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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

Rosemary Cheesecake
Cheesecake, chocolate sparks, rosemary chocolate ganache

White Passion
White chocolate cream, vanilla sponge, homemade passion fruit jam

Orange Crisp
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…


Off we go from Tokyo on a six hour red eye bus to Kyoto, and for some (laura) to go from sakura chasing to matcha overdrive.
This is the bus we took- kinda hilarious.

Above is the #1 spot to see cherry blossoms which we dubbed the ‘devil tree’. I don’t understand how this even made it to the top ten. The ravens perched on its crooked branches just adds to the Halloween-ness. Okay I’ll stop talking about the pink stuff, on to the green stuff!!!

I would like to introduce you all to my favourite green tea snack/dessert/baked good. It’s only available in Kyoto at department stores such as Daimaru and Takashimaya (although I did spot the store’s cafe at Kyoto Station when I was taking a bus back to Tokyo). The store is called Malebranche and is responsible for this delectable cookie which is composed of two wafer thin biscuits loaded with bitter matcha (they call it ‘OKOICHA langue de chat’)with a slick layer of white chocolate in between. A collaboration between three connoisseurs of tea (Kakuji Kojima), appraiser (Haruhide Morita) and patissier (Yasuhiko Ezaki) gave birth to CHA no KA and one of the reasons why I would trek back to Kyoto. There are three different characters sealed on the surface of the biscuits, I guess, a different signature for each of the collaborators.

Last time my biggest regret was only getting myself a bag of five and a box of ten for relatives (it was sold out in Daimaru this time around! It’s ALWAYS sold out at Daimaru). This time around I purchased a box of 16 for myself, one for my cousin, a box of 10 for other relatives and a bag of 5 for colleagues. I know it was quite selfish but you have to take a look at the packaging which punch suckered me into getting myself a 16-piece box:

Mine all mine…

We were wandering the streets and was SUPPOSED to head to this other matcha sundae place when we got sidetracked by the look of this one (sorry, Laura, next time!). Oku Gallery and Cafe is discreet in its appearance from the outside, resembling a typical house there with only a yellow to pink overhang at the door and a lightbox sign:

Very narrow lobby with their china for sale made by local artist Shojiro Endo:

I really love the first floor dining area where the back wall is sliced in half to let in natural light and to allow customers to enjoy the beautiful mini garden. Lo and behold the interiors of Oku resembles a streamlined, modern cafe of the present. It reminds me of NYC’s MOMA cafeteria and St Mark’s Cha An rolled into one. We had to sit upstairs which was equally as nice with high ceilings and a view of the street:

Oku predominantly serves numerous tea sets that like the architecture/interior, reflects a blend of modern and traditional sweets. The roll comes with traditional Japanese jelly (ok I am in no way an expert on Asian desserts so I won’t hazard a guess). We ended up getting a cheesecake set, a matcha sundae set and a roll cake set. Everything was beautifully presented. I was a little hesitant about the cheesecake at first because the texture in the menu looked dry and crumbly however it yielded a soft, creaminess and definitely was my favourite (not a fan of Azuki or mochi as much). Definitely order a glass of apple juice- it’s delightfully refreshing:

One  of these doesn’t belong….

Nakamura Tokichi is known for seasoning its food, drinks and desserts with green tea. We never got to go to the original cafe however we stopped by a Nakamura stand every night for matcha ice cream prior to taking the train back to Moriyama. Amazing ice cream and if I were to go again, I’d get the hojicha like Agnes!

We also stopped by Lipton’s to get some green tea cake to go….

Many many many thanks to Yuri, our host in Kyoto. I would love to post up pictures of your adorable apartment but that might be a little creepy so I’ll just say to everyone: Yuri has the cutest apartment ever which feels like home! Man there’s such a big difference when you stay in a hotel versus a real home. Everything feels more personal and therefore more warm and inviting. Somehow sleep is better.

