Sweets

almond shortbread sandwich w jasmine tea icing

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(IT WOULDN’T KILL) ME TO SWAP 1/2 OF THE CHOCOLATE WITH PEANUT BUTTER.  SO INSTEAD, IT KILLED THE BROWNIES

HERE’S the thing.  I am not particularly built for baking.

I know this sounds like false modesty… unappetisingly pretentious, especially after a consistent offering of bakery recipes in the past 2.5 years, ranging from simpler things like an imploding honey custard cake or blueberry muffin-french toasts, to more elaborate things like a gateau a la sour cream or a laminated Nutella morning bun.  Sorry if I forgot to mention my relentless pursuit of everything-biscuits, and right, you’re absolutely right, this deep-fried apple/persimmon pies, despite of myself, were eeeeeeh-pic~~

Uh-hem, ok now seriously though, truth aside (….), that when it comes to baking, I struggle with a high precipitation of unnatural disasters with only a slight chance of prevalence.  Not to mention that either ways, the day will only end sadly in tears, or, happily in fat thighs.  Baking, is a no-win situation.

But let’s just say, we don’t have problems with fat thighs.  Just saying… then why the struggle?  Well… I was born, with a medical birth defect, which disallows me to follow recipes… precisely.  There.  It’s a chemical imbalance in my brain creating an illusion that makes me believe I am, at the very least, marginally smarter than a cookie-dough.  Turns out… I am not.  No one is.  But this condition has grown resistant even to such keen awareness, to a point that… I can’t even follow my own recipes!  At this very moment as we speak, a batch of brownie lies mutilated on a white sheet of parchment, recipe of which was tested, then tested, and thus theoretically foolproofed for people like myself, who’s really good at fucking up a recipe… yet I still did.  Would it have killed me to swap 1/2 of the chocolate with peanut butter?  No, no it wouldn’t at all.  So instead, it killed the brownies.  Certainly not the only dead thing here…  A runny banana bread batter – not a pie-filling makes.  Ricotta pastry cream – yikes.

I’m bringing this up at a very carefully timed juncture, a serene and orderly period right before the tsunami of holiday-pastry-season hits, so I have enough chance to reflect and ponder on my illness.  Who am I but a good-hearted amateur baker – guided by presumed logics, set out to make the recipe-world more interesting, if not tastier – only to be haunted by unintended consequences.  A walking cautionary tale marked with a bloody scarlet A-for-effort, and the stain of broken whipped cream.  But if to tackle this illness fundamentally, means to obey a recipe unquestionably, then what is my trickling value in recipe-blogosphere without adding personal inputs?

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easy laminated nutella morning buns

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LONG, LIKE WAIST-DEEP

GANDALF GONE WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

LATELY, I’ve been running into the same remark that brings attention to something I would not have otherwise noticed.  Not on my naturally rustic… understated beauty, nor my deeply reflective overstated fashion.  But, people have been saying to me that they didn’t realize – shit, even I didn’t realize – that my hair has grown, ungovernably… looooong.  Yes, yes they are loooong.  Not prince-bait-golden-Rapenzul long, or mysterious-darkness-of-the-night-Pantene-commercial long, but like, waist-deep-Gandalf-gone-Where-The-Wild-Things-Are long.  Staring at my almost-fire-hazardous self in the mirror, I have come to the unlikely yet true explanation for such disregard …

Simply, I don’t have time for hair-salon.

Madness!  What have I – a mid-30 unemployed female who doesn’t believe in happiness before 1 PM because that’s evidently sleep-deprived illusions – any excuses to look like a historical ruin?  Upon the horrid awakening, I was forced into re-examining, what exactly, consumed my otherwise abundant span of the day.  Then, I realized they are all utterly meaningless, yet indispensable, segments of tasks.

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sea salt buttercream on a chocolate cupcake

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CHOCOLATE CUPCAKE, HARDLY ANY  NEWS.

