Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The journey of sweet potato cheesecake

The journey of sweet potato cheesecake

November 8, 2011 at 12:49am

     It is after 1 in the morning and I am hoping for sleep. But my sweet potato cheesecakes have more than 1 hour to go before I can put them to bed, and then myself. We grew the sweet potatoes, an no imo, a special variety from Kumamoto, and one that is especially orange and sweet. How can it go wrong when they are grown with love? rain. more rain. and rain some more. Should I also mention the abject neglect after the first few weddings, when I returned to the patch after the rains to find the vines over growing, over flowing and even starting to encroach on the property of a house behind our allotment? I was positive the fearsome bugs of this subtropical climate would have exploded from gouging by this time, rationalizing that our allotment is the highest level of 'organic'. But these were fine. Even so. I cannot just let them rot,simply because no-one I know particularly cares for sweet potatoes.

     So I did what I do best; I turned them first into soup, then I used some as a thickening agent for a curry,  I made panallets, put them into bread dough, used them to make pasta, roasted them in the toaster oven and ate one with butter as a tribute to my mother, and started to baulk at the idea of sweet potato pie. Finally I turned them into a cheesecake. I mean, how can it be bad when one adds 600 gr of cream cheese, 100 grams of sour cream, 100 grams of sweet cream, natural brown sugar, to mention just a few ingredients? This is a long story, regarding cheesecakes and sweet potatoes/yams that goes back to my childhood and a mother who like to make cheesecake and liked to eat sweet potatoes as a snack or a meal. They were a cold weather comfort food for her.

     My only strong recollection of yams in our house were those awful canned ones, floating in syrup, awaiting a layer of marshmallows to seal the job on inducing diabetes. At that time we did not know anyone who simply roasted them? No wonder we all cringed as they were brought from the oven .  Oddly, my mother would roast sweet potatoes in their skins just as she did with jacket potatoes but not yams. She would not listen to me when I pleaded that they too could be roasted in their skin and did not need to be smothered in something gooey at Thanksgiving. So when she came to Japan to visit us the first time and I told her the forlorn melody outside our street was the truck which sells hot sweet potatoes freshly roasted on stones, she practically ran to the street to try one.  She was very careful in her choice and enjoyed walking back munching the warm sweet potato wrapped in brown paper. We discussed the pleasures of a snack truck selling  hot corn on the cob and sweet potatoes as snacks as compared to ice cream trucks. But that was only one part of the debate.


     She made cheesecake. Good cheesecake. Great cheesecake. She mailed cheesecakes to my sister when she wanted to let her know she cared. She baked them right in the Danish butter cookie tins. They survived the journey better than her journey at times. She would get the ingredients out and bring them to room temperature, lug the heavy stand mixer to the counter, or later the food processor, add her ingredients mixing one into the other, saving the addition of eggs til last. She would use the same pans each time, she would always bake them for 55 minutes at 350 f., and she would turn off the heat and leave them in the oven to cool. They would go into the refrigerator for 24 hours. And most of the time they looked as good as any I had seem at some famous eateries.  But she would become frustrated that they cracked sometimes, rose and fell too much other times, were too brown on top, which she would hide with wonderful concoctions of maple syrup, butter and nuts cooked into a caramel sauce occasionally.

     And here I am all those years later, still testing, inventing, and bathing, still lowering the temperature so much I end up awake double the normal time, and still hand mixing, even though I am surrounded by my own entourage of old faithful processors, blenders, and mixers. And while there is agreement in the culinary world about what type of heat to use, whether to mix by hand or machine, and what  the temperature should be, the debate continues on the water bath. And I will continue to invent flavours, and textures, and hope that this one persuades a special person that she really does like roasted sweet potatoes; or perhaps she wont even notice them, a shame considering they were roasted for an hour, hand mashed and pressed through a sieve to get a fine texture free of fiber and that gummy quality processors give. But if this cheesecake does not meet the grade, I can always fall back on my mother's tried and true recipes I managed to record . And just perhaps I might be lucky enough one day to bake one in a butter cookie tin and mail it to someone I want to know I care.

(I am sure she is laughing right now; my cheesecake has a hairline crack from the oven temperature being too high and though it is barely visibile- I can hear her saying,"See I told you that water bath is just extra work"...)

