Sunday, August 28, 2011

White Chocolate Mousse Fruit Jewel Cake

Fluffy buttery vanilla cake filled with creamy white chocolate mousse and fresh grapes, frosted with crème chantilly and garnished with almonds, pistachio brittle, caramelized hazelnut powder, fresh figs, and grapes.
I'm usually a very modest person. But another one of my virtues as a human being is that I am honest. And it would be a violation of the moral fiber of my very soul to say that this little cake is not the most adorable little gem of a cake I had ever seen get created from my two hands. (I have submitted the previous sentence to the writers of the SAT for their writing improvement section). I simply adore natural decorations on a cake (translation - this person is too lazy/nooby to decorate cakes otherwise). Just look at the gorgeous villi-like innards of the figs contrasting with the shiny jet black skins, the little veins of the translucent grape flesh, and the organic shards of the nuts and iridescent caramel (mais non, I did not plagiarize from an anatomy text). I made the butter cake part ages ago and froze it. Then I split it in half - this was a genius maneuver because it enabled me to dodge my knack of mutilating soft cakes while sawing them into layers. I cheated on the white chocolate mousse too - it was made by pouring 1 cup hot cream on 2.5 oz of chopped white chocolate, stirring to melt, and then chilling the ganache and beating it til soft peaks formed.

Please let me redeem myself by telling you about the grapes. Those grapes were individually hand selected and peeled, cut in half, and seeds removed. The pistachio brittle and hazelnut caramel powder were made by pouring caramel over the nuts, letting it cool, and breaking it up. For the powder, I used the food processor to blast the brittle to smithereens. The outside of the cake is just lightly sweetened whipped cream (it sounds fancier when you call it crème chantilly), stabilized with "Whip-It." The almonds conveniently cover all the imperfections.

I learned a trick to making the cream smooth while frosting the outside! I don't actually think it's a trick...I'm pretty certain all legit cake decorators would roll their eyes upon hearing my profound discovery of dipping the spatula in a vat of hot water while smoothing the cream. Genius, huh?

Believe it or not, there are improvements I would make to this cake. The white chocolate mousse could be more legit. Although it was super simple to make, I thought the flavor was lacking in something. Maybe I would add some malted milk powder to it or use a mousse recipe with egg yolks. The crème chantilly, however, cannot be improved - kudos to whichever cow made that cream and the Hawaiian farmer who made that sugar. Oh, and I guess the matchmaker behind that happy marriage should get some credit too. I only used figs and grapes because all the other yummier fruits got eaten. If I could have my way, the cake would be filled with blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, would be 3 layers tall, and would be topped with mango, kiwi, strawberry, and blackberry slices. Kind of like a fruit tart. It would be gorgeous! But I shall stop right there because I think I hear some sniffling coming from the fridge, and you know I hate to hurt cakes' feelings. Perhaps we can console it by devouring another slice...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chiffon Crazy

Chardonnay Chiffon. I googled "wine chiffon recipe" to see if anyone had done it and how they did...but to no avail. So I just went with a regular chiffon formula, swapping the 1/2 cup of liquid for chardonnay. I got lucky! The cake was heavenly. If you've ever had fermented sweet rice (tian jiu), this cake kind of tastes like that. It is amazing and the texture is perfectly soft, springy, and micro-crumby!
Lightly sweetened and with a delicious wine taste. See the bottle of Chardonnay in the first picture? I had no idea if it was good or not; just discovered it suddenly chillin' among the expired apple cider and cheap reds on the wine rack. After using it in the cake, we had a whole bottle to finish, so we had some for dinner.

my mom: sip. makes a face. Hm. Maybe someone who actually knows wine would appreciate this. This could be very 高级 but I wouldn't's kind of...not sweet enough.

Well, I googled Meridian. Let me just say, it's the best.
Cream cheese chiffon. Sorry the picture is quite hideous. I dub it Chiffon In the Headlights. There is a secret ingredient that makes the cream cheese really stand out. You know those bags of buttery milky happy little dinner rolls you get from Costco? Or just any milky buttery mini bun thing. Like Hawaiian milk butter rolls. Anyway, this cake tastes like that! I know, magical, right? Guess what the secret ingredient is. Wow you're good! Why it is pecorino romano cheese!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cake for Breakfast

Ginger Cake, from David Lebovitz's blog. It tastes kind of sharp and molassesy and too gingery the first day, but the spices mellow out and the flavors mature over the next few days and the cake just gets yummier and yummier! We reduced the white sugar by 50% and kept the molasses the same as the original recipe. It was plenty sweet. The orange dots on the plate are made of some sort of orange plum jam, but the jam didn't really match the cake's flavor. The cake tastes best with tangy yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, or cream cheese.

