Monday, March 23, 2009

Vanilla Bean and Pistachio Creme Brulee





It has been so long since I made creme brulees and I don't think I've ever blogged about it. This is one of those very simple dessert to make but yet very elegant, my kind of dessert :).

I wasn't really planning on make this really, the idea came last minute when I was thinking what should I do with the leftover cream that's almost gone bad and the leftover whole milk in the fridge (I don't usually drink it straight). Creme Brulee suddenly popped in my head and since it was so simple to make, I thought it's perfect to make on a weeknight after work, when I don't have much time or energy to do anything. I stopped by a store to buy a blowtorch since my old one leaked out on me :(. It has served me well over the years for not just creme brulee, it helped me brown meringue and take out the cake ring from a mousse cake too.





I was thinking of making pistachio creme brulee at first, but I changed my mind in the process and decided to go with two flavors, the classic vanilla bean and pistachio. I only need to make one batch of the cream batter and then divided it in half. Pour the plain vanilla bean into the mold, and add some pistachio paste on the other half. The vanilla bean flavor has a lot more vanilla bean seeds compared to the pistachio one.



The pistachio flavor wasn't as intense as I would expected it to be. The only pistachio paste I have is the brown color one, not the green color. I will need to get myself the green one, one of these days. But overall, I was really pleased with the result and not just me, but everybody who ate it. I gave one to my friend and he is begging for more (I only have one left at that time). My niece and nephew can't stop coming back for more and been asking me to make more of it. It's super creamy without being heavy at all, combined with the crunch of the burned sugar, I think it's just perfect


Plain, before adding the sugar and burn it

I used to make desserts all the time rather than cakes (although cake is dessert too). Things like souffles, custards (pots de creme, creme caramel, creme brulee, etc.), molten choc. cakes, cheesecakes, were regulars in my kitchen when I was in college. But I've been occupied more with cakes lately and I forgot how good it is and more satisfying in some way compared to multi-layer cakes, not to mention a lot simpler and faster to make. I'll remember to make desserts more often now.


(my friend thought it was cool to take a picture of the creme brulee next to an iphone)
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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Strawberry Tart



Life has been so busy lately. It has always been but I just feel exhausted everytime I come home from work. Those many late nights at work completely consume all my energy and by the time I got home, my brain feels like it stops working.

But on the other hand, Spring has finally decided to peek a little. Weather in California has always been nice, but I just couldn't wait for what feels like a really long winter to pass. Flowers are showing everywhere, the warm sun, squirrels playing in the trees, birds chirping, words just can't describe how beautiful it is. I can't help but smiling everytime I go out of the house, or walking from the office building to the parking lot, I can smell the flowers through the air. It's still a little cold to let my windows open at night when I'm sleeping, but I always do on late spring to early summer. I just want to suck all the fragrance of the crisp air, combined with fresh spring flower smell, and keep it somewhere so that I can smell it when they're gone. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way :(.



A few days ago (two days to be exact), I saw a big box full of what seems like to be a very juicy, big, very bright and fragrant strawberries sitting on the dinner table. Apparently my brother has just bought it from a fruit stall on the street. My brain automatically started working hard thinking what can I turn those precious strawberries into. Then I remember that I had two mini tart shells, already baked, leftover from the lemon meringue tart I made a week or two before. I also got a little vanilla bean pastry cream in the freezer, and heavy cream in the fridge that has been waiting to be used for a while now. What could be more perfect than strawberry tart to welcome the long-awaited spring?




I was so determined to make it that I decided to wake up earlier in the morning and make it before leaving for work. All the ingredients were all ready to use, and all I needed to do was to whip the cream and fold it in the pastry cream, then fill, and arrange the strawberries on top. A quick brush of clear glaze and chopped pistachio give a nice touching finish to the tart. It's very simple but yet elegant, with a clean taste to it, definitely my kind of dessert :)

My friend Tony, just bought a brand new Nikon D90 SLR camera, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to put the camera into the test. The pictures shown here are from his camera and his "practice" at our cafeteria at work. I like the photos a lot, much better compared to my tiny Canon pocket camera ; ;. Now, I have a lot of money saving to do to get my hands on one of those SLR cameras :(. But in the meantime, I know where to go to for my pictures :). Thanks Tony!


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Monday, March 16, 2009

Chiffon Cake Madness



There's not much to say really about this cake. I had to make eight chiffon cakes for our church's snack this past Sunday for about 150 people. With only two pans and another one borrowed from a dear friend, I thought it was gonna be frustrating, but it wasn't too bad. The thing is, you have to wait for the cake to be completely cooled before you can unmold and re-use the pan, that's the most time-consuming part.


