Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Little things

Don't you love it when something seemly unremarkable turns out to be the highlight of your day?

Here in Kagawa-ken there are udon shops on almost every street. People travel for miles and miles (even from the mainland) to sample the renowned Sanuki udon, queuing for hours on end at the weekends in order to slurp up a bowl of thick noodles from the most famous shops. Fortunately, living in the area, we can often avoid the waiting as we can visit these gourmet shrines during the week :-) On Monday I was invited to join some friends for lunch at Yamagoe Udon, a shop we had tried to visit a fews months back but were put off by the crowds. From the outside it really doesn't look much - just an average, rather grubby, cheap noodle shop - and as we approached, I wondered why such a shop would need over 200 parking spaces. We ordered our noodles at the counter, were handed our trays of food, and were then directed around the back of the shop... into a beautiful oasis! There are big benches everywhere for people to sit and eat (no tables), all set under wooden pergolas. The garden is Japanese-style, and beautifully composed, I could happily have sat there all afternoon (if I didn't have a two year old). Wow, how unexpected! And the noodles were really, really good (and cheap at 150 yen for a basic portion) - I bought a pack to bring home to K. Definitely a place to return to! (Sorry, no photos as I didn't have my camera with me)

The other thing that surprised me was what a difference a decent (don't laugh) bread knife can make! I've been struggling with my rubbish 100 yen knife (I know, you get what you pay for), getting frustrated as my freshly baked bread ended up getting crushed and sliced ultra thickly. Mum tried to buy me an electric carving knife while she was here, but we couldn't find one anywhere. Then I had a delivery from Amazon - K had ordered me this gem! My oh my, this knife is a-ma-zing. I didn't need to saw at all, it just cut straight through without any pressure at all. I was so impressed, I stood at the kitchen counter eating slice after perfect slice. This is about as exciting as life here in Ayagawa gets, by the way. ;-)

Something else that has really made my day today is that I have finally worked out how to insert working links into my posts, haha!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Mum's visit

Last month was busy, lost of sightseeing with special guests! Mum came to visit, staying for two weeks (which flew by). She was here for Mother's Day, and so I took her for a weekend in Kyoto - as much a treat for me as well as her, as I'd never been! We stayed in a traditional ryokan (a Japanese-style inn with a tatami room, futon on the floor, etc.), wandered the streets for hours, ate and ate and ate...

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Mum's visit
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Sunday, 27 June 2010

June 2010 Daring Bakers Challenge - Chocolate Pavlova with Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse

The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard.

Oh, what joy I felt when I read of this month’s challenge! Honestly, this heavenly dessert is composed of my favourite foods of all time, and I was itching to get started. Writing out my shopping list, however, I realised that this indulgence was going to have to wait for a special occasion - just check out how much cream/mascarpone/chocolate is called for! So I gritted my teeth and resolved to wait until Father’s Day.

As the big day approached I gathered my supplies, and decided to price the recipe up... gulp... over 5,000 yen! Don’t think we’ll be eating anything this fancy again for quite a while. Having said that, the finished pavlova was huge! We each ate the most enormous slice, and it was so rich that even I(!) couldn’t manage seconds. The mousse (not really sure that I would describe it as a mousse, more a cream) was sublime, the highlight of this creation. I must confess that, after getting the boys and K out of the door the following morning, M and I enjoyed a sizable slice for our breakfast! I would have eaten it for lunch, too, but knew that this would be a very bad thing to do... so off-loaded it to some friends just around the corner!

Everything went very smoothly as I followed the challenge. I didn’t pipe the meringue, choosing to make a large, free-form shaped pavlova. My oven couldn’t be set low enough to be able to bake the meringue as per the recipe, so I just baked it my usual way (actually, Nigella’s way - heat the oven to 180c, reduce the temperature to 150c as the meringue goes in and bake for 1 and a 1/4 hours. Leave the meringue to cool in the oven after baking) and it turned out perfectly. And I didn’t use any alcohol as it was being made for the whole family. I served it with the mascarpone cream and some juicy, American cherries (the recipe made far too much cream, so I used it to make a tub of ice-cream).

I will be saving this recipe to be made again, but not whilst we are living here in Japan! K, if you’re reading this (I know he won’t be), can I request that you make this for my birthday?!

