺南小馆-R&G Lounge

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I’ve noticed that Chinatowns around the world have several things in common: they’re filled with streetside markets, cheap eats, colorful old buildings and a bunch of (usually elderly) people jabbering away at each other in Cantonese. At least that’s how I would describe Chinatown in San Francisco. But occasionally it’s possible to run into the odd high-end restaurant, and R&G Lounge certainly qualifies as such. The exterior, with its faded whitewash and dusty sign, is hardly remarkable, but on the other side of the door is a sleek and modern dining area that uses traditional Chinese designs to exude a classy vibe.

Being a Cantonese restaurant, R&G serves no shortage of seafood, from clams and oysters to the more exotic geoduck and abalone. One of their most popular dishes is the live crab with salt and pepper (pictured above), which is basically a Dungeness crab battered, fried, and lightly salted and peppered for flavor. Frying can make practically anything taste better, but what makes this crab stand out in a crowd of fried seafood (I’m looking at you, calamari and shrimp) is that it’s crispy and fragrant but light and airy instead of overly crunchy. It’s also seasoned extremely well, with just the right amount of salt and pepper to give a dish saturated with oil a little bit of brightness and piquancy. While I believe that seafood is best when it’s freshly caught and served with minimal adornment to allow the sweetness to shine, Dungeness crab has a naturally more mild flavor, so using the fryer just gives it a little extra punch.

Another dish to try is the minced seafood in lettuce cups: scallops, prawns, Chinese sausage, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and pine nuts chopped to itty bitty pieces and sautéed together, served with cute little iceberg lettuce leaves on the side. The sauté isn’t overly salty or flavorful, but it has a lovely juxtaposition of interesting textures, and it’s wonderful wrapped inside a lettuce leaf, which provides a gentle crunch and some moisture. The addition of a sauce that they provide on the side (most likely hoisin sauce) gives the wrap even more complex flavor.

The tender greens in supreme broth is a very typical Cantonese-style vegetable dish. The vegetable naturally has a tinge of bitterness, but that bitterness is masked by the sweet and somewhat thick broth. When cooked, 青菜 leaves are usually crunchy and almost translucent, but this particular part of the vegetable is the “core” of the plant, which is softer and juicier. While the vegetable’s size and stringiness makes it occasionally a bit difficult to eat, it’s packed with a natural fragrance that’s only enhanced by the broth.

R&G is definitely among the priciest Chinese restaurants in the area, but it’s worth a go. Your wallet might cry a little (or maybe a lot), but your taste buds will thank you.

Rating: 4.5/5 spoons