I decided to make three flavors, the all-time favorite pandan of course, mocha rum (added some kind of very fragrant rum paste. gotta love coffee-rum combo :D), and trying out raspberry swirl flavor. I thought of the last choice mainly for the kids really. I used a kind of raspberry paste I bought from Indonesian that I haven't used for a while. I love the smell, very fragrant although it barely smells like the real raspberry :D. But I love this combination. Somehow, I get more excited to see plain white chiffon (swirled in this case) rather than mocha or pandan or anything. I don't know why but I just love the clean-ness of the color and you can really tell how light it is. I think it resembles clouds, which is exactly the texture of chiffon cakes, light as cloud.

After slicing, I think I got about 230 slices out of those eight cakes, which is surprising as I expected to get about 185 slices. I was a little worried at the time about having too much leftover cakes. But little did I know that this plain old cake went by so quickly. They were all gone before I had the chance to taste it. It's always a good thing, right? Always a great "unspoken" compliment :D



I wish I had gotten better pictures but I was already late for church that day. So, just took whatever available at the table at that time.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Happy Birthday Hachiko!





Hachiko is the name of my brother's beloved dog by the way. She's a Yorkshire Terrier or what most people called Yorkie. She turns one last Monday and the parents (a.k.a my brother and my sis in law) were super excited about this. They want to have a little celebration so that they could have a picture of it. And when she died 15 years from now maybe, they can take a look at the picture and cry. Okay, maybe it's not the best reason to have a celebration for a dog's birthday, but hey who needs excuse or special occasion to have a little gathering, or more importantly, for a cake! Here's a sneak peek of the dog. She's super cute, isn't she? not to mention super smart too.



So, I thought it would be fun to make a cake covered with fondant, and maybe a little doggie figurine on top. The dog was allowed to eat a small cupcake size cake for her special treat on her birthday. As long as it doesn't contain alcohol, grape, or chocolate, it should be fine. Since this is gonna be fondant cake, I don't have many choices as for the type or filling of the cake. It should be something that doesn't need refrigeration, but still tastes good. The standard filling is buttercream, but what a boring cake I thought if it's just a plain vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream. After a long thought, I decided on super soft vanilla cake (the same one here), layered with a thin layer of very fragrant blueberry paletta (some kind of a jam and tastes like candy) that I mixed with blueberry preserves to cut down the sweetness that usually jam has, and to have texture. Then, on top of the jam, I layered cream cheese frosting that I had flavored with a little rum extract.

It might not the best decision ever because I forgot that cream cheese frosting is softer than buttercream. It took me a good 20 minutes probably just trying to smooth out the side and the top, making it even, not crooked. After a trip to the fridge for a couple of hours, I was ready to cover it with fondant. It became soft again quickly, but I tried to smooth it out as smooth as possible.



I made the doggie figurine the day before and it was my first time! I always said and thought that I would or could never made little figurines like that. I just don't have the patience sitting, kneading, coloring small fondant with multiple color, attach this and that, I just think it's too much work. But I tried last saturday with a laptop nearby playing youtube instruction of how to make fondant dog. I think I did a pretty good job on it :D. At least it looked like a dog, not bear, cat or some random animals. Luckily, I had a little piece of deep brown colored fondant from my last fondant cake and it was perfect for the dog.

I also made the paw prints. Now, I think this is harder than making the dog itself. I used small round fondant cutter to make the paw and shape it into oval by hand with the help of a toothpick. The little fingers were made using regular straw. The straw was a little bent, so it wasn't completely round, a little oval instead and it works very well for the job.

The morning after, I saw the front part of the cake was a little bent, not completely smooth anymore. It was because the frosting went soft and I guess it slide down a little :(. I can't do anything at this point, and besides, it's only for a dog's birthday and it's only 6-in just for the family to eat. So a little less pressure there. If it was a cake order, then I would really sweat it.



Overall, I was pretty pleased with the cake. I think it's simple but cute. I baked some in cupcake pan for the dog to eat. She was only allowed to eat one though. I didn't go overboard with the dog's cake decoration, just a simple swirl, some sprinkles, and ribbon to make it extra pretty :).



She was hesitated at first, and just licking the frosting only (we removed most of the frosting though), but then she gulped it down in a split second. I could tell she was a happy dog that night :D.



