Entries from February 26th, 2010

My Adventure in Hong Kong

February 26th, 2010 · 14 Comments · Sweet Spots, Travel


Hello! First of all, thank you all so much for your notes of congratulations – I was so thrilled to read each and every one of them! I already feel like I got one of the best wedding gifts ever with all your heartfelt wishes! I'm also very excited to learn about all the fellow brides-to-be out there! Congratulations to you all as well, and I hope your planning is also going well! I promise I will share more information and pictures about the big event when it happens – only a few months away, eek!

For this post, though, I also want to share a very cool adventure I had last fall when I went to Hong Kong. Although it was meant to be a vacation, one of my aunts there let me know that she was friends with a well known cookbook author, and would I like to meet her? This was an offer I could not turn down.

So that was how I met Annie Leong, a talented chef and intrepid globe-trotter who has written three cookbooks and also has food columns in several of Hong Kong's newspapers. Annie has led the dream life of many a foodie: in love with food from an early age, she ate her way around the world and also took the opportunity during her travels to study numerous cuisines under several chefs. Ultimately she returned to Hong Kong and began to work on her own cookbook, Cooking with Annie, which reflects the breadth and quirkiness of her culinary interests. Annie graciously gave me a copy of the cookbook, and I find the range of recipes, from lobster bisque to drunken chicken to tiramisu, a testament to the her amazing knowledge and skills.

In return I gave Annie copies of my Field Guide to Cookies and Field Guide to Candy. Upon looking at them, she made a surprising proposal to me: would I like to have some recipes featured in her newspaper column? I knew there was no hesitating on this decision. I told her yes!

This meant that for the last couple days of my vacation I was dashing about town gathering ingredients and tools necessary to do a photoshoot of three recipes for the newspaper. Did you know, in Hong Kong home baking is not extremely popular as most apartment kitchens are rather small and lacking in equipment? I had never even tried baking with the oven in my parents' Hong Kong flat, so I had no idea how my recipes would turn out in a foreign setup.

Fortunately, Annie lent me the use of her gorgeous professional kitchen, which was outfitted with all the tools, equipment, and counter space I could need. If you look at the photos in this post, they were all taken in her kitchen! Afraid that I was going to have to improvise Iron Chef-style in some tiny test kitchen, I was very relieved and wholly impressed by her space!

One thing I've noticed about cookbooks in Hong Kong is that they are very fond of step-by-step photos. Annie is a master of this setup: all her recipes in her columns are shown step by step, so that was how I would have to make my recipes for the column. I had never done this before! Fortunately the photographer was a pro and captured everything, getting glimpses of my recipes in-the-making even I'd never seen! I've never done in-the-process photos for this blog; I guess I'm just not organized enough or something. So I'm very pleased and proud that some of my recipes finally have step by step photos! Following are scans of Annie's columns in the Sing Tao newspaper featuring my recipes:


These are my apple crumb bars – Annie was quite enamoured with them and I think we sent the whole batch after the photoshoot to the Sing Tao newspaper staff as a thank you.

This is my almond buttercrunch – I will admit I was petrified of attempting to do sugarwork in a foreign, humid climate, but fortunately it turned out just fine. It's hard to go wrong with sugar, chocolate, butter, and nuts.

I also did the linzer cookies for Annie – you can see them in the post on Annie's website. She was kind enough to write a post about my visit, so I'm (belatedly) returning the favor. Thanks for everything, Annie!

I suppose the lesson of this little adventure is to always be prepared for anything: you never know when an opportunity will come your way! I thought I was just going on a little vacation but it turned out to be a very memorable one! I'm very happy to be able to share the fruits of my serendipitous fortune with you dear readers – hopefully it has given you a glimpse into Hong Kong food scene, plus a look at pastrygirl in action!

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In the Mood for Love

February 17th, 2010 · 59 Comments · Custards, Fruit, Personal, Recipes


I joked to my boyfriend this weekend that this might have been the first time since I’ve started working that I got a day off to celebrate Chinese New Year. Okay, so it was really Presidents’ Day, but given that they practically get a whole week off in China (yes, that means they are still reveling over there!) I’ll take what I can get.

Besides, I needed the extra day to recover from simultaneously celebrating Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day. And a very important Valentine’s Day at that.