Ok so some of the photos aren’t showing again when I preview this page.. I want to kill myself then again trying to upload 35 photos into one entry must be killing WordPress. I can’t be bothered to tweak it now.

What is that I see? Many pairs of eyes staring back at me!

Oh yes, it’s Ghibli time!

My previous visit to Japan the past summer was missing a visit to the Ghibli Studio. Thankfully since I moved to HK, I got to embark on a pilgrimage to see it this time around! We got lost switching trains to Mitaka so whilst we were waiting for the next one to arrive, we ran into this udon/ramen stop for a bowl of curry udon which we devoured in five minutes flat standing at the bar with two minutes to go before the train came. That was our breakfast. Yeye.


This is my boyfrien- I mean my ticket. Exchange the standard ticket for a keepsake film strip from one of Miyazaki’s animations. I just so happened to get one from my favourite film: Howl’s Moving Castle!

Above is the Ghibli’s Straw Hat Cafe (an ode to Sophie’s hat shop?). Unfortunately there was a huge lineup to get in so we decided to skip on it. It’s quite cute isn’t it? My stalker wide angle captures the entire floor! Sorry I haven’t got any pictures of the interior of the Ghibli Studio which doesn’t allow photo taking. It’s really nice inside (though smaller than what I expected)- it resembles a more natural version of Hogwarts.

Anyhow despite the dismal weather, it was quite a lovely opportunity to take photos of the sakura located in the garden next to the studio. Laura read about a patisserie located across the studio from the Chico’s Dessert Tour Guide book so off we went…


Me shooting Agnes in the cafe space.

Patisserie du Bois is wedged between two larger buildings right across from the Ghibli so if you ever have the chance to experience a slice of the Miyazaki world, do stop by the cafe for some cake before you head back to the train station. Sorry I can’t find the address in English but as you exit the studio, it’s to your right. This may sound terrible but I forgot exactly what we had (too many desserts, should have written them all down!). From what I recall, mine was a framboise meringue cake and Agnes had a chocolate tart.

So as we wandered back to the train station to meet up with Laura in Harajuku, we passed by a department store and this cake shop caught our eye (note to self: bring blinders to stop self and friend from sidetracking on unnecessary cake ventures). It was housed in the department store that’s right next to Mitaka station; I’m terribly sorry about the vagueness of my directions but Ginza Cozy Corner is actually a chain shop that you can find iat other hotspots such as Shibuya and Shinjuku station. It was really cold and rainy that day so we ended up popping in (again). To be fair, we actually had pork udon after the above patisserie. Yes savoury food comes in intermissions of hot udon noodles:

Talk about a cake explosion. We stood there for a good ten minutes debating what to order. We ended up getting the mille crepe which is a ‘thousand’ layers of crepe sandwiched with cream to make a light and airy dessert. For all New Yorkers I highly recommend going to the originator of this confection at ‘Lady M’. Also got a strawberry shortcake just because it looked too cute.

My apologies for the sporadic, sparse posts…it’s 3am and wordpress has been acting up lately and continues to show ‘?’ whenever I try to upload photos so it’s been highly discouraging when each of my posts contains about 30 photos I have to manually upload. Hopefully all the photos are visible. Anyway, that concludes my Cafe Culture posts! On to the next!!!!

Testing testing,1,2,3.
Dear WordPress, why are you not showing my jpeg collages?! You irk me so. Anyhow apparently my Shibuya Cafe post is not visible to most people, while it works on my macbook and my office computer. Strange. I’ll leave the previous entry and will upload again if it continues to not show up. I guess I will stick with the old format and occasionally make a banner or two. I’m a little disappointed because I love InDesign. Can you see the above banner? Oh well, back to the boring format:

Now we’re off to Osaka and whisked quickly back to Shinjuku, Tokyo. Boutiques go beyond clothing and expand to create the consumer lifestyle through homeware and food. Welcome to Corporate Cafes!


Calling all girls in Osaka!