It is excellent for breakfast. This is such a balanced breakfast, and I know you will agree. Here's what's on the table (from the left)
1. black beans. simply cooked with no sugar or salt or any nonsense. delicious, my friend.
2. a jar of toasted wheat bran. yes, fiber is the redemption for your misdeeds.
3. ginger cake. mmmm!
4. raspberries and strawberries. healthy, right?
5. Japanese chiffon cheesecake and lemony sponge cake
6. peaches and figs
7. whole wheat flax seed yeast leavened baked bread stuffed with sweet paste (烧饼)
8. pineapples
9. fat free sour cream
10. fat free organic yogurt
11. homemade orange plum jam

We don't spoil ourselves enough. It's a tough life. Just a few more days of this...and it's back to oat bran and soymilk and bananas in the dorm!

Raspberry Slump

We saw this blackberry slump recipe in Saveur and fell in love. Sadly, our slump kinda slumped too much and didn't overflow like the model in the original picture. The raspberries were from Costco. We bought a pack of 6, ate two, fridged 2, and froze another 2 boxes. They. Were. Divine! Especially the slightly defrosted ones. Costco is just so awesome.

A list of our favorite things to get from Costco:
1. frozen blueberries
2. multigrain bread, the one in the green bag
3. dog food
4. shampoo
5. fish oil
6. wine
7. plastic wrap
8. nuts
9. raspberries!

A list of least favorite things to get from Costco:
1. milk. Seriously, who can drink milk that fast? Rather, whose fridge is big enough to fit 2 gallons?
2. romaine lettuce. unless you have a rabbit or two at home.
3. apples. they shouldn't be the size of softballs.
4. clothes. they never fit. I'm not sure what possessed me on the day I decided to try on a snow white costume that was designed for someone half my age, but a man walking by thought it'd be funny to ask, "Is that your wedding dress??" Unfortunately, a witty comeback escaped me as I pathetically struggled to regain circulation from the suffocating netting.

Anyway, this slump was amazing! Not sure why it's called a slump. Maybe it helps to lower expectations, so it tastes yummier. The concentrated tangy sweet baked raspberries and the buttery crumble topping were perfect complements to the white-wine flavored vanilla butter cake underneath. The wine flavor was my favorite part of the slump. I want to try adding wine to other butter cake recipes! Or perhaps a wine chiffon...mmmm

Raspberry Slump (adapted from Saveur)

2 1⁄4 cups flour
1 1⁄2 cups sugar
2 tbsp. unsalted butter,
cut into 1⁄2" cubes, chilled,

 plus 8 tbsp. melted and
more for greasing
1⁄2 tsp. baking powder
1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄2 cup dry white wine
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 lb. fresh or frozen thawed raspberries
Vanilla ice cream, for serving

1. To make crumb topping, combine 1⁄4 cup flour, 1⁄4 cup sugar, and 2 tbsp. chilled and cubed butter in the bowl of a food processor and process until mixture takes on texture of coarse bread crumbs, about 10 seconds. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Heat oven to 350°. Grease eight 6-oz. ramekins with butter and dust with flour; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk remaining flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large measuring cup, whisk together melted butter and wine; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together remaining sugar, vanilla, and eggs until pale and thick, about 2 minutes. Add wine mixture to eggs and whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Divide batter between ramekins and top each with berries. Sprinkle reserved crumb topping evenly over berries. Put ramekins on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 1 hour. Transfer to a rack and let cool for 20 minutes; serve with scoops of ice cream on top.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Cavernous Cream Puffs

The cream puff is such a naughty way to indulge in cream. Its lumpy, humble external surface belies the dollop of gluttony that fills its cavernous interior. The best kind of cream for this indulgence is whipped cream lightened vanilla pastry cream - so billowy, light, yet creamy. With a drizzle of salted creme fraiche lemon caramel sauce on the inside of the puff, it is a divine experience.
I used to think huge cream puffs were the ultimate indulgence. But now I think small ones are better. The shell is crispier, and the ratio of cream to shell is perfect for enjoying a few delicious bites. Cream doesn't dribble down your chin when you eat it. And, the best part is that you can eat several because they are small.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Milky Way Tart and Raspberry Cream Tart

Raspberry cream tart with rum laced pastry cream and caramel-lined almond sugar butter crust. I think I would've preferred a flaky buttery tart shell because it is lighter and more exciting when it shatters in your mouth, but this was deliciously crunchy and buttery too.
The Milky Way Tart is genius. It's supposed to be a thick layer of caramel topped with a billowy, magical layer of whipped milk chocolate ganache. I was too stingy with the caramel, unfortunately. Maybe a little stingy with the cream too. Next time, I would totally use a flaky tart shell, spread at least 1 cm of caramel, and load up on the cream. It would be a dangerous combination.

