Baking and Tasting Tips from Ketmala’s Kitchen

Whether she’s making her own powdered sugar, brewing up homemade vanilla extract, carefully forming a truffle or generally baking up a storm, Ketmala Phoumalavong is always teaching and nurturing those lucky enough to be in one of her cooking classes.

You can tell by the above that I was privileged to attend a baking class at Ketmala’s Kitchen in West Chester. During the class, her meticulous preparation, French-inspired style, predominantly organic ingredients and sunny personality inspired me to try new things, even thought I was the rookie among many repeat students.

Ketmala is efficient in the kitchen. In two and a half hours we made a Flourless Chocolate Cake, Linzer Cookies, Tuiles aux Amandes and French Chocolate Truffles (including a vegan option). The best part? Sampling all those delish desserts. Equally exciting was the comprehensive handout we all took home that featured recipes, baking tips, tools and equipment recommendations, plus specific information about flours, sugars and vegan alternatives.

Ready to implement a bit of Ketmala’s magic? Here are tips for each delightful dish, and general baking tips, so you can continue to warm your kitchen with sweet treats this winter.

Top tips for …

Flourless Chocolate Cake

  • You can make this in a 9” cake pan, six mini springform pans or 14 5.6 oz. ovenproof glass jars. The personal portions are adorbs!
  • When using a double boiler, carefully watch the chocolate and butter to make sure it doesn’t boil. Once it’s smooth, it’s done.
  • Use a minimum of 62 percent cacao for the right amount of bittersweet.
  • Mix about a quarter of a cup of the chocolate mixture at a time into the other ingredients. Patience pays off.
  • Tasting tip: This is a dense chocolate explosion, but it was not over-rich like some I’ve tasted. A velvety confection that’s not to be missed especially when topped with fresh, organic raspberries.

Linzer Cookies

  • Toast the almonds before you grind them for extra flavor.
  • Don’t over-beat any of the ingredients: add slowly, mix thoroughly and then go on. Need I repeat: patience pays off.
  • Because oven temps vary, watch the cookies for light brown around the edges; that will help you confirm about 12 minutes per batch.
  • Tasting tip: Ketmala makes her own version of Nutella which, when spread between two cookies to form the “sandwich,” makes possibly the best cookie I’ve ever eaten. I can’t put words to the perfect balance of sweet-chocolate and nutty.

Tuiles aux Amandes (which also can be made with pistachios)

  • This is a show-stopper that’s easy to make: forming the curved cookie shape by draping the warm, out-of-the-oven cookies over a rolling pin is simple and results in one groovy cookie display.
  • Zest the orange so it’s fine: this flavor is the show-stopper in this cookie.
  • The batter isn’t doughy; it’s firm but pliable so you can flatten it and spread it with a fork. Did I mention patience pays off?
  • Use a metal spatula to lift the cooked tuiles so they come off clean and fast for shaping.
  • Tasting Tip: These are wonderful cookies to serve with coffee or tea, or alongside ice cream, sorbet, mousse or fruit. What makes them extraordinary is the freshness the orange zest imparts. Truly unique.

French Chocolate Truffles (the vegan option replaces cream and butter with coconut oil)

  • These look exquisite and can be topped with whatever you like: chopped nuts, unsweetened fine shredded coconut, Dutch-processed cocoa powder, powdered sugar, melted or tempered chocolate, or shaved chocolate.
  • Watch the thermometer: the melted chocolate done in the double boiler, never a microwave, must be 120 degrees; the cream and butter 115 degrees. When you combine, both must be at least 115 degrees.
  • If you want beautiful, firm truffles for the eating, you must wait for the mixture to firm up, which will take several hours. Patience, people. It’s worth it.
  • Before you roll the truffles, set out all the coatings in individual bowls or plates, and line plates or a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  • Coat your hands with cocoa before you start and when needed.
  • After rolling and topping, return to the fridge until firm.
  • Tasting note: I don’t know how she does it, but Ketmala’s truffles are decadently chocolate without being too rich. The proof? I ate more than one. Several, actually.

Top baking tips:

  • Use organic as much as possible. There are many vegan options, too.
  • If you have the money, go for fancy equipment. If not, hand tools work just as well, such as a makeshift double boiler using a glass bowl over the pot.
  • A good scale is critical: baking is an art of precision.
  • Don’t pack flour or other ingredients unless the recipe specifically says so.
  • An accurate thermometer is important so ingredients come out at the correct consistency.
  • When beating egg whites, especially to a peak, make sure you chill the bowl first.
  • When cutting dough for cookies, make sure the dough is cold so it holds its shape. (It’s easier to cut, too.) Use parchment paper on the cookie sheet for no-sticking and an easy clean-up.

Ketmala is a personal chef and culinary instructor. Check out her upcoming classes covering the full range of meals, breads and desserts, as well as gluten-free, dairy-free, raw, vegetarian, soy-free and vegan cooking. You’ll be glad you did!

Follow Ketmala’s Kitchen on Facebook, by clicking here. Ketmala is reachable by phone at 215-520-2788, and by email at [email protected]

Photographs credited to Becky Capuzzi and Nina Malone.