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THANK GOD I FINALLY SUCCEEDED
Unlike my other recipes and experimentations that come from baking for someone else, this one came in the form of fashion. Summer sales means 50% discounts at Zara and I ended up getting my future (hong kong) winter jacket- this beautiful, soft camel color blazer. Camel is the color palette for this fall- tinged with creams and deeper shades of coffee brown. What better recipe to try than something with caramel- the color most similar to camel since camel probably isn’t available in the grocery store (hmm).
I decided to give baking a break and opted for a mousse instead- something I’ve never done before. I’ve worked with gelatin once to make a green apple mousse cake which semi-failed. Let me say right now, I was completely humbled by this experience. Mousse is the foundation to the simplest Hong Kong western cake recipe (usually consists of fruit+cream or mousse) and I thought it would be the easiest thing to recreate. Not so. Anyway, here we go:
from this gorgeous blog, Tartelette.
Dip the spoon into the dark chocolate surface dusted with cocoa which gently gives way to a burst of warmth in deep sea salt caramel and finally softens with the round robustness of vanilla bean at its foundation. 70% dark chocolate, caramel tinged with pink Himalayan sea salt and a sprinkling of half a vanilla bean pod.
I’m not a huge fan of caramel and chocolate together because it renders quite a sickly sweet combination but I CAN do sea salt which balances out the sharpness of the caramel while the bitterness and nuttiness of the chocolate softens the medley whilst melting on the tongue. No store-bought artifice can match the real taste of artisanal burned sugar, rich chocolate and genuine vanilla bean extraction.
What I learned from this experience was that… skills and talent do not necessarily make you a good baker. It’s whether or not you can read a recipe correctly and follow the steps exactly. I obviously lack skills in this area and all hell broke loose after I messed up at the final part. But I managed to save it with my elementary ‘chemistry’ skills.
As you can see I’m starting to make a few changes to this blog and hopefully in a month’s time you’ll see a whole revamp. I thought I should take advantage of my Parsons skills and UHS Fine Arts talents and multiply effectively to create a stronger image. These are all just tests and prototypes while I work on finalizing design. I sort of accidentally designed a working logo when I was least expecting it. It really just fell into place while I was working on something else. I like squares and triangles.
Success is sweet to the soul.
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…
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. 😄
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!
Bah humbug. I’ve been failing a lot these days.
Okay it wasn’t a failure, it was just that for one, I’m not really into pudding based desserts and second, the graham crust kind of collapsed (but that’s what happens when you make a crust out of graham in the form of a tart).
Pardon the melancholy, but at times I wonder why I bake. Do I bake because I’m lonely- to fill up times of confusion and anxiety? Baking allows me to pour all my thoughts into a singular focus and action. With the control and ability to predict the relationship between butter and sugar when whipped, can I say that I love baking because of its expected outcome?
People say it’s good to have hobbies that don’t exist/rely on people yet I wonder if my tendency to bake is a reaction to social isolation. I’m not looking for pity, I know making friends takes time so I’m saying this as matter of factual be it the one who is reading is a family member, a friend or a complete stranger.
Anyhow, no more contemplation.
Happy birthday, Chris! It’s my brother’s birthday today. We used to call him the ‘Chocolate Monster’ for obvious reasons. I think I now surpass him in the consumption of cacao. I guess this post will go in honor of his twenty year reign of terror- I mean ‘love’- in our household.
If watched the movie, Julie and Julia (yes it’s pretty much all I talk about these days having seen it a total of five times. I feel like it’s the story of my life minus the imaginary friend, the absence of NYC, the husband and the huge fan base. I take it back, it’s nothing at all like my life), there’s one part where she tells her husband,
“Chocolate cream pie! You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is sure and when I say nothing, I mean nothing. You can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. That’s such a comfort.”
That it is. May I just add that you have to add corn starch into the mix to make it thick. I guess the screenwriter thought corn starch wouldn’t sound too romantic in a script so they omitted it. =P I was perusing through the Epicurious Valentine’s Day recommended recipes and came across a recipe for chocolate cream pie. A vivid image of Amy Adams spooning dollops of chocolate pudding into a crust in a glass bowl (I should have kept it in its shell), instantly flashed up and I knew this was my next recipe of the week. And the ingredients are pretty basic so all I had to get were the eggs and the milk.
