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Archive for December, 2009

This Christmas was an especially wonderful Christmas, filled with family, friends new and old, and lots of delicious things to eat.  My aunt and cousin are visiting from Thailand, and we have all been visiting our favorite neighborhood restaurants.

We started the day off with blueberry pancakes, a favorite recipe from Alton Brown, another favorite chef and TV personality.  I usually prepare a large batch of the dry mix, which I keep on hand for my mom to use whenever she feels like having pancakes.  My personal favorite are banana pancakes, made by dotting slices of very ripe bananas into the pan rather than mashing the bananas into the batter.  The resulting pancakes are more like hot banana cakes, dripping with caramelized banana juice.  Yum.  We added walnuts once.  Even more yum.

Then I embarked upon a more ambitious mission: another recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s book, the Tiramisu Cake.  Our family friend came over early and helped me assemble the cake, which was super helpful.  Since I did not have instant espresso, I substituted extra strong Vietnamese coffee, which my coffee-loving brother had lying around.  I initially mixed it with water because I thought it was instant coffee, so it is a very good thing my friend was here because I would not have noticed otherwise, meaning my unsuspecting dinner guests would have had an unpleasant mouthful of coffee grinds.  The Tiramisu Cake gave me a chance to utilize my new buttercup yellow KitchenAid stand mixer, a Christmas present from my parents, and the cake part came out well.  I think I over-baked them, though, because they were pretty dry the next day.  Unfortunately, I over-beat the whipping cream because I did not keep an eye on the mixer, which is ridiculously more efficient than I am.  This accounts for the curdled look of the mascarpone frosting.  I used amaretto for the espresso syrup, which was overly sweet and not strong enough for my taste.  Next time I will use less cake, maybe even just 1-9×9″ round, which I will cut in half.  I will also use more espresso and either brandy or marsala.  I liked the chocolate chips in the center, so I will do that again.

Another family friend came over, and I had a chance to pack him a slice to go.

This has been a wonderful year, and I am finishing this post on New Year’s Eve with less than four hours before it is time to welcome in the new year.   I am in awe of what has happened during 2009, and I am happy to report that I am in a substantially better place than I was at the start of the year.  It is good to come home after an extended leave of absence because no matter how much you think you have changed, your family and childhood friends know you better than you think they do.  It is important to reconcile past to present because your future builds off the intersection of both, and like a house, you need a solid foundation.  I have learned a lot about myself this year, and the most important of all is this: I would rather know and love myself than be “known” and “loved” by a million others.

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I received this awesome book as a graduation present but haven’t had a chance to use it until now.  I decided to bake the coconut tea cake because mom signed up to bring dessert for some meeting tomorrow.  The double dose of coconut (3/4 cup shredded coconut and 1 cup coconut milk) also caught my eye because I love coconut but do not often bake with it — we usually make Thai curry using the milk.

Even though I know I should follow new recipes verbatim on the first go, I could not help reducing the sugar content from 2 cups to 1 1/2.  My shredded coconut was sweetened, and 2 cups of sugar for one cake is too much.  Plus, my mom is feeding it to Asian moms who unequivocally prefer less sweet things (or so they insist).  I did not toast the coconut, though it was an option, which I think I will try next time because because there will be a next time with this delicious cake.  Another change: I used an angel food cake pan instead of a bundt pan, which I don’t have.

I love the texture of the cake, a crusty exterior gives way to a soft, spongy interior, and the entire thing emits a wonderful coconut-vanilla fragrance, two of my favorite things in the world.  Please note that I have not even had a piece of the cake yet.  This is all speculation based on what I can see, smell and feel without actually tasting the cake — you can tell a lot from cake crumbs.

I like that Dorie offers variations on the cake, including: lemon coconut tea cake (add lemon zest and 1 tbsp lemon juice), orange coconut tea cake (orange zest and orange juice/liquor), and lemon sesame tea cake (add sesame seeds).  I will definitely have to try the sesame version!  I love black sesame seeds.

I want to try Dorie’s world peace cookies, espresso shortbread cookies, various brownies, pumpkin muffins and tiramisu cake.  Funny how I never cite Dorie herself, but Smitten Kitchen does such a wonderful job of testing out Dorie’s recipes, I am always inspired.

Updated 12/13/2009

I finally tried the cake, and I really liked it.  I will toast the coconut next time, and I might add the 2 cups or sugar.  Or I would make a lemon glaze with lemon juice and powdered sugar.  I am also thinking about a coconut glaze (coconut milk and powdered sugar).  The cake was very plain, but the texture was perfect.  I think it could use more coconut flavor.  The recipe suggest rum, which would be really good.