Chocolate Pavlova with Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse

Mandatory items: The recipe is comprised of three parts, four if you include the crème anglaise. You must make the chocolate pavlovas, the mascarpone mousse and the mascarpone cream using the recipes provided.

Variations allowed:

* You can use orange juice for the Grand Marnier in the mousse if you don’t use alcohol
* You can omit the sambuca from the mascarpone cream.
* You may substitute any crème anglaise recipe you might already have in your arsenal.

Preparation time: The recipe can be made in one day although there are several steps involved.

* While the pavlovas are baking, the crème anglaise should be made which will take about 15 minutes.
* While it is cooling, the chocolate mascarpone mousse can be made which will take about 15 minutes.
* There will be a bit of a wait time for the mascarpone cream because of the cooling time for the Crème Anglaise.
* If you make the Crème Anglaise the day before, the dessert should take about 2 hours including cooking time for the pavlovas.

Equipment required:
• Baking sheet(s) with parchment or silpat
• Several bowls
• Piping bag with pastry tip
• Hand or stand mixer

Recipe 1: Chocolate Meringue (for the chocolate Pavlova):

3 large egg whites
½ cup plus 1 tbsp (110 grams) white granulated sugar
¼ cup (30 grams) confectioner’s (icing) sugar
1/3 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder


Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 200º F (95º C) degrees. Line two baking sheets with silpat or parchment and set aside.

Put the egg whites in a bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar about 1 tbsp at a time until stiff peaks form. (The whites should be firm but moist.)

Sift the confectioner’s sugar and cocoa powder over the egg whites and fold the dry ingredients into the white. (This looks like it will not happen. Fold gently and it will eventually come together.)

Fill a pastry bag with the meringue. Pipe the meringue into whatever shapes you desire. Alternatively, you could just free form your shapes and level them a bit with the back of a spoon.

Bake for 2-3 hours until the meringues become dry and crisp. Cool and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Recipe 2: Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse (for the top of the Pavlova base):

1 ½ cups (355 mls) heavy cream (cream with a milk fat content of between 36 and 40 percent)
grated zest of 1 average sized lemon
9 ounces (255 grams) 72% chocolate, chopped
1 2/3 cups (390 mls) mascarpone
pinch of nutmeg
2 tbsp (30 mls) Grand Marnier (or orange juice)


Put ½ cup (120 mls) of the heavy cream and the lemon zest in a saucepan over medium high heat. Once warm, add the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and let sit at room temperature until cool.

Place the mascarpone, the remaining cup of cream and nutmeg in a bowl. Whip on low for a minute until the mascarpone is loose. Add the Grand Marnier and whip on medium speed until it holds soft peaks. (DO NOT OVERBEAT AS THE MASCARPONE WILL BREAK.)

Mix about ¼ of the mascarpone mixture into the chocolate to lighten. Fold in the remaining mascarpone until well incorporated. Fill a pastry bag with the mousse. Again, you could just free form mousse on top of the pavlova.

Recipe 3: Mascarpone Cream (for drizzling):

1 recipe crème anglaise
½ cup (120 mls) mascarpone
2 tbsp (30 mls) Sambucca (optional)
½ cup (120 mls) heavy cream


Prepare the crème anglaise. Slowly whisk in the mascarpone and the Sambucca and let the mixture cool. Put the cream in a bowl and beat with electric mixer until very soft peaks are formed. Fold the cream into the mascarpone mixture.

Recipe 4: Crème Anglaise (a component of the Mascarpone Cream above):

1 cup (235 mls) whole milk
1 cup (235 mls) heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
6 tbsp (75 grams) sugar


In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture turns pale yellow.

Combine the milk, cream and vanilla in a saucepan over medium high heat, bringing the mixture to a boil. Take off the heat.

Pour about ½ cup of the hot liquid into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to keep from making scrambled eggs. Pour the yolk mixture into the pan with the remaining cream mixture and put the heat back on medium. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens enough to lightly coat the back of a wooden spoon. DO NOT OVERCOOK.

Remove the mixture from the heat and strain it through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until the mixture is thoroughly chilled, about 2 hours or overnight.


Pipe the mousse onto the pavlovas and drizzle with the mascarpone cream over the top. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and fresh fruit if desired.