Entries from December 20th, 2013

{Cookbook Review} Cookie Craft

February 23rd, 2008 · 29 Comments · Cookbooks, Cookies, Recipes, Reviews

Sugarcookies

I never really thought of myself as artistic – my sisters can draw and paint, but not me. Baking is where most of my creative energies find their outlet. And when people ask if I can make one of those elaborate wedding cakes, I get nervous and tell them that’s not really my specialty.

But when a copy of Cookie Craft, a book on cookie decorating, arrived on my doorstep for me to review, my curiosity was piqued by beautiful cookie flowers on the cover. I started reading and found myself, yes, awed and intimidated by the flawless creations inside, but also eager to try some decorating of my own – for once!

Cookie Craft, by Valerie Peterson and Janice Fryer, is an engaging, and inspiring guide to the boundless possibilities of cookie decorating. Reading it is like taking a complete course on the art cookies – the authors cover everything from baking cookies to all the various decorating techniques, to suggested themes and ideas to fire your imagination, to templates for elaborate oversized cookie creations.

Cookiecraft

Whether you’re a neophyte or experienced decorator, this book provides plenty of useful material and tips. What I really liked was how the authors have developed an efficient system for baking and decorating cookies, and shared it in a very straightforward and accessible way. Cookie decorating, just like the rest of baking, depends a great deal on planning and organization for success, and the authors show how simple creating a batch of gorgeously decorated cookies can be with just a little forethought.

Some of the useful tips I picked up from this book:

- Pick a theme and draw out your designs before you make your cookies. Having a guide to refer to makes it much easier to plan what shapes and colors you’ll need, and makes it less likely that you’ll make a mistake when decorating.

- Set up your decorating area before you start, as well – they have a helpful little diagram showing a table set up with piping bags neatly lined up, squeeze bottles full of flood icing, a tool tray with decorating implements, and racks for drying cookies. When I made my cookies, it really did make a difference to have everything on hand – I was able to focus on decorating and not on wondering where everything is.

- Toothpicks are extremely useful decorating tools – they smooth out any piping flaws, spread flood icing, clean off cookie edges, and a multitude of other useful tasks.

- #2 decorating tips are definitely the most versatile tip for piping – and it’s best to have several of them so you can have multiple colors going at once. The tips are fairly inexpensive as well – in all, I was surprised how easily you can set up your decorating supply kit.

-It does take practice to get your decorating down – but that’s what extra cookies are for! Imperfect cookies are perfect for decorating practice – and just as delicious.

Sugarcookies2

The book is packed with lots more useful information – there are base recipes for cookies to decorate (I tried the sugar and they were quite tasty), royal icing recipes, and complete discussions on all the options in the decorator’s arsenal, from imprinting to cutouts, flooding to fondant, sugaring to luster dust. To help the reader visualize how to use all these techniques, the authors provide dozens of gorgeously photographed examples with instructions, from holiday themes to special occasions. There are also sections on baking tips and tricks that are useful for any baker, not just for cookie making. Finally, to really challenge and inspire the reader, the last chapter includes what the authors call "showstoppers" – three-dimensional cookie houses, edible cookie containers, whimsical centerpieces made from cookies with some icing to hold them together.

This charming, comprehensive tome is a wonderful reference for any baking library – I highly recommend it. To test out some of the techniques in the book, I chose one of their themes, Winter into Spring. Using the same flower cookie cutter, I was able to practice some basic piping, floodwork, and decoration with drageés and sanding sugars. It’s quite gratifying, really, how many variations you can come up with using just four colors of icing and a handful of sugars.

Sugarcookies3

It’s been a busy couple of weeks with me working on my own book; I’m missing the simpler days of just baking and blogging. It was nice to just bake a batch of cookies and spend a day with them and some icing, tracing out hopeful premonitions of the spring to come. Sometimes cookies fresh from the kitchen are all you need.