I scanned the above page from J-Mag Vivi with an excerpt on the Jill Stuart cafe (as you can see it’s been squashed in my bag). Since my friends are fans of the brand, we decided to stop by the department store to experience a slice of the Jill Stuart life- a life that comes in pale pink and cream stripes:The cafe wraps around a large part of the floor with the seating surrounding the center of the department store. Order at the cashier and find yourself a seat.

The cafe wraps around a large part of the floor with the seating surrounding the center of the department store. Order at the cashier and find yourself a seat. We ordered a berry and mascarpone cream waffle, banana and chocolate waffle and a royal milk tea:

Anyhow the menu is largely made up of waffles, ice cream and various mixed drinks. You’re not really there to experience something original, but tried and true desserts in a pretty environment. It’s safe to say the well-heeled girls that go there go for the brand’s identity and the enticing souvenir shop next door with goodies like these:

The day we arrived back in Tokyo via Osaka (another blistering 8 hour bus ride), we went bleary eyed to the Comme Ca Cafe in Shinjuku which is housed in the Shinjuku Comme Ca Mode store (5th floor). I didn’t take many photographs of the cafe which comes in an austere gray save splashes of vivid-color tablecloths. Images of deities and gods create an ‘other world’ atmosphere.

The majority of the menu consists of tarts and pies. In line with the season, their citrus summer collection is made up of grapefruit, bittersweet chocolate crusts, and slices of oranges. The combinations may sound slightly odd but they were all sold out by the time we got there! We ended up getting a classic chocolate/banana/strawberry tart and an unusual tart that was topped with miniature oranges (if you know the name of the fruit, please share!) which you eat peel and all (after much speculation of sucking the flesh out :P). Each slice is about ¥750-¥850. The orange one was strangely good- eating sugary peels was quite a memorable experience.

Photographer and Patissier’s Note

I forgot to mention in my last post (if you were wondering why I sounded all wound up) that I anticipate to plague you all with about ten entries I’ve drawn up around my trip. It was quite difficult to differentiate and categorize every dessert and sweet but I think I’ve done quite a nice job to distinguish them from one another. Sorry if I spam your Facebook or whatever you use to follow blogs- I hope you find some amusement in what amuses me- whether or not you’re disgusted by my sugar intake. If any of us look fatter/skinnier in the photos, please bear in mind I’ve been relying on my Sigma 10-20mm lens hence the distortion. Links to the following places are included at the bottom. Anyhow, I thought to launch the start of this series by taking a look at my past and present sakura matsuri picnics. O Hanami! Oh Joy!


Cova Cafe.

An Italian cafe/patisserie located in major shopping malls here in Hong Kong with a line of cakes and confections that can be enjoyed at home or within the four walls of their cafes.
My aunt, uncle and I were a little bored during Chinese New Year since everything was closed. Since we already watched a movie (Percy and the Lightning Thief), we decided to drive out to Causeway Bay and find a place to have afternoon tea shortly after we had the traditional Chinese brunch that my grandmother prepared consisting of 11 dishes. Initially we planned to go to Hit the Road but it was closed so we ended up at Cova Cafe in Lee Gardens. My impressions of Cova Cafe varies from store to store. I find that in Hong Kong, the fancier/pricier the restaurant, the more stuck up and ill-mannered the wait staff is. Ironically you pay more to have better service but that’s not the case here. I went to Cova in TST with my dad for an afternoon snack (I had lemon chiffon cake when I just got stomach flu.. hahaha. that was not a good idea) and the wait staff was slow and unresponsive. A couple of years ago I went to the Causeway Bay one only to have some impatient waitress serve us, acting as if we couldn’t afford anything we ordered. Last year I went to the one in Pacific Place with my mom only to be ignored by staff too busy with other customers.