Milky Way Tart
Adapted from Joanne Chang's Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe

Makes 1 9-inch tart

For the tart shell, use your favorite pie or tart dough recipe, baked off in a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
For the milk chocolate mousse:

5 ounces milk chocolate, chopped (we used quality milk choco chips)
2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the caramel filling:

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon corn syrup
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the tart assembly:

One baked and cooled 9-inch tart shell (like My Favorite Pie Crust)
3-to 4-inch slab milk chocolate, at warm room temperature, for decorating

Place the chopped chocolate (or chocolate chips) in a medium heatproof bowl.

Gently heat the cream with the espresso powder and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. As soon as you see bubbles beginning to form around the edges of the pan, remove it from the heat--don't let the cream come to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Whisk until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl (I prefer a metal bowl for faster cooling, and poured it straight into the bowl of my standing mixer). Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until very cold, at least 8 hours and up to 3 days ahead. The mixture needs to be extremely cold in order for it to whip properly, so don't skimp on the chilling time. If you are short on time or generally impatient like me, throw the metal bowl into the freezer and give it a good whisking every 5-10 minutes or so--you can complete the chilling this way in about an hour.

To make the caramel, place the sugar, water and corn syrup in a medium saucepan and stir well to combine. Bring the syrup to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the syrup becomes a deep amber color. Pull the pan from the heat when you see it reaching a deep golden color--it takes only a moment for caramel to go from golden to amber to straight up burnt, so pull it early if in doubt. Stirring constantly with a whisk or heatproof spoon, stir in the cream all at once. Be careful--it will bubble up violently, but keep stirring until the lumps of caramel smooth out once again. Stir in the butter, salt and vanilla. When the caramel is smooth and well-blended, pour it into a small heatproof container and set in the refrigerator to cool and thicken, at least 4 hours or up to 1 week. Again, using a metal container (I use a loaf pan) will cut this time down significantly.

When the cream mixture and caramel have both cooled sufficiently, assemble the tart. Place the tart shell on a serving platter. Spread about three-fourths of the caramel evenly over the bottom of the tart shell. Fit the bowl with the cream mixture onto a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form (or beat with a handheld mixer). Mound the chocolate mousse on top of the caramel and smooth evenly.

Using a vegetable peeler, make chocolate curls from the bar of milk chocolate: warm the bar slightly in the palm of your hand before pulling the peeler across it to get curls instead of just grating the chocolate. Drizzle the tart with the remaining caramel and follow it with a generous sprinkling of chocolate curls. Refrigerate the tart for 30 minutes before serving (or airtight for up to 8 hours).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How to Enjoy Vanilla Ice Cream

...on top of a toasted shard of rum-drenched vanilla pound cake, topped with crushed toasted pistachios
...with pistachio brittle, hazelnut brittle, or pecan brittle

or in a sundae with fresh raspberry coulis, blackberries from a nearby berry bush, pistachio brittle, and creamy luscious caramel sauce drizzled on top!

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Wonders of 日本料理

Hamachi sashimi with shiso and ikura. Do you see the marbling of fat on the hamachi? The pairing of that fine marbling with the lovely weblike design on the shiso leaf is entirely intentional, thank you for noticing. And I'm not sure what shape your eyes are, but is it just me or does that center shiso leaf cradling the little eyeball-like ikura not resemble an eye? Tell me that's not genius right there. You can't? Oh come on. Not to mention, the sashimi was delicious with shiso, ikura, some wasabi, ripe avocado, and toasted salted nori. Soy sauce was utterly unecessary; the ikura provided just the right savory touch. Rice would've been good but we were too lazy to make it.
Bought these egg molds from Daiso in Berkeley. Aren't. they. adorable? The first time I tried, the eggs were not big enough, so they came out very pathetic looking. So I purposely went hunting for not large, but extra large eggs for this important order of business.

I admit, eggs do taste better when they are in pretty shapes. So there you have it - two classics of Japanese cuisine. Sashimi and the Molded Egg. (What are you grimacing at? I said molded, not moldy)