Can I just say that after finding out Brit-owned Cadbury was bought by Kraft (rah rah Americans!), I’ve been on a rampage to buy the last few bars of the real English stuff before Kraft starts substituting the one and a half glasses of cream for powdered milk. Anyhow, I bought a bar of ‘Old Gold’ which is essentially 70% intense dark chocolate by Cadbury with the intentions of making the molten lava cake with it again. However I decided to use it for the cream pie and when I melted it, it melted away into a gastronomic poetry. That didn’t make sense but what I mean was that it went from bar to liquid so beautifully: there weren’t any lumps in the pot and the chocolate had a thick glossy, mirror finish.
The only part I really messed up on was that I should have just left the tart shell in the mold rather than taking it out. I decided to substitute the chocolate wafers for digestive biscuits to balance out all the chocolate filling. The shell is too fragile for it to stand alone particularly when the pudding and whipped cream go on top and start pushing the sides over.
I was already rather annoyed that one part split as soon as I placed it on the cutting board and then it continued to crumble as I poured the filling in. I only continued to get more annoyed as I tried to take a shortcut to sprinkling the cocoa on top which as you can see, turned into a big cloud on top rather than light and powdery. Sigh. As my aunt says, it should be 50/50. She just tried and said it was really good and suggested that I make it into a cookie pudding instead or mini tarts because this one crumbles too easily with the graham crust. If anyone likes chocolate cream pies, I’ll try a different formation, but since I don’t know anyone who does I will archive this recipe for the future.
If you’re a fan of chocolate pudding, this is for you. I remember as a kid I used to love those chocolate pudding cups for snack. Now I prefer mousse which tends to be less thick and ‘gooey’. This was my first time tasting chocolate cream pie and I must say, the filling is absolutely divine with a rich DARK chocolate (using milk chocolate will be too sweet). However I am uncertain of how this is a ‘beautiful pie’ according to the writers of the recipe- it resembles a glob on top of a curved cookie. I’m also not a big fan of puddings (I prefer a dense wedge of cake) so after having a slice, I felt quite full.
It’s an easy recipe so you have my blessing, try it, but make sure to keep the crust in its bowl/shell/mold. Here’s the link to the recipe I used: Epicurious Chocolate Cream Pie
** Edit: actually after letting it sit for a few hours in the fridge, the moisture of the pudding locks into the crust so it fuses into one dessert rendering it easier to cut and of a better presentation than when I first tried it.
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.
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.
Back when life was less complicated, when the only issues we had as children were what snacks our moms packed in our Thomas the Tank Engine lunch bags or who we would play with during recess, when I was about six or seven my brother’s kindergarten teacher invited my family over for lunch at her place.
I distinctly remember this lunch because of the cheesecake that followed shortly after the savouries. We were rather impressed so my mom got the recipe from her and to this day, I’ve been using this due its rather simple and foolproof steps. Unlike most cheesecakes which require a bath of water when sitting in the oven to prevent the surface from cracking, this recipe calls for a thin layer of sour cream to cover any imperfections.
Sour cream on cake?
Yes, the sourness of the cream adds a little contrast to the fullness of the chocolate body. For those who fear the density of cheesecakes, this one does well to satisfy those palates because the heaviness of the cake is offset by the bitterness of the cocoa. And the best part of this cake? The graham crust- a little crunchy, sweet/salty foundation that serves as an introduction as the teeth sink into the creaminess above.
Anyhow, here’s the tried-and-true recipe that I’ve used that will satisfy most cheesecake lovers’ appetites. Just ask my cousin or Dion. I made this upon special request of my cousin here in Hong Kong since she’s missed it. And since today is a National Holiday in HK and we’re enjoying the fireworks (unless it rains) on our balcony, thought I might as well throw in a little celebratory cake in the mix. You can adjust it to whatever springform pan size you have: I made a 6″ and two 4″ for today and my colleagues at work (who is cooking me a four mushroom mascarpone cheese pasta for lunch! Homemade Italian lunch tomorrow.. yum yum).