I’m not sure if it was because I was with my aunt and uncle or if it was because the manager was present or if it was because of Chinese New Year, but the service this time around was extremely good. The waitresses smiled, they served us when we got up and were extremely tentative. We all ended up ordering the afternoon tea buffet. I think it was approximately $200 including a buffet that consisted of a variety of miniature savouries (ham and cheese croissant, mini burgers, flat-crust pizza, cold tuna shots) and sweets (tiramisu, mixed fruits, cake, tart), an assortment of crustless sandwiches, tea and juice.

My friend recently went to the Cova tea buffet in Causeway Bay but told me she wasn’t allowed to take pictures. Strangely enough no one stopped me when I pulled out my huge SLR to photograph everything. Coincidence or not?

Above is the famed tiramisu that my mom and I make after the chef published the recipe in Ming Pao newspaper many years ago. Now they also have a ‘mango tiramisu’ but I find it a little odd when mango is mixed into a creamy/bittersweet dessert. Tiramisu with mango is not tiramisu at all.

Ambience: I was expecting to be seated in the oak panel room decorated with sprays of miniature yellow orchids from past experiences but instead we got seated in a very ‘modern’ room where the tea buffet was located. It didn’t have that Italian atmosphere that Cova so loves to boast about and felt a little corporate. The music was rather obnoxious- you would think an Italian cafe would play some classical music to fit in with the whole Cova philosophy. Well, they played American country at decibels that made me notice the music more than the food itself. Please change the soundtrack to suit your cafe identity.

Food: Traditional but not really inventive, however I would like to highlight a couple of things that is worth checking out. The scallops mixed with slices of mango and tomato featured above were so good. Definitely a keeper. Anything with a flaky pastry was surprisingly good too- buttery soft, pillowy thick with a crispy thin shell that gave way when you sank your teeth into it. The peanut feuilletine takes the cake as my favourite dessert at Cova. Because I can make the tiramisu myself, the peanut feuilletine is a rather divine confection: creamy mousse is contrasted with the crisp crunch of the peanuts rendering it into a classic hit.

Service: Stellar. When we got up to get food, the staff would serve us the cake of our choice and gave helpful suggestions and recommendations for my uncle when he asked. The manager said hello which is always nice and when my uncle purchased some sweets afterwards, the staff was welcoming and cheerful.

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.

Comic-cute entrance on the 15th floor

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).

Kitsch cute

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.

E.T. and too-cool-for-school Spongebob

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.’

Home is where the Heart is.

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.

my mom! This is where we sat- except it was hard to eat with that type of furniture

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.

reminds me of France.

Cream soup in a cup

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.

Fresh Clams served with Spaghetti in White Wine and Cherry Tomato Sauce $98HKD

Honey Grilled Chicken served with Spaghetti in Cream of Garlic $98 HKD

Spicy Cinnamon Pork Legs served with French Fries & Salad $106 HKD

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….

Apple Crumble

Earl Grey Cheesecake (polka dot chocolate sauce!)

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.

Melting Heart Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Bomb

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.

An army of cake cups donated graciously by my aunt!

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!.

Sadly no Wonka ticket.

Melting chocolate in a self-made double boiler. Make sure none of the water gets into the chocolate or else it'll seize!

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???

After being frozen overnight.

Why is one forming a bellybutton?

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.

Ok, slight collapse. Apparently it's natural.

I wasn't lying when I said the bellybutton fell out and we scooped it back in somehow.

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.

The first two tries.

FINALLY. It looks decent with a little powdered sugar on top and on a Vera Wang plate

She's a heartbreaker!

Guts and Glory!

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?

Victorious Agnes

So... full...

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.

I thought I ought to take some time, now that this blog has been pretty much integrated with my daily life (because sweets are really a part of me already) , to step up the ‘review’ side of my blog. Yeah, I intended this blog to be recipes AND reviews and for the most part, it has been just recipes. I liked the idea that this portfolio was just Sam as the baker but I really do believe that the things I’ve tasted and experienced in chocolatiers in New York to rose-flavoured pastries in Paris have really shaped and formed my way of perceiving baking. I realized, what I love most about going into a new cafe is the ability to experience something new. A new visual aesthetic paired with the philosophy of the bakers that is literally baked into the heart of the danishes and cakes. You are not only tasting butter, sugar, flour, but also a core concept, a passion and a system of thinking that is entirely not your own.

