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My Max Brenner’s days are over since I left my NYC apartment in comfy Union Square. In place, I got Hong Kong with all its western dessert-phobic, savoury-loving locals. I traded my chocolate and dairy-heavy diet for Chinese desserts such as mango pomelo and walnut soup. And when I bake, the first thing people say when they taste my cakes is, “Good, it’s not sweet.” But isn’t the point of desserts is to be sweeter than the preceding course?
While I never thought I’d find a replacement for my closest friends in the city nor the Italian thick hot chocolate at Max Brenner’s, about a year ago prior to finding a job here, my cousin introduced me to this dessert place at the Ferry Building called Vero:
This is my favourite Vero drink
Vero is a gem hidden in the Ferry building at Fenwick Pier. It’s rather hard to find if you haven’t been there before and even harder for someone to accidentally ‘discover’ this place without having known about it before due to its rather unusual location. The Ferry building itself is rather removed from the hubbub of the city whilst riding between the boundary line of both Admiralty and Wan Chai. If it’s your first time there, cab it by saying ‘Fenwick Ma Tau’ (canto) and they’ll drop you off ’round the corner at The Quarterdeck. Just backtrack and you’ll find yourself at a dingy lobby with an old elevator. If you feel uncertain and wondering how chocolate, reclamation and ships can co-exist, you’re going the right way. Make your way to the second floor and trust me, if your senses weren’t tickled by your first impression of the building, they definitely will be stimulated when you open the door to see this:
The space is rather long and narrow with windows wrapping around the periphery to give you a gorgeous view of IFC and Kowloon. Yes it does overlook the construction site but it doesn’t really bother me because you can see far and wide. The interior is rather polished in a raw sense: smooth and cool concrete floors contrast the warmth of the woven chairs and slatted wooden tables. Vibrant lemon yellow chocolate cards punctuate each table to add some colour. Behind the seating area is an art gallery like display; a portfolio of work that Vero has done in collaboration with corporate companies such as The Marco Polo Club (featured photo: I like the map of chocolates. Talk about branding- international flavors for the jet set) and The Mandarin Oriental. I spoke briefly to the manager (this tells you how often I visit or his good memory) the other day who told me that they make all their chocolate in-house in order to control the ingredients in their products. They pride themselves on the purity of their chocolate from the cacao pod and the intensity of a chocolate taste over sweetness. Customers can view the kitchen behind the displays to see how they manufacture, produce and create their own chocolate products. It makes me homesick for New York because it reminds me of Jacques Torres and my undying love for their champagne truffles. Did I mention I’m a sucker for immaculate minimalist packaging?
One of the unique elements about Vero is their ‘chocolate room’ which is kept at 16 degrees celcius to protect their wares that are meant to be enjoyed with the five sense as represented by the boxes of chocolate below:
Yes that’s a life-size chocolate statue and a completely edible flower arrangement, pot included.
Now on to the premium cakes:
Chuao, Venezuela 70%
Dark 70% ganache, flourless biscuit
Taro Earl Grey
Earl grey milk chocolate mousse, taro jelly, gluten free biscuit
Cheesecake, chocolate sparks, rosemary chocolate ganache
White chocolate cream, vanilla sponge, homemade passion fruit jam
Orange milk chocolate, with a chocolate crisp layer
-$30 HKD/piece (around $4 USD)
I’ve visited Vero… four times with various friends and family and I’ve narrowed down my order to:
Rosemary Cheesecake and 70% iced chocolate.
While Vero is known for their rich,thick hot chocolate (a thin disk of chocolate is placed right over the top so it melts slowly into the cup-pure visual poetry), I prefer their iced one due to the many textural layers. The bottom of the flute is filled with a chocolate sauce that hardens into a paste once the iced liquid goes in- you have to scrape it out with a long parfait spoon. A dollop of whipped cream topped with pop rocks gives this drink a finishing touch. What I like about it is a sense of play- pop rocks hints of childhood nostalgia on a rather sophisticated beverage. They have several varieties for the hot/iced chocolate as well including mint and raspberry. I’ve tried the white chocolate yogurt iced chocolate but it pales in comparison with their classic (pun not intended). As for the cake, the rosemary cheesecake isn’t sweet at all (the one with the leaf in img below)- you taste the bitterness of the chocolate mixed in with the warm saltiness of the rosemary. I highly recommend this one- it’s what inspired my previous semi-fail birthday cake to Agnes. My friends who I went with a week ago preferred the Orange Crisp which resembles more of an ice cream cake.
