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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!
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! ^^