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More Chocolate, This Time of the Warm Molten Variety

February 13th, 2008 · 37 Comments · Cakes, Chocolate, Recipes

Moltenchoccake

I have a secret to share: you know the sexy, ubiquitous warm molten chocolate cakes that appear on many a Valentine’s Day menu? I’ve never made them before. At least, not until last weekend, when I decided this was an omission in my repertoire I needed to rectify. After going through several recipes, I decided that the version where you place a ball of ganache in the middle of the batter was the way to go. This ensures that the while the cake bakes up light and delicately souffléd, the center melts into a sensual liquid flow. Making ganache truffles also gave me the opportunity to play around with recipe and create two versions – one for each of the fabulous presents I received last week!

Moltenchoccake2

The wonderfully talented and thoughtful Ivonne sent me a box full of sweet surprises, which included a jar of her own vibrant blood orange syrup. I knew it would make a lovely accompaniment to a chocolate cake, and so Molten Chocolate-Chipotle Cake with Blood Orange Sauce and Cinnamon-Cardamom Crumbles was created. A bit of ground chipotle pepper added to the chocolate ganache gives it a smoky heat that leaves a pleasantly warming tingle on your tongue.  The subtle spiciness actually seems to boost the rich chocolatey-ness of the cake, giving it a lingering, smooth finish. The blood orange syrup adds a gorgeous sweet-tart note to the dessert – it’s like framing the cake in a bright, citrusy sunburst. As a final touch, the buttery cinnamon-cardamom crumbles (I actually just made a spiced cookie and pulverized it in the food processor) provide crunchy contrast. Together, all the components combine into a bold symphony of flavors.

Moltenchoccake3

If the first version is an effervescent modern painting, the second, Molten Chocolate Matcha Cake with Tonka Bean Crème Anglaise – is a serene Zen garden. Although matcha is often combined with white chocolate so its verdant hue may be preserved, I found that matching it with dark chocolate made for an austerely sophisticated flavor. The smooth, slightly bitter taste resonated like a stone dropped in still, dark pool.  As for the tonka beans, the uber-fabulous Helen surprised me with a packet of those suddenly trendy little seeds; I’d been eager to get some since I’d seen them on her blog. In their little wax paper bag, they gave off the most mysterious, compelling fragrance: almond, apricot, vanilla, cloves. It’s unfortunate that the potentially dangerous properties of tonka beans have made them an exotic oddity; perhaps, however, like the Japanese blowfish, the thrill of knowingly flirting with danger can add an extra frisson of enjoyment to the act of consumption. Grated into a classic crème anglaise  as a substitute for the traditional vanilla extract, the tonka bean gave the sauce a nutty, floral sweetness.  Combined with the cake, it’s a haiku of a dessert.

Two different takes on the same delectable cake; just two of the myriad of variations that can be spun out of this recipe. I like to think of it like those paper valentines you gave and received as a child; remember working with red paper and lace and glue, trying to create the perfect valentine for each of your friends? I’d like to dedicate these cakes to my lovely friends Ivonne and Helen. And to all the rest of you, I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

Molten Chocolate Cake Two Ways

adapted from Pichet Ong’s The Sweet Spot

Makes 8 cakes

Ganache

4 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, 62% to 70%

2 Tablespoons (28 g) butter

3 Tablespoons (45 g) heavy cream

1/8 teaspoon salt

Either: 1 ½ teaspoon ground chipotle pepper or 3 teaspoons matcha powder

Blood Orange Sauce: I was lucky enough to receive some as a gift: if you’d like to make your own, here is a similar recipe for Blood Orange Caramel Sauce that is also delicious.

Tonka Bean Crème Anglaise

¾ cup (183 g) milk

¼ cup (60 g) heavy cream

1 tonka bean

3 egg yolks

¼ cup (50 g) sugar

Cake

5 ½ oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, 62% to 70%

5 ½ Tablespoons (84 g) butter

4 large eggs, separated

¼ teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons sugar

To make the ganache, combine the chocolate, butter, cream, and salt in a bowl and melt over a saucepan of simmering water on the stove. Stir occasionally to make sure it melts evenly.

Stir in the ground chipotle pepper or matcha powder. You can add more or less to your taste.

Pour the ganache into a container and place in refrigerator for about an hour until it starts to set up. You can also place it in the freezer to speed up the process.

When the ganache is firm enough to scoop, use a spoon or cookie scoop to make ¾” round balls. Place in a container and store in freezer to keep them firm while you make the cake.