As you can see these photos have been taken with several lenses including my wide angle Sigma and prime lens over the course of three visits. The Vero lounge also includes a variety of wine and chocolate pairings (unfortunately as classy as that sounds, I dislike the taste of alcohol save when it’s used to enhance a dessert). It’s the perfect place to get away from the standard ‘cha chan teng’ (HK cafes) where the middle aged waiters constantly ask you to get the bill so they can claim a fresh roster of customers. I enjoy the jazz/lounge music they play while cloud gazing as I slip into a chocolate coma. Recommended for book lovers to find a solitary place to read, female friends to catch up over tea and for guys who want to impress and woe their dates.
I’m going again this weekend to take my aunt there. They gave me a ‘buy one get one free’ hot chocolate.. except I it want iced in this hot Hong Kong weather! However I think I will get the affogato the next time… it looked really good in that martini glass when the waitress passed us by…
I’m late but I’m gonna blog a couple birthdays that passed including my own but first up… Agnes on June 21st!
I got a little greedy with flavors and decided to make my own recipe up using a couple of ones I found floating on the web: Rosemary Olive Oil Cake with a Nutella Frosting. I love blending sophisticated exotic flavors with a kiddy, childish ‘home sweet home’ tastes to make something new but familiar.
Rosemary Olive Oil Cake:
The reason why I chose to do rosemary was because I had taken Agnes to a chocolate lounge here in HK and she loved their rosemary cheesecake and I thought that adding some savoury spices would be a more interesting cake than vanilla or plain chocolate. Looking back now, I would prefer a more subtle olive oil flavor and would probably cut it by a half and substitute it with an egg. I used every single drop of that bottle of olive oil featured in the first picture!
The cake itself is pretty healthy: no butter! But since it was meant to be a loaf cake, it was a little too dense for an iced cake. Perhaps I should use a standard pound or sponge cake the next time around and tweak it to add the olive oil into it. I’d also add more chocolate chunks into the mix to get a little more crunch.
I love Nutella- as a kid I would spread a thick layer on a slice of processed white bread and then in the center, add a huge dollop. I would then proceed to eat all the crust first and slowly make my way to the center where I would overcome the mountain of Nutella by sticking the whole morsel into mouth to let all the creamy chocolate hazelnut explode on my tongue. Pure heaven. If anything, the absence of butter in the cake was canceled out thanks to this butter-heavy frosting.
Just some side captions on the process photos above: I actually made two cakes- one for Agnes and one for Canny’s boyfriend whose birthday was also the 21st. My cake was originally three layers as you can see but when I frosted each and sandwiched them on top of one another. Because of the humidity, the entire thing started to do the Leaning Tower of Pisa and finally the middle layer gave way and broke into two. Initially Canny and I were laughing until our stomachs hurt UNTIL I saw that it crumbled. Anyway, it turned out for the best because two is better than three!
Hey there, you may be wondering where I disappeared on Portfolio of Patisserie for the past three months. Where have I been? I have been failing.
I’m not a professional baker, I’ve not been to culinary school and I certainly have no gift in fine cuisine. I just love exploring new ideas in cake, cookies and sweets. So it’s been incredibly frustrating to be failing every single time. I will post my failures but by the time I bake, decorate and photograph the cake to realize that the taste/texture of the recipe is a little off, I can’t seem to muster enough energy to blog about it. Anyway, here goes:
Fail 1: Sakura and Green Tea Castella Cake
I bought a box of sakura home from Tsujuki market in Japan but ended up having to throw most of it away because it was startng to rot. This was a failure in part because I was too impatient with the frosting (I don’t even recall what kind it is.. buttercream?) and I should have let it cool down first before frosting a rather overly most and sticky castella cake. I got tired of circles and opted for pyramid forms. Most of all, I wanted to play with color. Punches of pink against cool white with a tranquil green center surprise.
It’s really funny: when I was in Japan, I asked a salesgirl how to apply gold leaf. Do I need to invest in a tweezer? Her reply: use chopsticks.
Asia for the win.
Fail 2: Matcha Cheesecake
Laura and I fell in love with the aesthetically pleasing outcome of this cake. I seriously think this recipe, which came from a Japanese cooking site (Laura translated) needs a lot of tweaking but it tasted extremely sour due to heavy amounts of yogurt and sour cream. But the texture and color of the cake is impeccable. As you can see, I added the lace print border around the cake that I got from the Jusco $10 store and it’s the perfect height! The cake knife is also from there too- thought it would look nicer than a fruit knife.