As for the adult's cake, everybody loves the cake (including myself). The soft texture of the cake, the sweet and fragrant blueberry and a little tartness from the frosting, compliment each other perfectly. I always love the combination of blueberry and cheese anyway. They're just one of those coombinations that are meant for each other :). It's not as light as mousse cake, although it's not over-the-top kinda cake, but it's definitely comforting and the type of cake that you'd like to have one slice each day ;)


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Friday, March 6, 2009

Meyer Lemon Meringue Tart

I have been keeping the lemons for two weeks now. I had to throw some of them away because they went bad :(. You can't imagine how bad I felt when did that. They were too precious to just go to waste. So, I was determined to fulfill their destiny by making a wonderful dessert with it. Lemon tart is definitely the perfect choice for this.



For those of you who are lemon tart fans, you must have heard Pierre Herme's lemon tart. If you haven't, you don't know what you have been missing my friend. The first time I made his lemon tart was actually about two years ago, and yes, it is a long time. But I only made the lemon cream at that time, and I don't remember what recipe I used to make the tart crust.

So this time, I was determined to make his recipe from start to finish. I have two of his books that contains a recipe for his lemon tart. One is Dessert By Pierre Herme, written by Dorie Greenspan. This book is modified to suit American home bakers. The amount of the recipe is written in cups, and tablespoons, which I don't really like as it is not accurate. But Dorie made the recipe sounds a lot easier. The other book I have is La Patsserie De Pierre Herme (the link is for the Spanish ed.). It contains Pierre's original recipe and has both French and English translation in it although the direction is very sparse. You have to scale down the recipe by a lot though, unless you are feeding an army with your cake :D. There are a couple of cakes featured in both books, although the recipe is somewhat different. It is a lot more complicated and some of the ingredients are hard to find here in the US. Dorie does make it A LOT easier on the other book, although it is not 100% PH original I guess. But it is more than enough if you want to re-create Pierre's recipes at home.



It took me approximately two nights and two mornings to make this from start to finish. I started by making the pate sucree for the tart crust. The crust is wonderful as it has vanilla bean in it, and a little almond flour for that extra texture. I made it with my faithful Kitchen Aid mixer, make the job a lot easier. You can also use a food processor, but the idea of cleaning it up doesn't really excites me. Cleaning the mixer bowl is a lot easier :D.

The pate sucree is pretty simple to make once you get all the ingredients ready. With the help of my trusty Kitchen Aid, it's a breeze to make. You can't make only for a single crust though. You will need to make at least the amount enough for three crusts to get the best texture. I halved the recipe from PH book.



I brought this tart to work of course, to thank my coworker for bringing me this wonderful gift (well, he kinda expected me to make something with it when he gave it to me anyway :D). I emailed him and a few other friends that I left it in the fridge. A couple of minutes later, they came to my cube saying everything is gone already. I didn't witnessed that, but from what I heard, they all liked it very much. I even had people (who weren't in my email list) saying how good it was, another also emailed me (not in my list as well) to thank me personally and to tell me how superb it was. He even asked me if I worked at a bakery before, hahaha (I'll take that as a compliment). Some other friends came to my cube 5 minutes later and said that he didn't get any. All he found was just the empty box. Hmm... I guess they did like it :).

Fortunately, I made a mini version of the tart and save it for myself and I completely agree with them (and also the rest of the world for that matter) that it was indeed wonderful. My niece and nephew kept coming back for more. I just wished I saved more :D





My piping is not that great. I was pretty dissapointed with how it looks (despite all of the compliments I got of how pretty it looks) :(



Pate Sucree
yield: three 101/2-in crusts or four 8-in crusts

300g unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
190g powdered sugar
60g ground almonds
1 vanilla bean, scrapped
2 eggs, room temperature
500g all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
  • Put the butter in a mixer bowl and cream until smooth and creamy using a paddle attachment.
  • Add the sugar, ground almonds, and vanilla bean seeds. Mix until combined.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating the previous one before adding the next one (the dough might look curdled at this point but don't worry, it'll come together once you add the flour)
  • Combine the flour and salt. Add to the dough in about three addition. Mix until just it comes together. Do not overwork! Like Pierre said, "it's better to have lumps of butter rather than to have an overwork dough".
  • Divide the dough in the portions you need. Form each one into a ball and flatten it into a disk. Wrap each disk with plastic wrap and store in the fridge overnight (you can also freeze the dough at this point and thaw it in the fridge overnight).
  • Remove one disk from the fridge, and roll it either between two sheets of parchment paper, or just well-floured surface. You need to move quickly though. You don't want the dough to be soft and overworked.
  • Line your tart pan with the dough and put it back in the fridge for at least 1-2 hrs to rest.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  • When you're ready to bake, put a parchment paper on top of the dough and fill the bottom with either rice or beans.
  • Bake for 20 minutes. Take the parchment paper and the beans/rice off, then continue to bake for another 5-10 minutes until it's golden brown.
  • Let cool in the ring.







