Entries from August 18th, 2009

Roasted Pluot Phyllo Tarts and a Farewell to My Kitchen

August 18th, 2009 · 27 Comments · Fruit, Recipes, Tarts


Want to know what the highlight of my last week was? Here’s a clue:


Yes, that’s me standing next to my brand-new stove in my brand-new place. Excuse the ridiculous glare from the flash of the little handheld camera we brought to document any issues in the home walkthrough (fortunately, none). Needless to say, I’m very very excited by my new kitchen and all the shiny new appliances just waiting to be used. I’m really hoping I don’t make the oven explode or burn down the place during the inaugural session! When all my baking equipment is moved in and the place is all prettified, I’m sure you’ll be seeing some more pictures of space in all its glory!

Before this new chapter can begin, though, we’ve still packing up everything for the big move this weekend. I’m starting to feel little flutters of nostalgia for our old apartment already – it’s hard to give up living right in the heart of San Francisco, where you’re but footsteps away from anything and everything. I might even miss all the acrobatic maneuvering I did to bake in the kitchen, juggling sheet pans and bowls on every flat surface possible – well I’m going to miss it in the way you miss something you know you’ll never have to deal with again:)


This little tart might be one of the last things I’ll ever bake in this kitchen; maybe next-to-last, if I’m able to squeeze in some baking time this week. In keeping with the theme of cleaning out the cupboards and uncovering ingredients begging to be used, I pulled out a package of phyllo dough from the freezer. This apple phyllo napoleon of Emily Luchetti’s is still one of my favorite recipes, and I’ve always tried to keep some phyllo dough on hand for whenever the urge for its fabulous flaky lightness struck. This time, inspiration came from an old issue of delicious. magazine: Roasted Pluot Tarts with Almond Sugar Phyllo.

This recipe turns the phyllo sheets into a beautiful bloom of a tart shell: brushed with butter and sprinkled with ground almonds and sugar, the phyllo bakes into a wonderfully flaky and delicate bowl, perfect for filling with a lemon mascarpone mixture, and topped with pieces of roasted pluot. You can pretty much use any of the stone fruits that are in abundance at the market now – peaches, nectarines, plums. I happened to pick these pluots because they were the most brilliant, luscious ruby hue, and they were fantastically, sublimely sweet.

Forming the phyllo cups is simply a matter of draping/lightly pressing the dough into some regular tart tins – you aren’t trying to mold it to the tin, just propping up the dough so that it bakes into a bowl shape. I found that tins with removable bottoms will let you push out the baked shells easily without breaking them. The filling, a mixture of mascarpone, whipped cream, and lemon zest, manages to taste rich and creamy yet feel ethereally light in the mouth. It also provide the perfect pillow for the slices of pluots, sprinkled with sugar and roasted in the oven. Altogether a delicious frame for some of my favorite summer fruits. And you don’t even need to roll out any tart dough! I polished this tart off pretty quick, with only a couple of crispy shards left on the plate.



So I’ve been packing up the kitchen while typing up this post, and now almost all my kitchen gear has been packed away – gasp! It’s weird to see my shelves lonely and bereft of the pans and plates stacked precariously on them, and I’m having funny panicky pre-withdrawal symptoms, wondering what I’ll do in the remaining days before I can unpack in the new place. Wish me luck with the rest of the move – if all goes well I’ll be my new home next week!



Roasted Pluot Phyllo Tarts


4 pluots, plums, peaches, or nectarines

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar



1/2 cup sliced almonds

1/4 cup sugar

4 sheets phyllo, defrosted (I used Athens brand from the store – follow instructions on box)

3 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted


Lemon Mascarpone Filling

10 1/2 ounces (1 1/4 cups) heavy cream

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

8 1/2 ounces (1 cup) mascarpone cheese

zest from 1 lemon


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease four 4-5 inch round tart tins – ones with removable bottoms work best.

Finely grind the almonds and sugar in a food processor.

You will need a fairly large surface to work with the phyllo. Stack the phyllo sheets and cut into four even sheets. Trim each stack into 5 inch squares.  Take a single sheet of phyllo and lay it flat on the work surface. Keep the sheets you are not using to the side under plastic wrap and damp towel.

Brush the phyllo with some of the melted butter and press it, buttered-side down, into a tart tins. Lightly brush some butter over the top, then sprinkle with some of the almond sugar.