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Rainy day macarons

Rainy Day Macarons
I do not seem to have learned my lesson; to consider carefully whether one's self confidence can withstand  attempting macarons on a rainy day unless the workspace is fully dehumidified  and there is a convection oven . Most of all, always, always make sure your kitchen mixer is not going to malfunction in the middle of pouring hot syrup into the egg whites. argh... homemade mango jam , mango ganache , okay,  all are possible on a rainy day, but the macarons? Why do it? To keep my word to T for her play date, she had promised her friend I would bake them.
So against my better judgement and knowing that humidity at 60% or higher often bodes ill for meringue and macaron crunch, I forged ahead, adding dried egg whites as a stabilizer, cream of tartar to avoid over beating and folding with the care a debutant might make for her attire to her first dance.  I even  dried the almond powder and confectioner's sugar before processing and sifting them twice.
Always somewhat perplexed by the process of making a silken stiff meringue only to press the air out during the final stage, I pondered the macaronage. While more confident with French meringue, the weather pushed me to use either Swiss or Italian.  I opted for Italian after remembering how stiff the Swiss meringue can be.  Just as I attempted to pour the syrup, debating the temperature ( one books states 113degrees, while another 116 degrees and still another 120 degrees ), the mixer stopped. Wondering if this spelled doom for the shells, I quickly switched to my handheld mixer, burning myself in the process.I am still not confident in my abilities after reading more than 12 books, taking a special masterclass in Paris, discussion with several authorities and hours and hours of test runs ( should I mention the hours of watching others make them on Youtube?) .
The  weather meant I had a couple of options for the drying stage. One tray was left to dry near the air conditioner, another was dried in the oven according to Adriano Zumbo's technique (which looked great on television but which was a disaster for me as they cracked), while leaving them in a warmed oven with the door ajar seemed to work fairly well; half of them came out with smooth shells and pretty feet. Drying them on a bench consistently seems to work the best for me but could I really ask the children to wait two more hours while they dried properly? I need a drying technique I can use at the restaurant to churn them out more quickly than summer weather allows and I was no closer to finding my magic bullet.
The proof was in the heating and the eating. I could not age them for a day to meld the flavours properly. Result?  The coconut almond bases were tasty , the mango jam (and we all know the cost of a Miyazaki mango , though this one was a steal at 1000 yen) was delightfully astringent and sweet,  the mango white chocolate ganache ,leaving out the rum for the little ones, was fine if one likes white chocolate but oh my, those shells... Where was that magic crackle, the crisp to complement the chewy innards  when you sink your teeth into the outer biscuit? They had feet, not the feet of a princess but nice enough to be seen. The shells did not crack so I could assume they were neither over mixed nor under dried,  but they simply did not look like those ones in the pictures and  famous pastry shops. Oddly the cocoa macarons with the olive oil and black pepper ganache were closer to the mark but on each tray some had hairline fissures while others were perfect. Was it my piping technique I wondered?

T's response? "Even great chefs have a bad day ! It's good you weren't on Master chef though, you'd be eliminated. They taste really good though, and besides  my friend doesn't know what a great macaron looks like. Better luck next time, Mom." Remembering that Raymond Blanc said it takes chefs 10 years to master these little darlings, I promised myself I would persevere...once I figured out who could repair my beloved kitchen aid commercial mixer in Japan. This adventure is not over yet.
     A note- in June 2012 my spouse found a class offered for the first time at Ferrandi summer school, taught by Ollivier Christian , a master class for five wonderful intense days. 
This class ws not inexpensive by any means and one can certainly find less expensive and shorter classes but I was intent on having all my questions answered and mastering at least one style of macarons since I had purchased practically every book on the market , not to mention it was getting tiresome at work and stressful not knowing the result.
The class was small and I stayed virtually across the street in a lovely hotel which boasted a great breakfast(forgive me, my favorite meal when I have time to eat it) and a quirky ever so French set of concierges. Class ran from 8:30 to 5 but really we were there until 6. Lunch was included, cooked by the professional culinary students. This class is not for beginners. There were three of us and Ollivier. I am happy to say I was not the oldest, nor was I the only person with a culinary background but I was not the most outgoing and that meant I did not get as much hands on experience as I would have liked. But in these classes you must make yourself known and take what you want to get the hands on experience and I am not so inclined. Except after the 3 rd day when I was practically skinned a live for a reason I still do not know nor understand. My ingrained politeness, accentuated by so many years in Japan gave way to determination to get what I came for. And I did, in addition to a budding friendship with the events designer brought in the last day. Also, Ollivier has been true to his word as well as helpful in answering my emails. This on top of his own business speaks volumes of his decency.

What did I gain from this class? I am hesitant to share my information only because the class is still taught but I know it does not replace actually attending so the main points are-
1. Measure accurately and work quickly.
2. Use the Italian meringue  recipe if you wish bright and shiny shells.
3. Add flavour concentrates if you want exacting flavours in your fillings,but not too much.
4. Use a thermometer which is meant for sugar work.
5. Use two ovens, one for the drying and one for the baking stage and this one is where they get me. ...preferably a deck oven.
We tried convection and it simply did notroduce the same results consistently.

But really, who has a deck oven at home or can afford one at work?
So if anyone can share a reliable one oven baking method, then I am all ears.
The book is 'macaron' by Christophe Felder. (They work together.) m copy is in French so if anyone purchases it and needs help with the language I am happy to assist. Just contact me.