Lemon Cream
Slightly adapted from La Pattiserie de Pierre Herme book.
You can view the recipe that Dorie has modified to American home kitchen here

4 eggs
165 g fresh meyer lemon juice
200 g sugar
zest from about 3-4 lemons
300 g unsalted butter, room temperature and cubed
  • Rub the zest with the sugar using your finger until the sugar is moistened with lemon oil.
  • On a double boiler, combine the sugar, eggs and juice .
  • Whisk/stir constantly until the mixture reaches 85-86 C.
  • Strain the mixture and let cool to about 55-60 C and put it in a blender (if you don't have a hand-held blender)
  • Add the butter a couple of pieces at a time, to make an emulsion. The mixture will ligthen in color. Continue running the blender for a few minutes after all of the butter has been added to ensure the airy and light cream. Make sure stop and run the blender a few times to avoid over-heating.
  • Pour the mixture into prepared crust and refrigerate.
The italian meringue is optional though. Both books have the recipe only for lemon tart, but Pierre also said that you can also add Italian meringue if you wish. If you're only making the tart without the meringue, glaze the top of the tart with translucent glaze, apple jelly or apricot jelly for that shiny effect.

Italian Meringue

3 egg whites, room temperature
150 g sugar
50 g water
  • Combine the water and the sugar in a saucepan and bring the temperature to about 247 F on a candy thermometer. Brush the splatter on the sides using pastry brush that has been dipped in cold water to prevent crystallization.
  • Meanwhile, beat the egg white until soft peak forms.
  • When the sugar is ready, with the mixer running on a low speed, pour the hot sugar syrup on the side of the mixer bowl to avoid splatter (it will splatter eventually a little). Do not attempt to scrape the splatter on the sides of the bowl or you'll get lumps.
  • Continue beating on a medium high speed until the meringue is almost at room temperature. The texture will be marshmallow-y, as light as cloud.
  • Decorate the tart with meringue.
  • Brown the top with blow torch or under a broiler for a few minutes.


Not wanting to trash more of the lemons, I decided to zest and juice them up and freeze it. I got a little more than 6 cups of juice and about 1 cup full of zest. I don't have to worry about not having lemons in spring or summer for desserts now. And I know exactly who to go to if I ever ran out of them :)

This tart is also my entry for Lemon Day event hosted by zorra at kochtopf.twoday.net
Here's the link the her post:
http://kochtopf.twoday.net/stories/announcing-ankuendigung-lemon-day/

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3638/3341536208_53279be418_o.jpg

I hope I will have more time in the next few weeks to come up with more lemony desserts :D

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Vanilla Cheese Layer Cake



I know, another cheese layered cake. It might look the same as the ones I made many many times before, but this one is different.

I was craving for a simple yet satisfying cake lately. I've been working late for a while and I feel like I deserved to indulge a little. I don't want those fancy cakes with mousse, cream, gelee, chocolate. All I wanted was a simple and comforting cake, and the only thing on my mind was this cake. There's something about this cake that just very comforting, not to mention delicious, and a lot simpler to make than regular french gateau.

I'm trying new recipe this time. I usually use three layers of soft and moist sponge cake (with lots of egg yolks and butter), layered with simple buttercream, and cheese of course. This time is not that much different, except the method of making the cake and the frosting. A regular sponge cake method is beating the eggs and sugar until pale, folding the dry ingredients, then the melted butter at the very end. But this time, I used a recipe that calls to beat the butter separately, and folded in at the end. It uses more egg yolks than usual (although the usual has lots of egg yolks already). It's the same method as "Lapis Surabaya" cake, making the cake super soft and moist. Instead of regular buttercream, I used cream cheese frosting instead. I had about 165 g of cream cheese leftover and the amount is too odd to make something with it, but it is perfect for the cream cheese frosting I needed for that size of cake.



