Friday, May 16, 2014

Recipe: Vanilla Browned Butter Raspberry Jam Madeleines

I have a new discovery, Natalie Eng's gorgeous food blog here. She is a Singapore who splits her time between Singapore and Paris and has apprenticed at some of the top Parisien restaurants. Her cookery is mostly baking, but she has also included some food recipes as well. Her blog is just gastronomy to the eyes, I couldn't believe that she was barely 19 years old and had such a beautiful eye for photography. What a gift.

I sent her blog to some of my friends who are themselves gifted bakers and we all ooh-ed and aah-ed over her talent and beautiful bakes. I've been inspired by several of the items that she has blogged about and when I looked at the recipes, I was even more in love. She weighs everything and has helpfully laid out all the ingredients by weight and all the notes you need to achieve a good result. I love that her batch size is small and well-controlled.

This was the first of her recipes that I undertook to try. I have never made Madeleines but her pictures were so beautiful and moorish that it spurred me to borrow some madeleine pans at once! Browned butter is clarified butter or ghee, basically you heat butter until it starts to show brown flecks, then you skim off those charred and bitter bits and what is left is a golden, hazlenut- smelling concoction that smells divine. It is a great way to spice up your baking.

I love that this recipe uses honey and indeed, her tips, which included wiping the pan after brushing with melted butter and baking at slightly higher heat, did result in great, risen madeleines, although I felt the texture was a bit dense. I wished I had mini Madeleine trays as I think the smaller size helps with both the rising and the bite-size portion control.

I sandwiched my madeleine batter with a little spoonful of raspberry jam, I felt it cut through the butteriness of the batter and gave it a bit of a surprise. These were just delightful to eat warm, with a crisp skin and a soft interior, straight out of the oven. I baked these with K (this recipe is very simple and suitable for kids, especially if you have already made and refrigerated the batter) and the two girls chowed their way through the madeleines and the crumbs.

Since then, I have had a piping bag of madelaine batter in my fridge, as it is such a versatile thing to have lying around. I make the batter and then rest it in the piping bag, I think I could also freeze the batter for sudden desserts. I will definitely be returning to Natalie E's blog for more inspiration to bake and more deliciousness.

Vanilla Browned Butter Madeleines:
(adapted from the Le Meurice)

90 grams browned butter
15 grams honey, I used the best quality I had
70 grams eggs
25 grams milk
65 grams sugar
5 grams vanilla bean paste
100 grams T45 flour, I used regular all-purpose flour
4 grams baking powder


1. Make a browned butter and strain out the burnt fats using a muslin cloth. Add in the honey and stir to melt it. Set aside to cool slightly.
2. Whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla paste and sugar together.
3. Sift the flour and baking powder together.
4. Add the dry ingredients into your egg mixture and mix gently till well combined and then add in your browned butter. Mix till just homogenous. Cling wrap upon contact and leave in the fridge to chill for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
5. Preheat your oven to 230C without ventilation. Grease your madeleine molds lightly and wipe down with a kitchen paper to remove any excess oil. Fill each mold with 6g of batter and bake for 2 minutes or till the humps have appeared. Open the door, rotate the tray and let some steam out, and finish the baking in the last minute.
6. Unmold immediately and serve warm with a cup of tea and an assortment of jams.
7. Note: if you're using normal madeleine sized molds, fill them with 25g of batter and bake at 210C.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Review: Cicheti, an Italian restaurant in Kandahar Street

The blogspace has been lighting up of late with posts about Cicheti, an Italian restaurant located in a shophouse in Kandahar Street. The restaurant is very new- which in Singapore means 3 reviews as opposed to 90 on HungryGoWhere, with a paid-for-by-the-restaurant photo gallery and booking hotline. I jest.

Does it seem to you that Singapore is just filled with Italian restaurants? Many of whom do well enough to bring their entire families over? And yet, very few of them stand out as having food that is hot to the table, home-made, consistent and not overpriced?

If that's your impression too, then we are in sync. I am hard-pressed to name my favourite Italian place in Singapore, this for a cuisine that seems to be one of Singapore's favourites. People are always asking me, so what is the best Italian restaurant in Singapore? And honestly, I can't name a favourite. I can name some good ones, should you be willing to pay and I can name you some that I pop into once in awhile if I have a craving for pasta, but something that tastes like Tuscan sunshine or a rustic Italian kitchen? Maybe it's like saying you can buy a Vespa but you can't have the riding-a-Vespa-with-your-scarf-trailing-down-cobblestone-Florence lifestyle.

I think with Cicheti though, I've found one that I will go back to and bring friends to for a good meal and a long conversation and that's saying something. Sited near the corner of Kandahar and Baghdad Street, the whole area echoes gently at night of the kind of character and energy that you find in only a few places in Singapore. I'm a little partial to this area as you can tell, but how can you not be, when you are up the road from the best Nasi Padang and sarabat Teh Tarik in Kampong Glam, from little industrial hole-in-the-walls serving everything from old-school Singaporean pastries to Vietnamese noodles and tripping over teenagers smoking shisa on the five-foot way, in the shadow of the giant Golden mosque.