This was my last Valentine’s Day as a single girl.

It’s taken me a while to decide how to share this milestone with you all: although I’m joyously eager to post up my latest sweet creation, I’ve always been shy to divulge the particulars of my personal life. It’s likely a combination of my own introvertedness (would it surprise you that one of the reasons I started this blog was because I was too self-conscious to talk pastry in front of others?) and the internet environment when I began Dessert First.

Back then (gosh, that makes me sound so old!) people wrote under pseudonyms, behind shadowy profile pictures. I was warned not to give away anything incriminating about my real identity, or else I’d get hunted down by crazy stalkers.

Well, it seems that crazy stalkers will be an unfortunate fixture of the internet, but a better balance between commonsense privacy and personal sharing seems to have evolved. I’m sure most of you read personal blogs not just for the recipes, or the technical information, but for the personality behind the words. And as I’ve let more of myself pervade this site, and shared my stories with you, I’ve found it more and more rewarding, because it becomes a truer reflection of me. And in return, I’ve gotten the most wonderful stories from you readers. Just the other week I got an e-mail from someone who had read my old Linzertorte post and wrote to tell me how it reminded him of his younger days spent in Germany eating pastry at cafes. Anyone who’s ever written anything knows this is one of the most precious gifts you can receive: to know you’ve communed with someone, a stranger, across the vast ineffable ether. It makes every minute I’ve spent on Dessert First worth the while.


So while I enjoyed sharing snippets and tidbits from my life here, I hesitated to post up the news when I got engaged. I guess…I was afraid that broadcasting it to the world might seem too immodest, that I might be jinxing myself by reveling in my good fortune. The odd mental contortions one goes through when a fundamentally shy person starts a public blog…

But it’s too hard to keep this secret under wraps, too difficult to conceal that my universe is tilted on a new axis. I was thinking of revealing all after the whole deed was done, but given my increasing rate of distraction these days it might have ended up being a seriously belated revelation! And I’m kind of tired of keeping all this frothy happiness down – I think it’s time to let it bubble over just a little bit.

So! To answer the most relevant questions, in order of importance:

1. Yes, there will be cake. No, I am not making it. A wonderful local wedding cake artist that I’ve done some product photography for will be doing it, and I’m so thrilled.

2. Yes, there will be more dessert besides cake. I cannot tell more so as not to ruin the surprise for the guests.

3. Yes, I have my dress. I went over my budget in buying it, but it was at a sample sale, where somehow it’s easy to convince yourself that 50% of really expensive is somehow not expensive and in fact a fabulous bargain. Ha! However, if I get one photo of me looking awesome in my dress it will all be worth it.

4. It will be this May. In San Francisco. And as I have not sent out the invitations yet I think I ought to stop here or you’ll know more than the guest list!

Oh yes, and I love my fiance Mike. Hopefully this will appease all my blog-girlfriends who have been telling me to stop calling him my boyfriend. Well, to me he’ll always be my boyfriend, and in a few months he’ll be something more:)

To celebrate my(our) last Valentine’s Day as single(s), I made these rose and strawberry parfaits. Bits of vanilla-scented dacquoise are covered with strawberry coulis and then layered with rose mousse. Very pink, very romantic, very fitting for those in the mood for love.

Thank you to you all. I’m so honored and happy to be sharing this happy news with you!



Rose and Strawberry Parfait

adapted from Dessert for You by Rachel Yau

Strawberry Coulis

6 ounces strawberries

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

Rose Mousse

3 egg yolks

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup milk

1 1/2 tablespoons rose syrup

2 1/4 teaspoons gelatin

1 cup heavy cream


For the coulis: Combine strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a food processor and process until strawberries are liquid.

Pour in a medium saucepan and heat over medium until sugar has dissolved and mixture has thickened slightly. Remove from heat and let cool.


For the mousse: Beat egg yolks and sugar together in a stand mixer until pale and thick.

Place milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.

Pour the milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking the mixture constantly to prevent the eggs from cooking.

Stir in the rose syrup.

Add in the gelatin and stir until combined. Let sit until it cools, but do not let it set up.

Whip the cream in a stand mixer until soft peaks. Fold gently into the milk mixture. It may appear liquidy but it will set.


