Tough Crowd Longan Cake
I’m always puzzled where people get their optimism from. I have this friend. She’s a walking team of cheerleaders in a single unit, comes with flowers and sunshine with balloons and all that stuff. If you feel like a worthless piece of sxxt, I’d have you call her so you can feel like a brand new piece of chocolate nougat instead. Or a cat like a tiger and a chicken like a peacock… always the brighter side of life if you know what I mean. In all honesty, I’m usually extensively annoyed by such characters whom I call the self-hypnotized with false expectations. But the exception is that I ADORE her because she seems so genuinely living, breathing and walking in her bubbling enthusiasm and positivity 24/7, that even a light-sensitive vamp-downer like me can’t seem to dampen her spirit. How does she do that? She will forever be a mystery of nature to me. But hey, this is my blog and I’m only bringing her up so I can talk about myself.
Because I am by no means sunshine. I’m more like waterfalls, or Sandy… the superstorm. If you are having thoughts of suicide, you probably shouldn’t call me because I wouldn’t want to accidentally encourage you… then NOT feel bad about it. And if I appeared to be upbeat here (what! you call that upbeat?) whatever that means, it was probably because by quote, “my cynical side suspect optimism would sell more” blogs. May I still interest you to come over for coffee? So how the hell did I get to be so unpleasant…? Like so many irresponsible and childish self-excusers before me, I’d like to dedicate my personality flaw to my immediate relatives. In short, if you were feeling too good or confident about yourself in general and need to touch earth again, you should spend a day with my family.
My family is the toughest crowd… like ever. Most people have to leave their loving nests to get a perspective of the “real world.” I on the other hand just have to spend 10 minutes in the convenience of our living room where being spared a crumb of compliment from this crowd would be harder than from say… Miranda Presley, because I suspect that fictionally she would at least be polite. When my brother visited Beijing with friends and granted me to throw them a dinner party, I had so much stress I got “lockjaw”. You know what that is? Then you don’t know stress. So, in a family that seems to value “rations”, “fairness” and “objectivity” above all else, you could see how difficult it is to build the slightest “false expectations” growing up, and isn’t false expectation the basic building-blocks of optimism? OK, my time with myself is up, and self-obsessing aside… I was told there’d be cake.
As it may have been mentioned, I spent some quality feel-bad time with my family in Taiwan a few weeks ago where I overheard my dad asking someone ELSE to bake him a black sugar/longan cake. My dad has NEVER wanted any of my cooking besides the service of assembling cup noodles at midnight, fully acknowledging that I have a FOOD BLOG and all… you see? So naturally, I obsessed. I figured what’s better than the safety of baking my family something in this blog without the risk of judgement because… none of them reads it . And so all my silly effort could come to pass discreetly and silently without embarrassment, or the terror of a long pause after they take the first bite… This sounds really twisted. But hey as optimism goes, I got an awesome cake out of it… or at least I was told by Jason’s colleagues and from the empty plate. Or were they just being polite and in fact I sucked? You would tell me the truth, right?
* Black sugar is an unrefined sugar from pure cane juice. It contains all the flavors and color from the molasses that’s usually filtered out in refined white sugar. It’s a regional specialty from Okinawa and Taiwan, and usually comes in blocks instead of granules. You could find them in major Asian/Japanese market, or I found an Indian variety which I suspect to be very similar on Amazon. If you really can’t find any of it, then use dark brown sugar.
** Dried longan fruit is another regional specialty in Taiwan and southeast Asia. You could get them already pitted, and I have seen them in supermarket in Chinatown, New York. It has a very unique and pungent aroma that I can’t think of anything else to substitute with… perhaps dried dates?
- Cake: adapted from many recipes combined
- 1/2 cup of whole milk
- 180 g of pure black sugar blocks *
- 1/2 cup of plain yogurt
- 85 g (approx 1/2 cup) of dried longan **
- 1/4 cup of dark rum
- 113 (1 stick) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 tbsp of granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 (250 g) cups of all-purpose flour, or cake flour
- 1 tsp of baking powder
- 1 tsp of baking soda
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- Browned butter icing: from Martha Stewart
- 4 tbsp (57 g) of unsalted butter
- 1 cup of powder sugar
- 1 tsp of vanilla extract
- 1~2 tbsp of milk
Preheat the oven on 375ºF/190ºC.
Combine milk and black sugar in a sauce pot and set it over low heat. Simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved. The milk may start to curdle but DON’T panic. Let the milk cool down slightly, then whisk in the yogurt and it will come together again. Let the mixture cool down to room temperature.
Combine the dried longan and rum in a bowl, and heat it in the microwave for 40 sec. Mix well and let the longan soak and plump up in the hot rum for 20 min.
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together (I like to do this onto a parchment paper so I can easily pour it into the mixer later). In a mixer with a fitted pedal, cream the butter and granulated sugar for 5 min until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time. Don’t add the 2nd one until the 1st one is completed whipped into the butter. Then add 1/3 of the flour mixture, and mix for 5 sec. Then 1/2 of the milk mixture, and mix for another 5 sec. Then another 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by the last 1/2 of the milk mixture, and finally the last 1/3 of the flour mixture (usually described as “mixing the dry and wet ingredient alternately in 3 batches, starting and ending with dry ingredients). Mix for 5 seconds in between and every time you stop, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl so everything is mixed evenly. Add the soaked longan and rum, mix until just combined.
Line a round cake pan with parchment paper, and pour the batter into the pan. Smooth the top with a spatula and bake in the 375ºF/190ºC oven for 25 min. Then lower the temperature down to 350ºF/175ºC, and bake for another 25 min or until an inserted cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool on a rack and make the icing.
Melt 4 tbsp of unsalted butter in a pot over medium heat. Let the butter sizzle and bubble. When the sizzling sound starts to subside, you’ll see the milk solids nicely browned and the butter turns dark and nutty, approx 5~7 min. Strain the browned butter through a fine sieve into a bowl. Add the powder sugar and whisk, then gradually add in the milk until it reaches a desired consistency. Add the vanilla extract and whisk until smooth.
Smear the icing on top of the cake. Serve slightly warm or as I suspect, when it gets even better the next day.