The shophouse itself is nothing special and neither is the restaurant's decor, if you didn't know this is where it was, you would walk past completely. I like Baghdad Street because it's a fairly quiet street, fronting a chain-link fenced empty lot. There is little street parking so you would be well warned to find a multi-storey carpark and walk a couple short streets.

When you enter Cichetti, the first thing you see is the glassed up work space of the pizza chef, which includes the stone pizza oven suspended from the ceiling. The shape of their oven is like a cement Hershey's Kiss, kind of organic and modern at the same time. The restaurant is a mish-mesh of textures from the map-stencilled floor, to the tiled walls, some with faux drawers. The tables are rough-hewn dark wood with industrial metal-backed chairs. The restaurant seats 20 below and up to 30 (but comfortably probably 20) upstairs, it has 3 or 4 little outdoor lover seats (read: non-airconditioned) and a rooftop patio.

It is an ideal place for a date or a dinner party (upstairs), intimate and casual but stylish. There were, I noticed a lot of groups of young and professional women. It is not the place to bring your 70 year-old father, unless there is a nice table upstairs available. This being a narrow shophouse, it gets a little hot when the bulbs have been burning too long and the door is left open.

The service is unusually sweet and lovely. Never, in Singapore, have I been greeted as we sat, by a waiter who introduced himself cheerfully, nor welcome knowledgably with specials. At least, not at this price point. The waitstaff asked the two young-ish children at the next table how they found the food. I recognized the manager for the restaurant who told us that he had come to join his friend, who was the owner-operator of the restaurant. I guess time will tell but for now, I think this is a place with a lot of heart and where the food still tastes really small batch home-made and with the right balance of time on the stove and fresh herbs.

I say for now because I notice from earlier reviews, that the corkage has been re-priced from $35 to $45 (which is pretty punitive for a place with $20 pizzas) and the cost to book a 20 seat party on the second floor is $3000 on a weekday and $4000-5000 minimum spend on Friday, Saturday, excluding drinks. The reason, the manager explained, was that they would shut down their typical 30 seat takings although even he was hard-pressed to explain how their arranged menu would encompass $200 worth of food per person at $20 a pizza or $25 a pasta. This being Singapore, they are already full for some private functions.

The menu makes the bold claim of being intriguing yet accessible, which is an interesting assertion for Italian food- not comforting, familiar, and the like. The restaurant still has specials on trial, like their excellent octopus and T-bone steak and they plan to revamp their menu in July, dropping out some less popular items and putting in items like uni pasta (which did originate from Italy). The interesting thing is, the men behind the counter were all young and they were all local. The only Italians, were the couple of tables of middle-aged ones with their families. The restaurant was booked through the Friday night and there were still odd couples streaming in at 8.30pm and 9pm.

Cicheti is typically small-plate snacks or sides at bacari in Italy, a sort of Italian izakaya, if you will. Oddly enough, the restaurant isn't really snacks at all but maybe the new trend, which runs through my next couple of reviews, is that eating holes are trying to get you to drink more, so the food just accompanies your higher-margin drinks? The one-page landscape menu is very condensed into Appetizers, Pizzas, Pastas, Mains and Desserts, with perhaps 8 choices of each, something that I really appreciate (I hate pages and pages of pastas, a sure sign they are going to taste the same).

To start, we had the burratina cheese with grilled pear and parma ham. The burrata was light, fresh, cold and just excellent. It used to be that unless you went to Oso, you couldn't have a good burrata (and they would cost $50, airflown). But I find that both Cichetti and Burlamacco (on Telok Ayer Street) have very good burrata too. The combination with grilled pear was both unusual and very tasty, the parma was a little pale and weak for my taste.

We also had the calamari and the special, grilled octopus with haricot, and just to make it healthy, the mesclun salad, which was not very interesting but well executed with very sweet bi-coloured corn and a good size for one or to be shared. Depending on how you like your calamari, you will either like their home-made breaded coating, or like me, find it slightly thick on the tongue (I admit it gave it more texture and depth). The grilled octopus was wonderful, turgid, charred and lemony, which made a good contrast with the thickness of the beans. I appreciated that they used a large, fat octopus and not a small or thin tentacle.

Our mains were the meatball tagliatelle, the seafood cioppino and the baked sea-salt encrusted sea bass. The pasta was hearty and had a good depth to it, although as always the case with meatball pasta, it didn't have an overwhelming number of meatballs. The seafood bisque was excellent, it tasted fresh, from the mussels to the fish to the tomatoes- this is always my fear with ordering cioppino. This had almost a lobster bisque quality and we sopped up the soup with the bread. I had my doubts about the sea bass, I tend to be prejudiced that fish is expensive, salt crusts are a fancy way to disguise stale meat, like thick sauces, and I've had incredible salt crust baked fish in Portrugese coast, hauled out of the seaside, that would be monumentally hard to beat.