Butter a second sheet of phyllo and place on top of the first sheet at a slight angle to form a star shape. Brush butter over the top and sprinkle with some of the almond sugar.

Do the same with the other two sheets of phyllo.

Repeat this with the remaining phyllo and tart tins.

Place tins on a baking sheet and chill for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash and slice the pluots into 1/4″ thick slices. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the pluot slices out on it.

Dot the tops of the pluot slices with butter and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes until the pluots are soft and the edges slightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool while you make the filling. Reduce oven temperature to 350 derees F.

Whip the cream in a stand mixer until it forms soft peaks. Add in the confectioner’s sugar and whip to combine.

Beat the mascarpone cheese in a medium bowl until softened. Fold in the whipped cream until well combined. Add in the lemon zest and fold in.

Place tart tins in oven and bake about 10 minutes or until they have turned golden brown and crispy. Remove and let cool on wire racks before removing tart shells from tins.

Place tart shells on plates. Spoon in some of the mascarpone filling and top with pluots. Serve immediately.


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Chai Cupcakes, Two Ways

August 11th, 2009 · 44 Comments · Cakes, Recipes


When I worked at this chocolate cafe, we in the pastry kitchen were responsible for baking up all sorts of chocolate-intensive treats, as well as making the chocolate drinks that were the specialty of the house.

From classic hot chocolate to mochas to bicerins, we made the mixes for the drinks in the kitchen, and they never seemed to last long enough before we'd have to make a new batch. I have to say that the smell of melting chocolate is one of my favorite memories from working there, along with the stream of regulars who would always gush happily about the spicy hot chocolate, or the chocolate thai ice tea, without which their day wouldn't be complete.

Sadly, I don't have the metabolism anymore to consume a bowl of hot chocolate every day, or I'd be bigger than Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But every once in a while I'll get a nostalgic craving for one of Bittersweet's drinks. One of my favorite things to do in the early morning when I arrived for my shift, was to heat up one some of the chai-infused milk we used in the chocolate chai drink, as my sort-of morning tea. It was just spicy enough, and warm, which was nice in a kitchen not yet heated up from just-turned-on ovens. Even though I've used all the spices that make up chai before, a whiff of it never fails to make me think of the exotic.


Memories of that chai is what inspired these chai cupcakes. Well, that and my attempts to pack up the kitchen for the impending move unearthed a mini cupcake tin I hadn't even used yet, and a host of half-used spice jars. Yes, I know that spices lose their potency the longer you keep them around, and had I not been sternly warned by the boyfriend to stop buying more stuff when we're trying to move, I might have gone out to get the fresh cloves and cardamom to grind myself. However, I'm still pleased with the flavor I achieved in these cupcakes: just lightly spicy, with a whiff of the exotic. While I combined ground spices to my liking, you can also get chai flavors in your cupcakes by infusing the milk with chai tea bags. I like being able to control the amounts of the various spices, and the intensity of the flavor. 


So in trying to decide what kind of chai cupcake to make, I went a little overboard. I couldn't decide if I wanted a plain chai cupcake or a chocolate chai cupcake; in the end; indecision won out and I decided to make both - simply as a taste-testing experiment, of course. I used my basic vanilla and chocolate cupcake recipes, which baked up beautifully in miniature form. The vanilla chai cupcake is beguilingly freckled with the spices, and is pleasantly spicy, sort of like vanilla with a new dress on, while the chocolate version is richer, with a more smoldering flavor; I used more spices in the batter to boost the flavor. The question of what frosting to use arose as well: what started as a simple desire for cupcakes turned into a full-blown project as I settled on a cinnamon chocolate whipped ganache for the vanilla cupcakes, and a honey swiss meringue buttercream for the chocolate ones. These cupcakes have sugar and spice and everything nice packed into them! Maybe I went a little carried away with the cupcake experimentation, but the results were worth it - they make such nice visual contrasts to each other, don't you think?