I don’t really like the word ‘review’ because it connotes the idea of critique. Not that I think judging is wrong, but I for the most part, do not have much of an opinion that I’d regard as highly valuable. I’d rather inform people that this cafe exists and that I tried cake x and tea y and let other people have a taste themselves. Taste is rather personal so my own understanding of ‘yum’ may be totally different from what you may find ‘yum’.

Anyhow, I do have a slew of places that I have tried all over the world, particularly this summer after having traveled the most typical parts of Asia. Yet I’ve mentioned very little about my other home, Toronto, that I may start there. NYC I miss the most, but once the people are gone, I would not consider it home anymore.

Toronto, for the most part, is a relatively sleepy city compared to Manhattan and Hong Kong. It’s not a bad thing- I am learning to love it for all its idiosyncracies now that I am residing in the financial giant we call Hong Kong that I consider its total opposite. Once in a while, you’ll find a gem in Toronto: a cafe opened up by a Japanese/French couple who make killer croissants and jewel-like macaroons. The great thing about these once-in-a-while gems, is that you know they’re good. I would like to say that Torontonians are a little more cautious in their approach to the new (not to be mixed up with conservative which is what I consider HK to be), but when they get going you know it’s going to be good. My mom has found a few really good cafes, bakeries and a gem of a vintage shop in the middle of nowhere called Elora, thanks to the Toronto Star/Globe and Mail. These places are definitely keepers so if you’re in town, take the TTC and spend an afternoon there:

This past summer (sorry I talk a lot but this is actually the review part), my cousin and Torontonian friend, Josh, embarked on a downtown excursion. I think it was our goal to go to the ROM but we ended up detouring on Queens Street West when we found a bunch of indie bookstores and toy boutiques. I found a review of this patisserie called Nadege online and decided to check it out.

That's my cousin in the way of my picture of the bakery. Kidding.

The beauty of this patisserie really was in the cool, minimalist white backdrop that showcased the saturated hues of the jewel-like pastries. It was comforting for the eyes to stare into the white emptiness and then be suddenly confronted by an explosion of confectionary eye candy. I’m sorry I didn’t bring L, my slr, for our culinary adventure so we must resort to grainy Powershot pictures. Sorry Nadege!:

Delectable Morsels of Beauty

What did we have? Robyn and I shared two pieces. I forgot what they were (sorry!) save that one had a peach theme to it. The taste- this is where uncertainty steps in. The modernism of the whole patisserie was evident in the sweets as well. I wasn’t certain whether I liked it or not- perhaps if I went with a chocolate cake which would have been of a more familiar flavor for measure, would have been more accurate. If Laduree, the Parisian genius for inventing the macaroon, is the equivalent of the Metropolitan Museum (MET), then Nadege would be its contemporary peer as the Modern Museum of Art (MOMA) with its more streamlined approach to baking. What attracted me the most was how they boiled down cake decorating to its most simplistic, geometric shapes: a sphere sliced into two by a square. Or  a teardrop that resembled a Chinese longevity bao. The austerity of the interior is beautifully balanced out by the textural and colorfully graphic quality of the pastries and the wood flooring. I’ll encourage you all to try and, you be the judge of what Nadege has to offer.

Nothing like white space

what is a French patisserie without the macaroons? I purchased one of each

Flaky, buttery goodness

Cannibal Critics. Rawr!

In the charming neighbourhood, there are also a lot of small boutiques and stores. I highly recommend Magic Pony (toy concept store like Kid Robot,NYC) as well as the local bookstore across the street from Nadege. Quaint, charming and of its own.

Exiting Magic Pony