The presentation of the sea bass, in a plain Japanese department-store metal tray, also doesn't really reassure, but the fish was succulent, juicy and fresh. There was no bitterness to the fish, it was sweet, lemony and meaty. At $38, this was a fairly large fish which formed most of the main course for 3 people, so I felt it was an acceptable price and far less than dedicated seafood restaurants would charge for a fish this size.

We didn't try any of their pizzas but I watched the process and product of the oven and it looked good, with a thin crust and a good char. The four cheese pizza and plain magharita pizza are meant to be the best. These are also the more basic flavours so hopefully there will be some interesting variations on the menu soon.

The desserts were probably the weakest point of the whole meal, the salty molten chocolate cake is their best-seller and it is very good, a balance of sweet and savoury that takes away from the rich guilt of chocolate. They gave us a complimentary tester dessert which was a meringue covered in a nutty almond crust, drizzled over with a thick chocolate. Their chocolate needed to be a bit thinner but this we really enjoyed, especially crunching through the generous nut exterior.

The last dessert, which was the tiramisu, was poor- weak cream-filled marscapone in which I could barely taste any cheese and a soggy tasteless sponge that dripped watery coffee. Tiramisu is supposed to pack a punch and this one felt more unfulfiliing than a limp handshake. I felt like making one for them, because it is such a hallmark of an Italian restaurant and really, not a difficult thing to make!

The waiter's response to an earlier diner's diss of the tiramisu was very cute though, she said "well, it depends on your perspective, everyone likes different things". To me, that was telling of the positive service, particularly that the manager later acknowledged the sales numbers show the same and they are working hard on upgrading their dessert selection.

52 Kandahar Street
+65 62925012

Review: Muchachos, Burritos in Singapore

The odd thing is that people always ask me, what kind of food is your favourite? What is your favourite thing to make? But no one ever asks me, what do you not eat?

And that list is surprisingly long. Capsicums, frogs, sea snails, barnacles and ark clams, mint, durian, chillies (though not curries), sesame sweets, chinese almond and bean desserts and pastes, some fried foods. There are also genres of food that I avoid entirely and amongst those are hokkien food (yes, sorry, no offense meant) and Mexican food. 

I blame my prejudice against Mexican food partly on my own dislikes for chillies, capsicum and bean pastes, all of which feature fairly prominently in Mexican dishes, and also on a poor introduction via Tex-Mex in California and New Mexico. I don't dislike it entirely and having gone to school in California, I have eaten my fair share but I rarely seek it out. Of course, since coming back to Singapore, the concentration of very commercial Mexican options has done nothing to improve my impression.
In this particular case, thankfully, I was not in charge of choosing an eatery and the majority picked a new place called Muchachos along Keong Siak Road. I've been coming to Keong Siak Road over the years and always point it out to tourists as a street where you can eat your way through modern asian cuisine at Ember, old-school charred roast meats and wanton mee at Foong Kee, excellent frog porridge, prawn mee and zi char, nouveau Australian barbeque at Burnt Ends, tapas and cocktails at Jason Atherton's Esquina and Keong Siak Snacks. And this all set in an evocative Chinatown hill of Indian temples and shophouses in the shadow of old red-lanturned brothels. 

Upon first sight, this place looks like a cake outlet, a dark clean counter with a glass display showing the variety of fillings. It is pretty spartan and very tidy. Yet, this place is the real deal. Their burritos are soft and supple and both the pork and beef fillings are succulent, flavourful and well-seasoned. The owner meant to replicate the dive-bar Mexican joints in the Mission and it really does remind me of those tastes. It is very tasty and very satisfying- most of the women that I was with opted for a bowl, which is basically all the fillings without a wrap (what's the point, loves?) or else basically a meat-enhanced salad and one had a quesadilla, which is a toasted, filled wrap. I might be used to fuller qusadillas but they looked a little skimpy, so I would stick with the burritos, which were so hefty that some of us shared it two to one. 

You pick your burrito size, choice of protein, fillings, salsa and sauce- I like the pulled pork (carnitas) and beef (carne asado) the best. The guacamole (made with fresh California Haas avocadoes) and rice were excellent and the pico de gallo and salsa verde salsas are fresh. The hot sauce surprisingly, wasn't that hot, which is fine by me but would probably bother most people. For $12, which I initially thought was expensive, I was at least pleasantly surprised by the size and I was full till dinner on less than one burrito. The production line issues that I had heard about online were not a problem the day we were there but we were early at 12 noon, in half an hour the entire (small) lot had filled up and the few counter and sidebar seats were all taken.

I wish it were closer to my office so that I could pop by once in awhile for lunch, or ask a friend. Definitely a place worth checking out, especially if you're near the area or in the mood for a little taste of .

22 Keong Siak Road
+65 62200458
Mon-Thurs, 12 noon - 10pm, Fri-Sat, 12 noon - 2am. Closed Sundays. 

* All photo credit to Muchachos Facebook page and Melissa H for Yelp.