A couple baking notes about the frostings: I'm becoming very fond of whipped ganache; it's ridiculously simple to make and so addictive, especially if you use your favorite chocolate. Be sure to let it chill completely before whipping it, otherwise it might curdle (some recipes say you only need to let it cool to room temperature, however I had better results when I chilled mine). Also, don't overwhip it; you'll get the same unpleasant mess you do when you overwhip cream. However, what you can do with overwhipped ganache is to simply melt it over a bain-marie, let it set up again in the refrigerator, and rewhip - carefully. For the swiss meringue buttercream, I love it because it's quicker to make than italian meringue, but it is less stable, so I've learned a few tips to making it: be sure to cook the egg white mixture to 160 degrees F, to make sure all the salmonella bacteria are killed; whip the meringue in the mixer until it's fully cooled and thick, or else hot meringue will melt the added butter; your butter should be room temperature and softened to incorporate easier into the buttercream; and finally, many times the buttercream appears to curdle or break, which always sends people into a panic, but you simply have to keep beating the buttercream for several minutes and it will come back together into a nice velvety buttercream.

So I guess baking a batch of cupcakes isn't exactly packing up the kitchen, but at least we have something to snack on while we continue our moving-out endeavors!


Vanilla or Chocolate Chai Cupcakes

makes 12 regular cupcakes or 30 mini cupcakes

Vanilla Chai Cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons chai spice mixture (see below)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Chai Spice Mixture (combine all ingredients together in a small bowl)

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamon

Chocolate Chai Cupcakes

  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chai spice mixture
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Swiss Meringue Honey Buttercream

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-in pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Whipped Chocolate Cinnamon Ganache

  • 4 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the vanilla chai cupcakes:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
  • Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Stir in the chai spice mixture.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer with paddle attachment on medium speed until soft and creamy.
  • Add in egg and egg whites, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition to combine before adding the next.
  • Combine milk and vanilla in a measuring cup or small bowl.
  • Add in the flour mixture and milk mixture in three alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Beat just to combine each addition before adding the next.
  • Using an ice cream scoop or a spoon, fill each cupcake liner about ¾ full with batter. Bake in oven for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the cupcakes comes out clean. Mini cupcakes will take about 15 minutes, so check sooner.
  • Let cupcakes cool in tin on a wire rack until cool before decorating.

For chocolate chai cupcakes:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
  • Place chocolate in a metal bowl and melt over a pot of simmering water. Set aside.
  • Sift the flours, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl. Stir in the chai spice mixture.
  • Cream the butter and both sugars together in a stand mixer with paddle attachment on medium speed until soft and creamy.
  • Add in the chocolate and mix to combine.
  • Add in eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition to combine before adding the next.
  • Add in the flour mixture and buttermilk in three alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Beat just to combine each addition before adding the next.
  • Using an ice cream scoop or a spoon, fill each cupcake liner about ¾ full with batter. Bake in oven for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the cupcakes comes out clean. Mini cupcakes will take about 15 minutes, so check sooner.
  • Let cupcakes cool in tin on a wire rack until cool before decorating.

For the swiss meringue buttercream:

  • Combine the sugar, honey, and egg whites in a medium metal bowl and place over a pan of simmering water.
  • Whisk the sugar mixture constantly over heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks smooth and shiny. Continue whisking until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F.
  • Remove mixture from heat and pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled.
  • Switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the butter a few pieces at a time, beating until smooth. Do not add the butter too quickly or beat too quickly or the buttercream may break.
  • When all the butter has been added, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth. It may appear to separate briefly but continue beating and it should come back together.
  • Add in the vanilla extract and beat to combine.
  • The buttercream is ready to be used. Place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it to prevent it from drying out.

For the whipped chocolate ganache:

  • Place chocolate into a medium heatproof bowl.
  • Combine cream and cinnamon in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Heat just until it comes to a simmer.
  • Pour cream over chocolate and let sit for a minute before stirring to combine. Stir until chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is smooth.
  • Pour into a container and chill in refrigerator for an hour until it is firm.
  • Place ganache in a stand mixer and whip with whisk attachment until it is light and fluffy. Do not overwhip or it will become dry and crumbly, just like overwhipped cream.