The verdict? I was surprised myself. The cake is super soft, the cream cheese frosting was lovely, not to mention the shredded processed cheese. The cake has to be good for this kind of cake because you will eat it the most, not the frosting, unlike any other french cakes I made where the cake is only the base. I know my friends would go crazy over this cake, but it was on Sunday night when I finished making the cake, so I didn't have time to share to them. I brought a slice or two everyday for snack at work. My little niece (she's 3 years old now) can finish two slices on her own in one sitting. I don't think the cream cheese frosting was that noticeable though, especially since I flavored it with the same thing (vanilla and a little rum extract). So next time, I think I will stick with this kind of cake, although it's more time consuming and more labor intensive, but just use regular buttercream for the frosting and filling.
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Lemon Pound Cake



I found out recently that my coworker has a tree full of meyer lemons. I almost had a heart attack! I mean who wouldn't when it comes to meyer lemons? ok, maybe it's just me, but still...

He said that the tree has hundreds of lemons right now and they're big. I didn't believe him at that time, as from my understanding, meyer lemons are small, a little rounder that regular lemons and more orange than regular lemons, but more yellow than regular orange (does this sentence make sense?). But anyways, of course I wanted them, immediately! He said that he had to throw a lot of them away because they're just too many. For a slight moment there, my heart was aching when I heard that :(



So the next day, he showed up in my cube bringing a big plastic bag full of meyer lemons!!! The lemons were big, unlike the usual meyer lemons I saw.
My head was spinning, trying to think what wonderful desserts I can make with this.

It's been more than a week that I have abandoned those wonderful meyer lemons that my coworker gave me. It hurts everytime I opened the fridge and saw them waiting patiently for me to do something with them. My excuse is still the same, no time. I came home late and by the time I got home, all wanna do is just take a shower, eat, and sleep. I don't even think I have enough energy to do something else. Besides, the kitchen is always full of people at night, that I don't feel like juggling with space and everything to make a cake. I just don't like doing something in that kind of environment. I like it when the kitchen is empty, no dirty dishes in the sink, and lots of counterspace. Unfortunately, this rarely happens :(. But I should be thankful to be blessed enough to have a kitchen and all the necessary tools I need for baking :).

My coworker was certainly expecting something out of those lemons. A week had past, and not even one dessert I brought to work. So, I decided to just make something quick that we can all enjoy right out of the oven. Not those multi-component cakes, tarts, mousses. I settled down on lemon pound cake. I've never been a fan to a pound type cake, it's just not my cup of tea. But I baked lots and lots of lemon pound cake a few years ago. It seems like I was always excited to try a new lemon cake recipe. I can't count how many recipes I tried, not to mention lemon tarts, lemon meringue pie, and lemon bars. I was just that crazy with lemons. I just love the smell of fresh cut lemon in the kitchen. It's so refreshing and fresh, I just can't describe the feeling. It's been a while though that I didn't make lemony goodies anymore. I think I skipped last year's lemon season for some reason.



So anyways, I decided to try this lemon cake recipe by Lori Longbotham. I first read about it in tartlettte's blog. The way she described it, is just way too good that I had to try it myself. Besides, how can I resist something that starts with "the ultimate"? I didn't really read the recipe before I decided on this. I thought this is just a regular pound cake, with lots of butter, flour, eggs, etc. So, I prepared all of the ingredients on the night before and planned to bake it in the morning. When I started putting all of the ingredients together, I realized that the amount of butter is amazingly a lot, I also think the baking soda is too little for that amount of flour, but what do I know. I'll just follow the recipe to the tee.

So the next morning, I woke up earlier to bake this cake. When I was about to put it in the oven, I was super surprised when the recipe says that I need to bake it for 1.5 hours!!!!!! It's unusual to bake a pound cake at 300F for 1.5 hrs, but I followed anyway (and I was late for work that day :D).




It was pretty good, although may not be the ultimate for me :). I'm not even sure if I can find an ultimate pound cake if I don't even like pound cake. But I'm glad that at least I tried this recipe.

Here's the recipe taken from tartlette's blog:

Ultimate Pound Cake, adapted from Lori Longbotham:

Serves 12 (in theory)

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
2 1/4 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 1/2 TB lemon zest
1 tsp. pure lemon extract
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 300F. Butter and flour a 12 cup Bundt pan.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together twice.
Cream the butter and 1 3/4 cups sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the speed and add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in the lemon zest and lemon extract.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Poke holes all over the cake with a wooden skewer
Meanwhile, bring the lemon juice and remaining sugar to a boil over medium high heat in a small saucepan, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
Invert the cake onto a rack, position over a baking sheet and slowly pour the syrup over the cake, it will seep through the holes and into the cake. Let cool to room temp.
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