To make the crème anglaise, combine milk and cream in a small heavy saucepan. Grate the tonka bean into the milk mixture.

Heat on medium until it just starts to bubble. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and sugar together in a bowl.

Pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly to temper the eggs.

Return the mixture to the saucepan and place back on the stove. Cook on low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon.

Remove and strain into a bowl. You can chill in an ice bath or in the refrigerator until ready to use. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. This makes about 1 cup.

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a couple baking sheets with parchment paper. Take eight 2 ½” diameter metal rings and butter and sugar the insides well. Arrange rings on the baking sheets.

Place the chocolate and butter in a bowl and melt over a saucepan of simmering water on the stove, stirring occasionally.

When chocolate and butter are fully melted and combined remove from heat and let cool until warm.

Whisk egg yolks, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Pour about a third of the melted chocolate into the egg yolks, whisking constantly to temper the eggs.

Pour in the rest of the chocolate and whisk to combine.

In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until medium peaks form – do not overwhip.

Carefully fold in about half of the egg whites into the chocolate batter to lighten it. Then fold in the rest of the egg whites, taking care not to deflate them too much.

Fill the rings a little less than halfway up with the batter. Place a ball of ganache in the center of the batter. Cover with more batter, filling the rings about ¾ full – the cake s will rise when baking like a soufflé so don’t fill them too high or they will spill over.

Bake cakes for 10 to 12 minutes. The cakes should be done – a tester inserted in the side should come out with a few crumbs, but the centers should have melted. You may want to test with one cake first to gauge how long the right baking time will be.

Remove cakes and let cool on racks for a couple minutes. Use a wide metal spatula to move the cakes onto serving plates, and then carefully remove the rings. Drizzle sauce around the cakes and serve immediately.

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Chocolate Mania

February 8th, 2008 · 15 Comments · Chocolate, Recipes

Choccaramel

Today’s the last day to vote for the Death by Chocolate contest? Have you voted? If not, please conside clicking on the button above to cast your vote! The contest closes at 12 noon PST today so hurry!

It’s been an exhaustingly busy week for me, and I haven’t had a chance to make a Valentine’s Day dessert yet…but I think I know what I’ll be making!  In the meantime, here are some of my other chocolate-y themed desserts that I considered entering in the contest, and that you might consider making for someone special:)  Have a good weekend!


Chocalmondcakes

Chocolate Almond Cakes

Choccapricake_2

Chocolate Capri Cake

Choccitruustart

Bittersweet Citrus Tart

Choctrio

Claudia Fleming’s Chocolate Trio

Gojicupcake

Goji Berry Cupcakes

Linzertart

Chocolate Linzer Tart

Lovecupcake

Cupcakes of Love

Tkos

Thomas Keller’s TKOs 

Wasabitruffe

Wasabi and Matcha Truffles

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Another New Year to Celebrate

February 3rd, 2008 · 21 Comments · Cakes, Custards, Fruit, Recipes

Honeycastellatangerine

One thing about living so near the San Francisco Chinatown – you’ll never miss Chinese New Year, because the sound of firecrackers will start resounding through the neighborhood about a week before the actual celebration.

Of course, that’s exactly how the Chinese would have it – I’d love to see a week-long celebration here in the US for, say, Fourth of July, or Thanksgiving, or our own New Year. Back at my parents’ home in Hong Kong, my mom has been busy cleaning every room of the house and preparing many of the traditional New Year’s dishes, like whole fish, dumplings, and jai, or Buddha’s Delight, a vegetarian noodle dish. My dad is undoubtedly stuffing dozens of red envelopes with lucky money for all his nieces and nephews.

There is a traditional Chinese New Year’s cake, called nian gao, which means literally year cake but which can also translate to "every year higher; suggesting that if you eat this cake you’ll do better every year! Nian gao is made from glutinous rice flour mixed with Chinese brown sugar and steamed to a sticky, chewy consistency, similar to Japanese mochi and other sweets made with glutinous rice flour.

