Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Little Bit of Heart

Expats from cosmopolitan cities lament the lack of good dim sum in Argentina. I have surmised the most likely reason being the absence of a sizeable and affluent client base with sophisticated palates which have progressed past the decade of chop suey (strictly speaking a commercial invention to fool those who don't know better) to support qualified dim sum chefs.

Good food needs an appreciative audience. For instance, the secret behind superlative Chinese food in Sydney can be easily explained - Australians of any ethnicity ordering steamed fish, done just about pink in bone, to go with a bottle of crisp white is common sight in Chinese restaurants across the city. Lesser skills and quality simply cannot survive in that competitive culinary landscape.

Don't get me wrong, I'm most appreciative that Chinese restaurants here such as Nueva Chinatown trying their very best but quality dim sum are made by specially trained professionals – it is like asking a chef to moonlight as a haut pâtissier, the result is going to be passable at best. Anyway, I would go back to Nueva Chinatown, in a heartbeat, for their roast duck and pescado entero.

Since dim sum literally means a little bit of heart, I look for the essence of it elsewhere. Yesterday, our domestic goddess came to work bearing a box of alfajores from Havana for Guillermo and me! We were really touched by her thoughtful gesture – that was the best dim sum I have ever had in this town.

I also discovered a rather elegant looking sweet dim sum at Asia Oriental last Friday; a Matcha flaky pastry filled with aduki paste wrapping a walnut in the centre. Guillermo showed his approval by wolfing down two of these dainty wagashi (和菓子/ Japanese sweetmeat) in one brief sitting.

I have only recently spotted Matcha from Taiwan (ex-colony of Japan) at the supermarkets in Barrio Chino and last Friday was the first time I saw this green tea powder being used in commercial baked goods in Buenos Aires. I am excited that Matcha Love has finally reached these shores.

The producer of this flaky pastry is very smart in keeping the flavour of Matcha subtle; hopefully this would attract the more adventurous porteños to sample and grow to like this delicately green bocadito (a little mouthful) and then venture out to seek other exotic flavours.

I am still filled with sweet dim sum love from the wagashi and alfajores so I'll share with you a wonderful fusion chocolate sandwich cake recipe inspired by a chocolatier, Katrina Markoff, CEO of Vosges Haut-Chocolat in Chicago.

Ms Karkoff was one of the first to infuse chocolate with unexpected ingredients such as ginger, wasabi, and black sesame seeds – she named this Asian-inspired creation of hers the Black Pearl truffles. The ingredients are the building blocks of this recipe I have adapted by slashing the quantity of sugar and eliminating the corn syrup; I present to you, the Black Pearl Cake.

Part 1: Black Pearl chocolate ganáche
150g dark chocolate (at least 85% cocoa solids), finely chopped
1 cup double cream
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
3 tsp wasabi powder
2 tbsp black sesame seeds
1 tbsp ginger syrup (see Part 2)

Place chocolate in medium bowl. Bring cream, ginger, and wasabi to boil in small pot. Pour hot cream over chocolate; cover and let stand 15 min. Whisk cream and chocolate until smooth. Mix sesame seeds and syrup in small bowl to coat; stir into chocolate mixture. Let cool to lukewarm. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight to set.

Part 2: Ginger syrup
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
5 tbsp juliennes of peeled fresh ginger
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Place 1 cup water, sugar, and ginger in small saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into pan; add bean. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Simmer 2 minutes; remove from heat. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour for flavors to blend. Strain syrup into small bowl. Chop ginger. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead) Cover and refrigerate ginger and syrup separately.

Part 3: Cake
2 cups boiling water
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 3/4 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
240g unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and flour three 20cm sandwich cake tins; and line the bottoms with parchment paper.

Whisk 2 cups boiling water, cocoa powder, and the reserved ginger juliennes in medium heatproof bowl. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in large bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until fluffy, about 1 min. Add eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract. Add flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with cocoa mixture in 3 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

Divide batter among prepared cake pans; smooth tops. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool in pans 5 min. Turn cakes out onto racks; cool completely. (Cakes can be prepared 1 day ahead. Wrap with plastic wrap and store at room temperature.)

Part 4: Cream frosting
2 cups chilled double cream
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Black sesame seeds, for decoration*

Beat cream in large bowl until soft peaks form. Add sugar, vanilla, and ground ginger. Beat until stiff peaks form.

Trim doomed tops off cakes to create flat surface. Place a cake layer, cut side up, on a plate. Brush top with 1/3 cup ginger syrup. Spread half of ganáche over top of cake. Place second layer, cut side up, atop first layer. Brush with 1/3 cup syrup; spread with remaining ganáche. Top with third cake layer. Brush with remaining syrup. Spread sides and top with cream frosting.

Sprinkle top with black sesame seeds. Refrigerate until cream and ganáche are set, about 4 hours. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving. (The whole cake can be assembled 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

*If you can get hold of edible gold leaves, this is an opportunity to put it to elegant use. Gold, the edible kind, is frequently a part of food presentation in Japan.

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