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Or so my mom said late Wednesday night.  When my mom says funny, she means “dumb,” and when she says “smart people,” she means me.

Busyness is my downfall.  We have a love-hate relationship — I can’t live with it, but I can’t live without it.  Thus I found myself baking a cake for an office birthday at 9:45 pm on December 9, also the night of my brother’s birthday.  I was super frazzled and not entirely in control of my faculties, which caused me to lose a piece of my wooden spoon in the cranberry-sugar mixture I was making.  Because I do not have a food processor, I was using my blender to mix the cranberry and sugar for my “foolproof” vanilla-cranberry coffee cake.  Foolproof it is not, as I lost a big chunk of my mom’s ancient wooden spoon.  I remember this particular wooden spoon from my childhood, and my mom and I joke about its visible shrinkage each time we pull it out.  Though we will surely miss our trusty kitchen companion, we secretly like breaking things because it provides an excuse to buy something new.

I hate my blender; it only blends the bottom inch of foodstuff, and I always have to use a long spoon or chopstick to churn the bottom layer up and push the top layer down.  I am an impatient person, and I usually try to conduct my churning process while the motor is still on — often just as I am pressing the off button.  This particular time I heard a crunching noise and felt my heart sink.  I pulled the spoon out and found a good half-inch chunk of wood missing.  Considering how small our spoon has become, it was a substantial loss.  I wish I had taken a picture of the darn thing.  I looked into my crimson mixture and wondered if I could find the wooden piece.  Instead I noticed small brown pieces dotted throughout my cake filling.  “Maybe they’re cranberry seeds,” I thought, but as my search for the missing piece continued in vain, I realized that those “cranberry seeds” were wooden splinters.

That was it.  I was ready to give up, but then my mom came to my side and asked me what I needed her to do.  There is nothing like a faithful soux chef to recharge a frustrated chef’s spirits.  I have been blessed with many such assistants, but my mom is the original and still the best.

As the naughty cake was not worth photographing, I leave you with a picture of the beautiful cranberries covered in sugar, looking very much like snow-frosted winter berries.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (6 ounces)
  • 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • Garnish: confectioners sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Generously butter a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan. Line bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter parchment.

Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into a food processor with tip of a paring knife (reserve pod for another use if desired). Add sugar and pulse to combine. Transfer to a bowl.

Pulse cranberries with 1/2 cup vanilla sugar in processor until finely chopped (do not purée).

Whisk together 2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt.

Beat together 1 stick butter and 1 cup vanilla sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down side and bottom of bowl. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture and milk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour, until just combined.

Spread half of batter in pan, then spoon cranberries over it, leaving a 1/2-inch border around edge. Top with remaining batter and smooth top.

Blend remaining 1/4 cup vanilla sugar with remaining tablespoon each of butter and flour using your fingertips. Crumble over top of cake.

Bake until a wooden pick inserted into cake (not into cranberry filling) comes out clean and side begins to pull away from pan, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan 30 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely, crumb side up.

Courtesy of the always elegant Gourmet.

I use 1/2 cup of sugar for the cake and have never had vanilla beans on hand.  Instead, I add vanilla to the batter, and it comes out fine.  I serve it with vanilla ice cream or orange sorbet.

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I first made these muffins for a Thanksgiving potluck last year because I had extra buttermilk.  I actually misread the directions but loved the resulting muffins.  Instead of sprinkling the lemon sugar on top of the baked muffins, I topped the batter with the extra lemon sugar before baking.  The result: a delicious candied lemon peel topping!  I did not have berries the first time I made them, but they were delicious without any fruit.

This time I made them to use up extra half-and-half, blackberries and home-grown lemons.  You can find the original recipe here, and these are my changes:

  1. I use 3/4 cup white sugar for the entire recipe, 1/2 cup for the batter and 1/4 cup for the lemon sugar.
  2. I did not have an extra fine grater, so my lemon zest pieces were pretty thick and perfect for candying.
  3. I topped my muffins with blackberries instead of raspberries and the extra lemon sugar before baking.
  4. I did not use paper liners because I like the crust you get without, but the muffins did not rise as much as they could have since I used a cupcake pan rather than a muffin pan.  Next time I hope to have those silicone cups or a muffin pan.  I guess I know the difference between muffins and cupcakes now.
  5. Since I had half-and-half and no buttermilk, I used 1 tbsp lemon juice and equal portions of half-and-half and water in order to create 1 cup of liquid.  Lemon juice or vinegar curdles milk to create an effect similar to buttermilk.  I really like Joy of Baking’s Baking Ingredient Substitution Table.
  6. I like coconut and lemon, so I topped one muffin with shredded coconut as well as lemon sugar.  I did not use blackberries.  I really liked it!  The coconut was singed and golden brown, and it was a successful experiment.