To assemble: Fill glasses with alternating layers of strawberry coulis and rose mousse. Chill between pouring layers for about 10-15 minutes to let the layers firm up slightly before pouring the next. Once you have finishing filling the glasses, chill for another 2 hours to let the mousse finish setting.




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Double Holidays, Double Happiness

February 9th, 2010 · 17 Comments · Fruit, Recipes, Tarts


There's a remarkable coincidence on the calendar this year, due to the drifts and ebbs between the solar and lunar calendars: Chinese New Year falls on February 14, the same day as Valentine's Day! Shall I expect a preponderance of red on Sunday, as rosy, lace-edged valentine cards mingle with vermilion lucky envelopes? Hopefully the jubilant, raucous snapping of firecrackers won't drown out the murmurs of sweet nothings between lovers in the city. Myself, I'll be looking to welcome in the Year of the Tiger, while stealing a smooch from the boyfriend!


I always try to do something citrus-themed for Chinese New Year, and this year I picked some blood oranges from the local market. (Shall have to do something Valentine's-related later this week).

I guess with pomegranates and blood oranges I'm really developing a thing for dramatically-hued fruit! Notice how the rind of blood oranges can have darker red patches, as if the color of the flesh inside is pulsing through. Once you slice into them, it can look like a massacre on your cutting board, although fortunately it doesn't stain like berry juices.

Blood orange juice is a little tarter than regular orange juice, depending on the variety, and I was struck with the idea of making it into a curd. The recipe I used is a variation of one I found in a Donna Hay magazine, your basic eggs, sugar, and juice formula. I was surprised, though, with the addition of some butter to add a satiny edge to the curd, to find the color softening to a regular orange – not the sanguineous hue I was expecting at all. It almost looked like orange sorbet, and tasted not unlike it!

To give the curd a more interesting frame than a slice of toast, I made some tuiles from my Field Guide to Cookies recipe and made some cups to hold a dollop of curd and some whipped cream. Not entirely certain what to call them – tuile cups perhaps may be the formal name, but I like the word tuile-lets. Cute, huh? I added some almond extract to the tuile-lets which gave them a flavor reminiscent of fortune cookies – combine with the orange curd, these made for simple but satisfying way to celebrate the new year.


I also finally wanted to mention that I love my new scale! During the move to our new place, my old scale decided to go kaput, and it uses those tiny button batteries that are annoyingly hard to find. Quite serendipitously, I received a free EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale from EatSmart for review. It's a basic-looking scale but upon using I realized it has all the features that I need: measurements in grams, ounces, pounds, and kilograms. It also tares (zeroes the weight with a bowl on the scale) and holds up to 11 pounds, which is handy (I don't think I've ever needed to weigh out 11 pounds of anything, but definitely having a scale that has a capacity over a measly couple of pounds is essential.)

This scale is accurate down to the gram, which is essential for you baking precision-fanatics when you're following recipes with metric measurements. I noticed my old scale seemed to hover within a 3-4 gram range, which isn't a deal breaker for most recipes but was a little irksome as I wondered why it couldn't ever settle down on a weight.

Also, I have to admit that my old scale was sexier-looking with the glass platform, but I realized that the utilitarian design of this scale is actually much better: it's easier to wipe off and keep clean, the buttons are large and easy to press, plus there is a three minute turnoff delay, meaning much less chance of you losing your measurement as you're scrambling for your next ingredient (not that you would ever start baking without all your mise in its place, would you?:) ) So don't let the humble exterior deter you from its host of well-thought out features.

I get e-mails asking about scales frequently, so right now I'd say this scale is making me very happy. Remember when looking for a scale to find one that:

1. Does both grams and ounces, and can tare.

2. Has capacity up to five pounds at least.

3. Has a platform wide enough and stable enough to hold your mixing bowl with your ingredients.

4. Is easy to clean! Don't overlook this – there are some gorgeous objet d'art scales out there, but I look at them and wonder, how would I ever clean this thing?

And finally, with the new year also comes another year for my blog Dessert First, which is now officially five years old! I couldn't have imagined all that would happen five years ago, and hopefully all you dear readers will follow me to see what happens next!

In celebration of five very sweet years, I finally have a banner – long, long overdue! Many thanks to Kaytlyn of Beneficial Design for creating this luscious looking header! I hope to continue welcoming you all here through my new front door!