Fail 3: Matcha Cheesecake (Round 2)
Not soon after Laura left back for Japan, I tweaked the entire cheesecake recipe to contain less sour cream and yogurt and more cream cheese. Anyhow it was better but still not to my expectations. Also the hue changed from emerald green to a duller shade with a brown tinge around the side. The ‘polka dots’ was just an extra touch to my third failure.
Anyway that’s all I can contribute for today. I’ll try to find some time to blog about my long ago birthday (the dessert part!) and Agnes’ birthday cake which was… a semi fail as well. T-T Help! I need a breakthrough!
One of my favourite things about baking in this kitchen is when I can sit in front of the oven with a friend, talking or simply reading magazines while we wait for chemistry to prevail. I can just stretch out my legs and lean my back against the cupboards. It’s so comforting.
Laura and I back in March, reading Japanese baking books and ViVi magazine.
There is nothing lovelier than a rainy Saturday afternoon with nothing to do than make a cup of European chocolate. Marie Belle Hot Chocolate powder from New York.
The Chronicle of sweet ideas.
Tea is good for the soul. Muji tea in silk pouches makes life a little easier. Purchased Rose Pu-Erh, Baked Apple and Sakura Green Tea
Gifts that reflect an idiosyncrasy of the receiver are the most perceptive
When encountering odd combinations of flavors, the ‘epicurious’ will always be first to try: Cream Cheese Marshmallows from Muji. They were… interesting. Not enough cream cheese. I wonder what happens if you try microwaving it. XD
I am not a chef.
Valentine’s Day meal: tomato and mascarpone with fillet of salmon in penne.
My grandmother is a true culinary genius. It never got passed down. Chinese New Year brunch for six at 11am! hahah
I like Cadbury
Just not their commercials.
This is my forte: Valentine’s Day dessert- milk chocolate fondue with Japanese strawberries, bananas, Sara Lee plain and coffee pound cake cubes. My aunt also bought Haagen Daaz ice cream chocolate fondue set which came with a variety of flavors and the heart-shaped fondue pot.
There’s nothing better than enjoying a success after a failure. Especially when it comes with a small cup of milk while listening to French music such as Paroles, Paroles. I finally succeeded in making a flawless molten heart chocolate cake! Yay! Better to leave the frozen cake to warm to room temperature before baking! Tried and tested!
Whew! I’m finally done writing this. It took me three evenings to compile, edit and write this one entry! Get ready for some image-heavy review/recipe. And get ready as I stuff this entry with a lot of cheesy puns. I actually, sad to say, chuckle as I write them.
I thank my Chinese-reading cousin for introducing me to this upstairs cafe called ‘Hit the Road’ located in Causeway Bay. Upstairs cafes are popular here in HK due to lack of space and astronomical rental prices of pedestrian level units. From what I gather, they predominantly target the youth who want a place to hang out, have a few drinks and snacks, play board games and chat without being hurried/driven out like a typical ‘cha chan teng’ (HK local cafes where the old women start asking you if you want the bill when you’re about 3/4 through your meal and persistently ask until you finally consent).
Hit the Road is an upstairs cafe located in Causeway Bay with the charm of a Korean drama (the happy ones that is). Painted in antique white, every edge is highlighted in black to give the interiors a cartoon, graphic effect. ‘Staircase walls’ act as dividers between the various tables. The seating is spacious with few tables and a bar area which faces the cupboards/kitchen area where the concoctions are prepared. The furniture, polka dotted couches, sailboat-print armchairs and cushiony backyard chaises are clustered around the periphery with tilted windows overlooking office buildings.
The beauty (and I am speaking pure aesthetics right now) lies in the details that are seen in every nook and cranny. Tin Tin and his dog are perched along the ledge divider where a white board is suspended above that serves as a TV through the projector that broadcasts old black and white films. Along the window ledge, camel stuffed animals, Miffy potted plants and miniature whitewashed lanterns rest next to the customers (interestingly enough, the cottage-cuteness of these are juxtaposed by the pop culture toys such as Spongebob and ET) . Both magazines and books are available for perusal as you enjoy a fresh cup of joe. An austere canopy of snowflakes in the same linear aesthetic as the interiors overlook the customers and the walls are punctuated with text in a hand painted script font that read ‘Sweets’ or ‘Cakes.’
