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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!
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.
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.
So my parents bought two cartons of strawberries and five mangos the day I had to make the cake. I was planning on stuffing the Napoleon with mango but decided not to in the end thus we had a lot of fruit leftover.
The dilemma was that though we had eaten one mango, the three leftover ones that were bought from the ‘upscale’ grocery store were incredibly small and sour while the remaining good one was from the street market. I decided to slice up the mangos and make a tart using a hybrid of recipes that I like.
I need to learn how to slice mangos nicely or find a mango that tastes as good as it looks. So far the Filipino one are the most fragrant with the sweetest taste while Mexican ones are large (easier to slice) but down in scent and flavor.
Sorry I know the tart isn’t pretty because I was dealing with overripe mango that turned into blobs as soon as I sliced its tender flesh, or they were so unripe that they looked yellow compared to the orange of the ripe one. But it did taste really good. Next time: more mangos and less cream (although I could eat that with a spoon). I will also practice slicing mangos.
I consider the crust I made for the Poached Pear Wine Tart as my standard recipe now. It’s got that buttery shortbread taste that feels like you’re eating a cookie but bette. I won’t post it again, so refer back to here: Poached Pear Tart Crust
Seriously the BEST filling I’ve ever had. I’d use this to pair with any kind of soft, sweet sour fruits. A little lemon and ginger counteract the creaminess and sweetness of the medley of cheeses. Omg, I could eat it by the spoonfuls. And it’s so easy! Taken from this recipe: Nectarine and Mascarpone Tart in Gingersnap Crust
Beat first 6 ingredients in medium bowl until smooth. Beat in crystallized ginger. Spread filling in prepared crust. Cover loosely and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.
Fill tart with cream and slice mangos. Arrange as you like. You can dice the mangos into cubes or try slicing them. Eat.
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! ^^