BUT A PROMINENTLY SALTY AND SWEET BUTTERCREAM, REALLY GETS ME EXCITED

THERE are good, convenient reasons why, I’ve never made cupcakes before.

There are things best left unknown, things that, let’s just say, won’t help you enjoy your favourite foods by knowing.  Like the day I peed myself a little when I first poured in all that heavy cream, running as thick as blood, into making my most beloved Hokkaido “milk” toast two years ago.  Oh mommy, it wasn’t milk… it wasn’t milk…  And the same reasons that my fingers and soul trembled when, for the first time, I soiled my naive perception of a brioche dough with a rudely awakening amount of reality-butter.  That stormy night, the brioche was soft, but innocence was dead…  And then so many times after that, the freedom for ice cream was terrorized… and the guiltless-ness of salads wilted away…  Let’s not even go there, where now every time when I gaze upon the starry sheen of a melty crispy and chewy chocolate chips cookie, the rim of fat around my waist reverberates in echo of the truth behind its sublimity…  As a cook, I thought I wanted the truth.

I couldn’t handle the truth.

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gateau a la sour cream + blueberry custard

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For someone who’s technically unemployed, I don’t know if this would violate the definition of such word but actually, for the past 2 weeks, I’ve been enjoying some sort of a “holiday”.  Well… a holiday on house-arrest if you will, but nonetheless, a holiday.  Despite the… minor inconvenience that we’re currently bound to the last place on earth that we’d like to spend more time in, Jason had decided to take the longest vacation-days he’s ever taken in his entire work-life, ever, an entire 14 blissful days to spend on doing something that we’ve practically elevated to an art-from… that is to do ab-so-lute-ly… nothing.READ MORE

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CARAMEL STRAWBERRY, BRIE, BUTTER/SUGAR TOASTS

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AFTER 10 months of not being able to leave… not a country, not even a state/province, but a particular CITY due to personal circumstances, at a certain point, the “think tank” starts to resemble more like a warm puddle in the middle of a barren desert.  Nowadays I seek recipe-inspirations like a stinking camel seeks for water, only minus the ability to regurgitate.  Don’t get me wrong.  All paranoid recipe-bloggers, me included, respects a well-stocked recipe-reservoir like doomsday-preppers hold high regards for canned beans.  It’s almost a co-dependant relationship and my list is about a mile long.

I guess… a closet full of recipes and nothing to cook, best puts it.

But ironically, as the painstakingly studied and tested recipes often end in heartbreaks, some of the best things I’ve cooked here are incidental occurrences on a whim.  Which brings us to today’s: So random I don’t even know what to call it.  Yah.  I don’t know what to call it because it came from a peripheral glance over the last 30 seconds of a TV-show that I don’t even know the name of, which (I think) pulled some golden-browned butter/sugar toast out of a skillet and served with soft cheese.  The idea stayed with me not because it was as hazy as a hallucinated mirage, but because instead of the more popular way of making “creme brûlée” toasts as under the broiler, this does it more efficiently and successfully, inside a skillet.

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CARAMEL STRAWBERRIES WILL BURST… THROUGH THIS BUTTERY, SUGARY, SALTY AND CHEESY GLORY


If you have ever tried making creme brûlée toasts under a broiler, you’d know that it’s an extremely volatile and unpredictable task.  Every single factor – the type of bread, the amount of sugar, the type of oven, blah blah blah – can contribute to its blackened, smokey, inedible demise.  But by doing it in a skillet – letting the toasts absorb a mixture of butter and sugar until they brown, caramelize and adhere to the golden browned toasts – the outcome is a much more controllable, crunchy, and delicious surprise.

Since we are already in the zone of talking caramel, why stop here?  Drawing inspiration from a traditional Chinese roadside snack, where they skewer various types of fruits, coat them with a whiffy thin layer of hot malt sugar then let hardened, I thought there’s no reason why caramel-coated strawberries would be unwelcomed between creme brûlée toasts and warm, melty brie.  And once in a very long while, everything just sort of goes according to plan.  The creme brûlée toasts are buttery and crunchy, with just enough heat to soften a good smear of French brie.  Then the caramel strawberries will burst through their crackly, lacey jackets as pressure applies and run their juices through this buttery, sugary, salty and cheesy feast of unnamed glory.