If I were to comment on anything, the cottage-country kitsch of this cafe has its charm and a must for anyone who loves fairy tale Korean chick flicks movies like ‘The Naked Kitchen’ or ‘Antique Bakery’. The decor is definitely geared towards girls and reminds me of many neighbourhood cafes in Korea, but you’ll see an equal number of guys trying to impress their girlfriends by wooing them with cute interiors and sweet treats. Not a bad idea.
Perhaps I should start speaking about the food.
We booked a table for 7pm (that’s when they open for dinner). I recommend reserving as this is a new establishment and when I first tried to get in with my family, they didn’t even look at us because they were so busy. Turnover is slow due to the social nature of an upstairs cafe and the sparse seating. To make it comfortable, the tables are quite far apart thus the place is busy practically every night.
I can only speak for dinner: Hit the Road offers set dinners that include a soup, tea/coffee and main course. We ordered a slew of desserts after. Appetizer was a cream-based soup served in a large mug and wooden spoon to my mom’s delight because if it came in a bowl, we’d have to bend over the low tables to slurp. Now, we could simply hold it by the handle and eat away without hunching over. For savouries, my mom ordered a spicy cinnamon pork leg that came with fries and salad. The dish itself was extremely dry because they literally give you a few drumsticks. My friend had clams in pasta with tomato sauce. According to her it was really good. I had chicken with a cream sauce base pasta. Mine was quite delicious- the pasta was perfectly al dente and the chicken was thick but tender (my biggest beef with chicken is when it’s dry and thick) and the sauce to spaghetti ratio was right without making the meal too heavy.
Add $9/$16 for a drink upgrade.
Add $20/$25 for a dessert.
Now the fun part. Desserts we shared: apple crumble, earl gray cheesecake and molten chocolate cake. The first was somewhat forgettable: our American palate wants a scoop of vanilla ice cream to complement the heat of the crumble. The earl grey cheesecake had the fragrance and taste of tea which I really liked although perhaps it could have been a little less dense. On to the last dish….
According to Open Rice, the latter was considered by some, the most amazing chocolate lava cake they had ever tasted. Now although molten chocolate heart cakes are extremely popular in Asian fusion restaurants, I seldom order it because:
1. It’s a classic, therefore not really exciting. I like trying new desserts and new ideas. New flavors.
2. Since it is a classic, it should be made properly: the shell should be a little crunchy but when you sink your teeth into it, the exterior should quickly give away to to the warmth of the inside that overflows outwards. Like the human heart, the beauty of this cake is, in essence, its vulnerability. It should have a tough exterior, able to withstanding anything, but once acquainted, you perceive its fragility. Oh yes, dessert can be purely philosophical. Anyhow, I’ve had my share of bad molten chocolate cakes to realize, if I am to eat dessert, I want something new that’s been badly done rather than something badly done that I have certain expectations for because I already know what it should taste like.
And that is the reason why I never order melting heart cakes (I use the names interchangeably: molten,lava,melting,heart,cake). Back to Hit the Road, we didn’t see the cake on the menu. Apparently you have to ‘special request’ it (I guess it’s the ‘insiders’ thing. I feel like we’re part of the cake club now!). It was quite well done: rich and thick, it reminded me of my times well spent in NYC’s Max Brenner’s. Although the ‘lava’ wasn’t piping hot, the shell gave away beautifully, spewing out ribbons of dark chocolate. Drool. People hate feeling full after dessert, but I love that sinking feeling as I swallow it. It means the chocolate is rich and thick and positively worth eating.
As I leave the review to go onto the recipe, I will leave these last remaining remarks on Hit the Road:
1. Make reservations
2.If you don’t get seated on the comfy couches, be prepared to hunch over these awkward round tables like we did at the back.
3.Allot two hours for dining. We only saw about three people working there and they wait tables, cook and make the drinks. Anyhow, just enjoy the atmosphere and take it slow. The old woman downstairs won’t like it if you sit and chat with a friend rather than asking for the bill.
4. Request for the melting heart chocolate cake.
No I’m not done yet. Are you still alive? =P
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter: Melting Hearts
Although it’s still two weeks away, consider this an early Valentine’s Day post. I once was looking at a fashion editorial spread with a title that caught my eye: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.