Blood Orange Curd Tuile-lets


1/2 cup softened unsalted butter

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 egg whites at room temperature

1/3 cup all-purpose flour  

In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together on medium speed for several minutes until light and fluffy.

< span style="font-size: 14px;">Add in vanilla extract and egg whites and beat until combined. 

Sift flour over mixture and mix on low until combined.

Cover batter and let rest in refrigerator for about 1 hour.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line several cookie sheets with silicone baking mats.

Spread tablespoons of batter onto the cookie sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Be sure to spread the batter as thinly and evenly as possible: If it is too thick it will not bake properly. Use a moistened fingertip to smooth the batter out.

Bake to 8–10 minutes or until the edges turn golden. 8. Cool sheets on wire racks. If you want to shape them, you must do so quickly once they are out of the oven before they harden. If the cookies harden before you can shape them,return them to the oven for 30 seconds to warm and soften them.

Blood Orange Curd

1/2 cup blood orange juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

6 egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

Combine orange juice, lemon juice, egg yolks, and sugar in a medium saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, for 8-10 minutes until sugar has dissolved and mixture has thickened.

Remove from heat and stir in the butter a little at a time, stirring to fully combine.

Pour curd into a container and press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface.

Refrigerate for an hour or so until it has cooled and thickened to a spreadable consistency.

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{Chocolate Review} Fleurir: Chocolates in Full Bloom

February 1st, 2010 · 13 Comments · Reviews, Tools


A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from Ashley Hubbard of Fleurir Chocolates, asking if I'd like to try some chocolates from her and her fiance's freshly created artisan chocolate business. If there's anything that cacao-crazy San Francisco has instilled in me, it's an appreciation of chocolate as couture. I think it's astonishing that I live in a city where I can walk into boutiques that carry chocolates from all around the world, where I can think of offbeat combinations like strawberry balsamic caramel and there's likely a chocolatier that's making that flavor, that there are so many local chocolatiers practicing the noble art of converting theobroma cacao into perfect little tiles of delight.

Although the profusion of artisan chocolate might seem intimidating, I'm always delighted to see newcomers entering the scene: if anything, the abundant creativity and impressively high level of quality I'm seeing from these new faces tells me that there's plenty of room left for the world of chocolate to expand.

I received a sample box of Fleurir's nine piece box from Ashley – I'll have to admit that after the first bite, I was tempted to hoard it all for myself! Fleurir's Chocolates come in elegant squares, either minimally decorated or imprinted with transfers. I was taken by the green, botanical theme that extends throughout the designs, a gorgeous way to tie their line together. 


Flavors from top right, clockwise: Cheesecake, Almond Amaretto, 85%, Raspberry, Coconut Lime, Grand Marnier Orange Blossom.

The flavors range from clean renditions of classics like raspberry and sea salt caramel, to some intriguing variations like lavender shiraz (the mix of dark chocolate with notes of wine and floral lavender make me think of drive in the country in spring) and ginger rogers, a tingly mix of ginger and mint (Ashley indicated it was inspired by one of her favorite drinks). The ganaches are beautifully creamy and flavorful, the shells perfectly snapping under the bite. Ashley's fiance, Robert, studied at the Le Cordon Bleu in Australia and worked under Tim Gearhart before heading out to start his own business.

I love the fresh green aesthetic of Fleurir – it means " to bloom" in French and Ashley said that captured their vision of spring, growth, and beauty. She mentioned that they considered Bloom for a name but didn't like the connotations with fat bloom in chocolates – I love me some food geeks! They've got a beautiful presentation going, which along with the high quality of their chocolates really gives them a leg up in the crowd of chocolate competition.

Fleurir is currently based in Virginia, and their chocolates can be bought online. They have just released a special Heart's Delight Box for Valentine's Day, which includes new Pink Peppercorn and Dark Raspberry flavors, with 40% of the proceeds going to the American Heart Association – a sweet deal! In our e-mail correspondence, Ashley had mentioned her affection for California, and I asked if Fleurir might branch out west. Maybe in the future was the reply, so while we're waiting for an SF shop to open, do go over to their website and order a box, and try some hand grown chocolates for yourself.



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