Is that what I made for Chinese New Year? I have to make a confession: Nian gao really isn’t one of my favorite sweets! I’ll eat it, but I haven’t really been tempted to make it in the kitchen. Maybe for next year I’ll attempt a version that captures my tastebuds a little more. But for this year, I decided instead to use another traditional New Year food, the tangerine in my baking. The word for tangerine in Chinese sounds similar to the word for luck, and you’ll see people carrying potted tangerine trees or bags of the bright orange fruit home in Chinatown.

Honeycastella2_2

Tangerines come in several varieties, from Clementines to tangelos, which are actually grapefruit-tangelo hybrids. The tangerines you will most often see in Chinatown, with deep green leaves still attached, are sometimes called mandarins and have a brighter, tarter flavor than oranges. They make a superb substitute for lemons, which is exactly what I decided to do – make my favorite lemon curd with tangerines.

The tangerine curd is delectably smooth, pleasingly tart, and a dollop is the perfect topper for a slice of sponge cake – in this case, a version of the Japanese castella. Sweetened with honey, its rich flavor and tight, fine crumb make it a perfect tea time cake.

I also used up my remaining Meyer lemons to make some lemon curd – I couldn’t resist. Both of them are irresistible on the castella.

Thursday marks the official first day of Chinese New Year 4706, or the Year of the Rat. I’m sure by Wednesday night the occasional firecracker pop outside my window will have become a deafening cacophony – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Happy New Year, and best wishes of happiness and prosperity to you all, in your baking endeavors and everything else!

Honeycastella3

For other Chinese New Year’s traditions, you can read last year’s post.

Oh, and as a reminder, voting opens today (Monday) in the Death by Chocolate contest at Culinate! Please consider clicking on the image below to go to the Culinate website and vote for me! Remember, if you vote you get a chance at winning a trip to Napa as well! Thank you so much!

Choccaramel

Tangerine Curd

adapted from Pierre Hermé’s Desserts

makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups

1/2 cup sugar

zest from 3 tangerines

2 eggs

1/2 cup freshly squeezed tangerine juice

3 1/2 ounces butter, cut into 1 inch pieces, softened but not melting

Create a water bath by placing a saucepan of water over heat to simmer and placing a metal bowl unto the pan so its bottom does not touch the water. Combine the sugar and tangerine zest together with your fingers and add to the metal bowl. Whisk in the eggs and tangerine juice.

Cook the mixture over the simmering water, whisking constantly, until the cream reaches 180 degrees and thickens. Keep whisking while the mixture is heating up to prevent the eggs from cooking.

Once the cream is thickened – you should be able to make tracks in the mixture with your whisk – take the cream off the heat and strain it into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Let the cream rest for a bit until it cools to about 140 degrees.

Add in the butter pieces a few at the time and combine on high speed. Once all of the butter has been added, let the mixture combine for a few minutes longer to ensure the mixture is perfectly smooth. It is the addition of butter that changes this recipe from a simple lemon curd to a rich, satiny-smooth cream.

Once the cream is finished pour it into a container and let it chill in the refrigerator for about half an hour before assembly.

Honey Castella

adapted from Pichet Ong’s The Sweet Spot

makes 16 mini cakes

1 1/2 cups ( 7 1/2 oz) flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

7 large eggs

3 egg yolks

1 3/4 cups (11 oz) sugar

1/4 cup ( 3 1/2 oz) honey

1/4 cup oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. If you have mini cake pans (about 9"x13" with slots for eight cakes), grease the pans well. Or you can make one large 9"x13" cake.

Combine the flour and salt together in a bowl and set aside.

Beat the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and honey together in a bowl and set over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk constantly until the mixture is thick and smooth and the sugar dissolved, about 6 to 8 minutes. Do not let the mixture get too hot or boil.

Pour mixture into bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment for several minutes on medium speed until the mi xture is pale yellow and has increased in volume, about 10 minutes. Carefully fold in the flour mixture with a rubber spatula.

Pour about 1 cup of the mixture into a medium bowl. Pour in the oil, whisking to incorporate. Slowly pour the oil mixture back into the rest of the batter and whisk thoroughly to combine.

Divide batter among cake pans. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 300 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes until the tops are dark brown and a tester inserted into the center of the cakes come out clean.

Let cakes cool on rack before unmolding.

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