Though the clothes had nothing to do with the title, it was so beautifully put. If only that could be expressed through food: the bittersweetness of love, the fragility of the heart, the intensity of a relationship, the fullness of connection, the surprise of a spark, the mystery of chemistry and the richness of romance.
What could be better than dark chocolate and attempting what I just ate for dessert? For a while now, I’ve actually wanted to dabble in making a molten chocolate cake. This tale is not really of success but more of experimentation. I followed this recipe by flagrante delicia called This is not a Coulant!.
For one thing, I bought the wrong butter. Note to self: NEVER EVER buy Ambassador’s butter ever again (this only really applies to me in HK). It’s crumbly to the point I can’t even whip it to break it down.
Second: I accidentally bought 52% dark chocolate rather than the required 70%. Apparently, only the finest chocolate would do. I guess any heart would require the best (sorry I’m really full of cheese, I mean, chocolate. Time for a fondue party.)
Thirdly, BUTTER your cups (and sprinkle cocoa inside instead of flour which may whiten the cooked cake) so that you won’t have grief when you try to coax the cake out of the womb. Whenever I turned mine over, the fragile tops burst and let out all the goodness that was stored up inside. I’m still unsure about whether you should bake the cake right out of the freezer OR let it sit until it becomes room temperature before putting it in the oven. That is my question out to the void, because I am concerned that the temperature shock of removing the cakes out of the oven, causes the tops to collapse and therefore, allow the insides to come out. How to solve this???
I don’t know but since I had eight cakes, I tested six thus far.
The first two went in right away from freezer to oven. One was okay (it ran a little) and the other, we had to give a blood transfusion because the top cracked. In other words, we literally spooned all the guts back into the cake. Not pro at all. It was really delicious though.
The third time I made it, there was still a chunk of butter inside. Never again will I buy Ambassadors. Presidents or pricey Horizons.
The fourth and fifth time, I left the cakes to set to room temperature before putting them in the oven. I also dropped the temperature by a half and let the oven door open so they could adjust easier to the cooler environment. They set faster but they didn’t flow as nicely as the first two tries.
The sixth one, I did another freezer to oven except tried to take it out earlier to avoid cracking. Unfortunately due to not buttering the sides of the cups, I accidentally pierced the side and tried to save it by sticking it in the oven hoping that it would just ‘heal over’. However while we were taking pictures, the melting heart cake turned to normal chocolate cake with an extremely gooey center. ARGH.
I’d also like to know how to make the insides piping hot without having it form into a solid. I guess that is where the ganache of a coulant can provide a better result as opposed to the cheater’s way of doing it with one recipe. Then again flagrante delicia could do it. DANG IT. Back to the drawing board. It looks alright here but I want it to be effortless: easy, simple therefore a classic. I will make it again with better butter, darker chocolate and greasier cups.
None of the recipes I have seen thus far, have techniques and tips on how to REMOVE the cake without the cracking and the spewing. I would like to learn this final step. I have two more tries. What next?
Oh but they’re delicious. A lot of eggs, but delicious. Agnes ended up doing ten minutes of hamster running inside the apartment. Perhaps I’ll try making them again for our Valentine’s Day party. =D
Now when I think about it, the melting heart cake could be the best physical realization of love. What a deep dessert.
Napoleon filled with vanilla custard and diced mango. Topped with cream and strawberries.
Okay…. and we’re back!
Well after having a week of stomach flu, I’ve returned with two and a half days and three recipes!
My parents are in town and they brought me the dvd I requested: Julie & Julia.
I watched it last night- it gives you those warm, fuzzy feelings: the romance that food brings people together, the joy of cooking and creating and the reality of relationships and jobs and using food as an escape. Although when Julie wrote her blog, she was ahead of the blog trend and now there are hundred thousands of food blogs, this film reminds me of why I should write: for the pleasure of baking for the people nearest and dearest to me and not to gain a faceless fan base. Anyhow, onward to food:
It was my aunt’s birthday (coincidentally her name is also ‘Julie’. We were joking we should do a chinese version of the blog) this past Saturday so a few of us, including my parents, decided to surprise her at home with a cake. However when I was trying to figure out what cake she would like, the only answer I could come up with was: Napoleon.