These muffins were delicious — light and clean because of the lemon and fresh fruit.  I like them because they are not too oily or heavy.  I am sure you could use any type of zest (lime, orange, etc.) or berry (blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, etc.) you desire.  I think lemon and blueberry would be good, as would orange and cranberry.  Mmm, please let me know if you try either!

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Red Bean Mochi Cake

Here is one of my most reliable recipes for quick and easy desserts.  Though it is not originally mine, I have tweaked it such that I consider it a (almost) brand new creation.  The original is from a good friend, who got it from her mom, who got it from someone else.  It is interesting how recipes transform depending on the availability (or lack of) of ingredients and bakeware, time constraints, and personal preference.  The friend I received the original recipe from is very precise when she bakes, so I followed the recipe to the letter, including letting the batter “sit 15 minutes to thicken.”  When I told her, she laughingly confessed that she never follows that direction herself!  I had previously attributed the recipe to her, but after learning about my alterations, she told me that she was not even sure where the recipe originated, thus validating my claim to authorship of my particular version.

So, here is my mochi cake recipe, unique in that it is a baked mochi or sweet rice cake.  Most mochi recipes require steaming or microwaving, but this is one is baked like a cake.  This is the perfect recipe for Asian parents, who do not like sweet desserts and are partial to anything made of rice.  However, I brought it to work for a potluck, and my Mexican American and Irish American coworkers asked me for the recipe.  So I think it is safe to say that this cake crosses cultural boundaries.

Red Bean Mochi Cake

ingredients

  • 1 lb. sweet glutinous sweet rice flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 c oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c half-and-half
  • 3/4 c coconut milk
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 1 can sweet red beans

optional ingredients

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • black sesame seeds

notes on ingredients

  • Glutinous sweet rice flour is not the same as sweet rice flour.  I prefer the Thai brand, which you can find at 99 Ranch for less than a dollar.  Do not use Mochiko for this recipe as you will not get the same chewy, sticky texture.
  • You can use any type of oil, but I like canola.  You may also use butter if you would like, but I prefer the texture you get with oil.
  • Sugar can be brown, white or any combination of both.  You may also add more if you like. The original recipe called for 1 cup, but I think 1/4 cup brown sugar is perfect since the red beans are plenty sweet.
  • Red beans should be Korean or Japanese.  I like Wang brand because it has a chunky texture unlike the pasty texture of other brands.  It also has chestnuts!  I have recently been using a Japanese brand, which works fine.  I think the coconut milk and chestnut are a little too much together.
  • My mom and I use Chef’s Choice coconut milk, a light blue can with a picture of a coconut.
  • You do not have to use vanilla extract, but we love it in everything.
  • I always use sesame seeds (white or black) because it looks nicer, but the walnuts are for when I am feeling fancy.  They add a very special touch to the mochi cake – red beans and walnuts are delicious together, and the combination in the cake creates a unique flavor.

preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease and lightly flour 1-9×13 inch, 2-8×8 inch, or 2 9×9 inch pans.  Shape does not really matter.  I prefer 2 smaller pans because you get more crust.
  3. Sift flour and baking soda into medium bowl.
  4. Whisk eggs, oil, half-and-half, coconut milk, water, sugar, salt and vanilla (if using) together a smaller bowl.
  5. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and lightly fold together.  Do not worry about the lumps because they will dissolve in the next step.
  6. Let sit 15 minutes to thicken.
  7. Pour ¾ of the batter into the pan.  If you are using 2 pans, keep in mind that you need to save a little more.
  8. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until batter starts to firm up.  It should still be wet; do not let a crust form.
  9. Plop red bean on top as evenly as possible.  Pour the rest of the batter on top.
  10. Top with sesame seeds (if using).
  11. Bake for 45 minutes or until top is golden brown.  I like to brown my mochi cake by broiling it for the last 2 minutes.  Be careful not to broil for too long; the mochi cake should not become flaky.

The recipe is dependable and open to countless variations.  I once substituted plain non-fat yogurt for oil, orange juice for water and almonds for red beans.  I do not recommend it.  I also added homemade taro paste instead of red bean.  The resulting cake was a strange greenish blue color, a result of some chemical reaction between the taro and batter.  I would love to hear how you change the recipe, so please let me know if you try anything new!  I’ve always wanted to experiment with some combination of chocolate and red bean or green tea batter, but I have not had a chance to because my parents like the original so much.

I once covered the mochi with shredded coconut instead of sesame seeds.  It was DELICIOUS, like a coconut macaron.

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