1 1/3 cup Graham crumb
1/4 cup melted margarine
2 250g cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream
2 tbsp sugar
semi sweet chocolate for shavings
1. combine crumbs and margarine
2. beat cheese till soft
3. combine 3/4 cup sugar and cocoa
4. gradually beat sugar and cocoa into cheese
5. beat eggs one at a time into batter
6. beat in vanilla and salt
7. pour mixture over crumb
8. bake at 350F for 25-30 min
9. remove, cool 15 min
10. increase temp to 450F
11. combine sour cream and sugar (2tbsp)
12. spread over cheese cake, bake for 5 min
13. remove, cool and decorate with chocolate shavings
Fireworks from the view from my apartment to celebrate China’s 60th anniversary as a country. Not a bad pic eh?
I credit the frosted lettering to my roommate: we were celebrating the new season of Heroes (we didn’t know it would suck that much). The bite mark is due to the fact that I decided that the frosting would be a good idea AFTER I taste tested it.
I was wondering with which recipe to ‘christen’ this blog. Obviously my repertoire is quite outdated, having moved from TO, NYC to HK the past month has been hectic thus I haven’t had any time to experiment with much. I’ve got my tart tins and cookie cutters in a shoebox at my grandmother’s place here in HK but alas, there’s little room to put it in my temporary home here.
I thought of christening this blog with something fancy: a dazzlingly colourful tart or an intricately piped cake. Yet as I reflect on my amateur career as a baker, I realized it all began back here in Hong Kong with the discovery of Mrs. Fields brownies. As a kid I loved going on the Star Ferry because we’d have to pass by the Mrs. Fields on the corner. I loved Mrs. Fields brownies over any other brownie, especially the triple chocolate ones drizzled with hardened white chocolate. And because of those brownies, I started baking my own version when I moved back to Toronto since we didn’t have Mrs.Fields.
I believe brownies shouldn’t resemble slices of cakes. Brownies should have their own personality, their own flavour, their own special place in the world of baking. Personally, I think brownies should be dense: thick, indulgent morsels packed with cocoa flavour and NOT fluffy, crumbly layers of chocolate sponge. THAT, my friend, is what cake is for. Cake is for layering; cake is for decorating; cake is for celebrations. Brownies, on the other hand, are a comfort food. They bring out the kid in you. They need not be pretentiously pretty: people understand what it is immediately when you pull a batch out of the oven. It’s one of those things that come readily available thanks to quick mixes or one of those easy-to-follow recipes that anyone can do on a whim. All you need is a little butter, sugar, eggs and cocoa. Want some crunch? Simply add walnuts. A chocoholic? Throw in a handful of chocolate chips. Toss it into the oven, wait half an hour, and there you have it: a dessert/snack that can be shared or individually enjoyed. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and make it a sundae. The possibilities are infinite.
Although I’ve been doing this for eight years, I find the brownie hard to master: to get the right density and enough moisture inside BEFORE it becomes a cake has always been a challenge. But it’s the first thing I baked back in high school for friends. I was notorious for being the one to break people’s diets by offering these little square of joy.
Although there are a million renditions of the ‘perfect brownie’, I’ve always stuck to this one. My cousin introduced it to me and I’ve been using it since (also easy clean up!) It’s from KraftCanada, of course, because Canadians rock. Here is the recipe of my humble beginning in exploring the world of sweets:
Incredibly Fudgey Brownies
3 squares BAKER’S Unsweetened Chocolate
3/4 cup butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. MAGIC Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup BAKER’S Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or other nuts (optional)
MELT chocolate and butter in medium saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly (do not boil).
REMOVE from heat; stir in sugar.
ADD eggs, one at a time, beating with wooden spoon after each addition until smooth. Stir in vanilla.
MIX flour, baking powder and salt; stir into chocolate mixture with chocolate chips and nuts, mixing just until blended.
POUR into greased 13×9″ (3.5L/33x23cm) baking pan, spreading evenly.
BAKE at 350°F (180°C) for about 25 minutes or until firm at edges but still soft in centre.
COOL on rack. Cut in squares.