The Napoleon is a flaky puff pastry base cake sandwiched between layers of custard cream and dusted with powdered sugar sold near the cash register at your local Chinese bakery (I am speaking solely from Hong Kong, I am aware that its roots are not from China)
The problem with puff pastry is that making it from scratch takes literally hours and hours. Butter is rolled into the dough, chilled for three hours, another wedge of butter goes in, is chilled and so forth, until the dough becomes layers upon layers of delicately flaky, melt-in-your-mouth pastry. Its why Parisian croissants are so decadent. It’s why Chinese egg tarts are so sinful. Now, with ‘modernization’ we have pre-made, frozen sheets of puff pastry:
And it comes organic too.
However I have to conclude that this project was a semi failure.
First and foremost: there weren’t any instructions. Nil. Nada. It just read ‘perfect puff pastry every time’. Except there weren’t any steps on how to prep it (I read online that you had to prick it with a fork prior to baking) nor was there even a suggested temperature. Bad design.
Organic=healthy. Puff pastry was never meant for the health conscious but since my aunt likes organic, we got it for an additional $20. The problem? Tough, chewy pastry. I felt like I was eating a hybrid of gum and croissant.
One day, one day, I will make my own puff pastry. My grandmother said she used to know how to make it. I am in awe:
Since this was a surprise party, I had to make the puff pastry layers at my other aunt and uncle’s place in Causeway Bay. My friend brought all the telltale components back with her such as the pastry sheets and the fruit while I brought back very standard fare such as flour, cream and vanilla so that the birthday guest wouldn’t guess what we were up to when she opened her fridge. On the day of her birthday I flew back home after work, met up with my friend’s mom and got the custard and puff pastry back and proceeded to build the cake. The first custard was a failure- I’m not sure why. I guess it’s my unfamiliarity with a new kitchen plus following a recipe I’ve never done before. The second one was fine which I did at home in the comfort of a kitchen I know. The above image shows the initial design of the cake: layers of vanilla custard and dollops of whipped cream with icing sugar dusted over a lace doiley. I didn’t really like the 2d effect so I wiped it all off and opted for more dollops of cream and sliced strawberries.
We surprised her while she was out for dinner with my other two friends at a Shanghainese restaurant. As they returned from the dinner, they called us and we lit the candles and dimmed the lights. I’m happy to say that when she came in to the obnoxious voice of me trying to belt out ‘happy birthday’, she was surprised.
My aunt once mentioned that she wanted dessert plates, cups and saucers to enjoy my desserts on. We decided to give her the full experience by purchasing her two cups and saucers, six dessert places and a tea pot from Wedgewood in collaboration with Vera Wang. The best thing about the gift? A two year warranty: smash a cup, bring the pieces in and they’ll give you a new one free of charge. That’s service. Now, to find room to place all these things in the kitchen. I can already foresee some precarious stacking.
I’ve learned my lesson: use the real deal puff pastry. Use a puff pastry that has instructions.
Google ‘napoleon custard’ if you want the recipe for the filling. I wasn’t a huge fan of the custard so I won’t post it here. Expect a new recipe very soon! ^^
I finally conquered the Red Velvet cake!
Being the third and final round, I finally obtained the red hue without sacrificing the taste or the texture. This time the cream wasn’t salty and the cake wasn’t too dense. I decided to make a smaller cake and use the leftover batter for cupcakes which are easier to divide and give away to certain individual.
In light of the East Asian games which commenced today in Hong Kong, here are some photos of the fireworks. Hong Kong hosts the East Asian Games of 2009 that brings together countries such as Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Taipei, China and Guam together to compete in the name of ’sportsmanship’.
Does the colour of the batter give away what I made not once, but twice this week?
That’s right, Red Velvet Cake.
Oh I had an epiphany about Red Velvet Cake. I never really was a fan. I mean, all that makes up this name comes from a little bit of food colouring added to devil’s food cake. But I remember, this time last year, my Epiphany group was at the NYU music practice rooms when Betty told me she had baked a Red Velvet for her roomie’s birthday and saved me a slice. I remember: a wedge of acid red with white slathered on top sitting in a tupperware box. And for some reason, it was the best Red Velvet I had ever tasted.
I guess it doesn’t help that Pixels, my Small Group, last year consisted of a lot of Red Velvet fans. Stacy I remember, telling me about her cupcake escapades and who had the best Red Velvet cupcake. Personally I love Amy’s Bread Red Velvet the most. I remember seeing an episode of ‘The City’ where whats-her-name was gossiping in Amy’s Bread and in the backdrop, you could see a very blurry Red Velvet cake. And that’s all I could think and see on TV. Red Velvet Cake. Thus, I dedicate this post to my Small Group, Pixels, for showing me the love of Red Velvet cake. XD
So using Amy’s Bread Red Velvet as the bar I set to achieve, I made the cake twice this week. Previously when I lived in NYC, I attempted to make it twice and both times were a failure. I learned, when it comes to Red Velvet, you cannot have healthy ingredients as substitutes. I used organic whole wheat unbleached flour and all natural food colouring which resulted in a brown loaf of bread.