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Green Tea Cheesecake

August 3rd, 2009 · 49 Comments · Cakes, Recipes


Apologies for not getting this post up by the end of last week, but I have two exciting updates on what's been going on in my life. The first is that I am moving to a brand-new place just outside of the city, so it's going to be a tornado of sorting and packing in my apartment for the next couple of weeks. The most oft-repeated piece of advice I've received from friends is to throw away everything I don't need; advice I've been trying to take to heart but is very difficult to follow when the kitchen is concerned. So perhaps I've gotten carried away over the years with collecting dishes and pans and plates and gadgets. I find myself going through the drawers and deciding that yes, every one of those items is absolutely indispensable and I must take it with me. Good thing the new place has about double the number of kitchen cabinets. For those of you who remember Jen from use real butter's tour of my kitchen, you don't know how excited I am to have a big shiny new kitchen to use very soon! I may have to throw a virtual housewarming on this blog to break it in!!

The second, very thrilling piece of news is that I just received the advance copy of my second book from my publisher, Quirk Books. It feels just as surreal and humbling as the first time I held a copy of Field Guide to Cookies in my hands.

My upcoming book is Field Guide to Candy: How To Identify and Make Virtually Every Candy Imaginable (A Field Guide) , and you can see the cover to the right side of this page. It's available for pre-order already through Amazon, and it's due to come out at the beginning of September – very soon! You can be sure there will be many candy-related posts coming up on this site in time for the holidays! I'm also very pleased with the photography; I worked with Tucker + Hossler, a local team with a beautiful eye for food photography. I also got much more free rein over the food styling this time, so the photos are more cookbook-like than simple field guide shots. It was definitely a very fun and educational experience working on this book, and I'm very excited to be sharing it with all of you soon!


So while I'm knee-deep in the packing process, I'm trying to use up what's left in the refrigerator, and I find some cream cheese in the back. It reminds me that I haven't made cheesecake in a while, which leads to this week's creation: Green Tea and Chocolate Cheesecake.

Traditional American/New York baked cheesecake has inspired many books and articles on mastering the techniques behind perfect cheesecake. This time around, I felt like trying out an unbaked version. Made with cream cheese and gelatin, and lightened with whipped cream these unbaked cheesecakes are made very similar to the traditional mousse cakes from France. This style of cheesecake is popular in Hong Kong and Japan, likely because it has a lighter, fluffier texture that is preferred over there. Another advantage to these unbaked cheesecakes is since they don't required baking, there aren't the same concerns over baking for exactly the right time and with cracking tops. It's almost ridiculously simple to put together.

I also found some matcha powder that I needed to use up, so I decided to make this a green tea cheesecake. The trick with matcha is not to use too much, or else the flavor will become very bitter. I might have erred on the heavy-handed side, so in the recipe I've decreased the amount of matcha and increased the sugar. To also balance out the grassy notes of the matcha, I made the crust out of crushed chocolate wafers to give a dose of rich sweetness.

This cheesecake sets up fast and has a soft, pleasingly creamy mouthfeel – I might even pair it with some fruit for a light dessert – when's the last time you heard of cheesecake being light?

Look for another update later this week!


Green Tea and Chocolate Cheesecake

makes (2) 5" round cheesecakes

1/2 cup chocolate wafer crumbs

2 teaspoons sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

5 ounces whipping cream

6 ounces cream cheese

1/3 cup sugar

3 1/2 ounces milk

3/4 teaspoon matcha powder

1 teaspoon powdered gelatin

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter the bottom of two 5" round springform pans. You could also use an 7" round springform pan.

Combine chocolate wafer crumbs, sugar, and melted butter in a medium bowl until well combined and crumbly. Press firmly into the bottom of the pans with your fingers.

Bake in oven for about 10 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack while you make the filling.

Whip the cream in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Set cream aside.

In a clean mixer bowl, beat cream cheese until soft and creamy (do not overbeat and liquefy it). Add the sugar and beat to combine.

Heat the milk in a heatproof cup until almost hot (not boiling). Add in the matcha powder and whisk until combined and there are no lumps.

Bloom gelatin in about 2 tablespoons of water.

Add in the milk to the cream cheese and mix until combined.

Fold in the whipped cream gently with a rubber spatula until combined.

If the gelatin is solid, heat in microwave for 10 seconds at a time until liquid. Make sure it is liquid or it will not blend smoothly with the cheesecake.

Add the gelatin to the cheesecake mixture and fold until combined.

Pour the cheesecake mixture into prepared pans.

Refrigerate for at least an hour until set.

If you like, you can coat the sides in more chocolate crumbs after you unmold the cheesecakes.

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