So when I got to HK, I was determined to revisit the Red Velvet arena, and make it right. Using the flagrant delicia recipe, I made the original Red Velvet recipe. I’m not sue why I’ve had so many problems making it considering I’ve done a wine pear tart, but it’s been the hardest thing to make for me. What is Red Velvet? Basically Devil’s Food Cake dyed red. Nice and arbitrary. For those who aren’t familiar with it, you may come across a conversation like one I had with my colleague,
June: So why is it red?
Me: Because it’s dyed devil’s food cake.
June: But.. why can’t you remove the red coloring then?
Me: Because… then it wouldn’t be called Red Velvet?
Reflections on the Red Velvet:
1. Buttermilk: I couldn’t find buttermilk which was the BIGGEST problem and the reason why my first cake failed. I heard you can mix a tablespoon of vinegar into plain milk to get the same effect (a spoonful of lies!). Buttermilk helps to create a fluffy texture so if you compare my first and second cake, the first is a dense, ‘paste’-like texture. Luckily, my aunt found it one of the Western supermarkets. With buttermilk, my cake rose an inch higher with a drier, fluffy texture that crumbled nicely.
2. Food Coloring: At all costs, get the most unnatural hue of red because when it bakes, it will dull. MY second cake ‘failed’ because I used natural food coloring (why didn’t I learn from my first two cakes I made in NYC…) which turned into a brick red and not that lovely shade of artificial scarlet that is so desired. American=unhealthy so you might as well go all out. The stupid thing was, I bought orange instead of red (another reason why I must work on my Chinese). The second time around, I went hunting for it at a Western supermarket. As Iwas looking I read the labels: ‘pink, green,blue, yellow, cochineal… what the heck is cochineal.’ I quickly called up my aunt to wiki it, only it find it said ” strong red color made from an insect.” GREAT. Why can’t you just label it ‘red’?? So take your pick: insect-based coloring or weak sauce natural food coloring. There is no in win-win situation.
3. Frosting: I failed the first time because I boiled it too quickly which resulted in a lot of lumps. And with a lot of lumps, the milk didn’t form the ‘skin’ that I had to remove after it cooled down. Thus the frosting was too buttery the first time… Second time was a success when I lowered the heat and removed the skin to form a creamier, lighter frosting.
So after four Red Velvet cakes split up between NYC and HK, I have still not achieved the perfect one yet. As you can see, am no pro baker, after my multiple failures. But you learn (the problem is finding cake eaters to eat my failures… everyone around me has been up to ears in Red Velvet this past week). I guess I will save that for this Saturday as I try to yet again, hopefully this final one will be just like the ones I loved in NYC.
Oh the irony: I scheduled to help a friend bake a chocolate birthday cake last Friday and check out the Mandarin Oriental seasonal Chocolate Afternoon Tea Buffet, I came down with a stomach flu and fever the Thursday prior. Marvelous, isn’t it? So I had to cancel the baking session and ate crackers and congee and drank water.
But no flu was going to get between me and my chocolate, so in short my fever broke after eleven hours of sleep, I baked the cake the day after and still got to go to the Chocolate Buffet the Sunday.
Take that, Hong Kong! On to more important things such as chocolate:
I consider this cake the ultimate chocolate birthday cake. There’s no romance in the story of how I found this recipe: someone wanted me to do chocolate and judging by its 300+ five star ratings on All Recipes in addition to its blue-ribbon award at a fair, I decided that three hundred ‘amateurs’ couldn’t be wrong:
Sandy’s Chocolate Cake Recipe
The beauty of this cake lies somewhere in the airy moistness of the body with brief intermissions of stiff chocolate frosting that crackles to reveal a velvety underlayer. Due to the sheer size this recipe calls for, I dubbed it the ‘Middle America Cake.’ As you can see, my goal was not to make to pretty, thus after having made it about five times this past year, I decided to change it up a bit: swap my round springform for a square jelly roll pan, and instead of hiding all the layers, exposing them as its visual beauty. My conclusion is that it was a pseudo-fail. Due to my lack of time and skill, I wasn’t able to prepare the ganache well (turned out like a paste and not liquid chocolate) so I had to opt for a piped frosted top and sliced strawberries with layers of whipped cream as a contrast to all that brown. My friend promptly whisked it off to Disney for the birthday girl, so I as of yet, have no idea what they thought of it. Strangely enough, most of my coworkers like the cake sans frosting: a favourite right after the pear tart. Oh Chinese people, I will never understand your love for the absence of taste.
The Mandarin Oriental Chocolate Afternoon Tea Buffet.
I don’t know many children who didn’t grow up reading ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’
Roald Dahl basically legitimized chocolate as a worthy subject for a great piece of literary work.
I wanted to dip my finger in that chocolate waterfall, hear the sound of the foil crinkling when unwrapping some marshmallow Wonka bar to reveal my gold ticket and most of all, I wanted lickable wallpaper installed on my drywalls.
Although Willy Wonka will remain in our dreams, I think this chocolate afternoon tea comes pretty much close to what a grown-up Charlie would have if he resided in Hong Kong.
Due to my diet of congee and room temperature water, my shriveled stomach was only able to hold one and a half rounds. On a normal day, I could probably do at least three or four so I’m quite disappointed that my review will be less than well-rounded since I wasn’t able to sample everything.
In short, it was really good: 8.5/10
As soon as 3pm hit, people swarmed up to the tables to photograph. Being the nosy photographer with a huge SLR, it really was a visual feast for the lens. And my rule is always “eat with the eyes first and then the stomach.” Really, if you are a dessert freak like I am, this is the route to go. The concept seemed to revolve around the origins of chocolate with a generous dose of sprinkled cacao, cacao ‘beans’ and a chocolate centerpiece with industrial mechanisms. I really loved the plates for the buffet: teardrop-shaped (cacao bean perhaps?) china which seemed to really suit the mood for ‘chocolate dessert’ and not simply round plates like your average dinner buffet.
From DIY spicy hot chocolate with chocolate spoons, whipped cream, mini pineapple fondue to wedges of layered chocolate cakes to truffles to fruit-accompanied mousses to slivers of creamy tarts and artfully skewered chocolates, the chocolate category was definitely not lacking. All the richer items were divided into bite-sized portions so you could sample as many items as you wished without overdosing. Most of the items were bitter/dark chocolate based to fit Chinese taste and their ‘phobia’ of all things American sweet, as well as chocolate fanatics alike so you didn’t feel like you were just eating sugar. Included in our Afternoon Tea set were their signature scones (plain/raisin) with rose jam and cubed inside-out sandwiches: cucumber or salmon wrapped around the body of a cube of bread and filling.
I went with my colleagues so with the four of us it came out to $208 HKD per person service charge included. It is definitely the less expensive ones compared to other place I have seen or tried around town. That set includes:
the chocolate buffet, scones, sandwiches AND a tea or coffee of your choice even the pretty display floral teas (I got blooming jasmine). Not bad eh? That convert to around $26 USD.
My prune of a stomach told me to take it easy so I consumed a few slices of cake and a macaroon, but here is what I really liked:
-Sea Salt Chocolate Tart: a sprinkling of savoury brings out the warm creaminess of the ganache body.
-Ganache covered American Cheesecake: I normally demand for a crumb crust but this was divine with the layer of chocolate draped over the body of cheesecake.
-Orange Compote with Bitter Chocolate Mousse: orange with bitter chocolate? My favourite.
Overall, taste-wise, it was pretty good BECAUSE the desserts actually had flavour and not just pure sugar. The chocolate served as a base to introduce you to their partners in flavour: caramel, sea salt, orange, almond, chili.
-Definitely more savoury items to offset the sweetness. Grand Hyatt served a beef consomme that worked really well. The Mandarin Oriental served us cubed sandwiches which were just plain salty with little flavour. I walked by a table eating spaghetti and I started craving tomato-based noodles in the midst of all that chocolate. T-T
-Hot Chocolate: Thanks to having lived in NYC for four years I have experienced real hot chocolate- the thick and creamy kind. They served DIY hot chocolate out of these elegant silver ‘cannisters’ where you could top with cream, dust it with more cocoa and stir up your concoction with a chocolate spoon (mine melted after few minutes). But, the taste and texture was like any normal powdered hot chocolate so I’d skip out on that next time. Then again, what psycho eats AND drinks chocolate at a chocolate buffet? Me.