I guess there’s still some milage left in this tank.

  
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Makes:  2 sandwiches or 4 open-face

I don’t know why I’m fixated on making these more of a “sandwich” when in fact, it will probably be prettier and easier to eat as an “open face” (you know, like bruschetta).  So I’m leaving that option to you.  For an open-face toast, you’ll maybe need to double the amount of caramel/candy strawberries depending on the size of your bread, and also the size of strawberries.  I needed 6 small strawberries to fill 1 toast.

The freshly grated nutmeg is very important as it gives an “ooomph” to the flavour.  Don’t be shy.  You’ll want to see flakes of it through out the toasts.

Updates 2014/08/05:  Thanks to a reader we now know the show that inspired this!  It’s called Heartland Table with Amy Thielen.  In the show she uses maple syrup instead of sugar, which I think is a even better idea!  If you want to try maple syrup, substitute 3 tbsp of granulated sugar with 1/4 cup of maple syrup.


Ingredients:

  • Caramel and strawberries:
    • 1/3 cup (70 grams) of granulated sugar
    • 2 tsp of water
    • 12 ~ 14 small~medium size strawberries
    • Small cup of ice water on the side
  • 4 slices of rustic country bread
  • 4 tbsp of unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp of granulated sugar
  • 1 large chunk of good quality brie
  • Fresh nutmeg for grating

To make the caramel/candy strawberries:  Wash and remove the stems from the strawberries, then set aside.  Have a small cup of iced water ready.  Heat the sugar and water in a small pot over medium heat.  Cook until the sugar has melted and turned from clear to a pale yellow then to a rich, amber color (careful not to let it turn dark brown or it’ll taste bitter).  This will take approx 5 min.

Remove from the heat, then pick up a strawberry with a fork and dip it inside the caramel to coat thinly (there will be a bit of sizzle).  Let excess caramel drip off, then dip the strawberry in the iced water for 5 sec for the caramel to harden.  Remove the strawberry from the fork and set aside.  Repeat with the rest (If the caramel starts to cool down and is too thick to work with, return it to medium heat until it has loosen up again).

To make the toasts:  Melt the unsalted butter and sugar in a large flat-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat (if your skillet isn’t large enough to fit all 4 slices perfectly flat, then do it in two batches).  Once the butter and sugar look evenly blended (even though you may still see sugar-granules in the mixture), place the sliced bread inside the skillet with a tongs.  Swirl the bread inside the mixture for a few seconds to coat evenly, then flip and coat the other side as well.  Both sides of the bread should have evenly absorbed all the butter and sugar.  Cook the breads until golden browned, with caramel crust on each sides.

Remove from the skillet, and while hot, apply a generous layer of brie on top.  Pile the candy strawberries on top and grate a good amount of fresh nutmeg on top.  Serve immediately.

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MOSCATO AND SPICES POACHED PEAR GELATO

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CAN I JUST SAY… ONE OF THE TASTIEST GELATO I’VE HAD

TYPICALLY, this is where I enter the room, neck stretched and knuckles cracked, oozing a bit a creepy calmness to suggest the looming turbulence, and ghostly hovers over the keyboard…  Inhale…  Then screeeech, obnoxiously, on the worst, ever! weekend-getaway from hell, carrying a Dumpling that was dangerously “soupy” and could burst and leak out at any minute!

But… exhaaaale… I’m not gonna go there.  Not gonna complain.  My negativism is very bored with my discontent.

Instead, I’m going to, for just one day, do the thing that… you know the thing, the thing that happy people do.  Right, to bring you only the bright side of life, with teethy smiles, flowers, breezes, and above all else, happy gelato and all.  And not just any gelato, but can I just say, one of the tastiest I’ve ever had, too.  Hey, I said I promised you bright things.  But even with the promise not to go Gibson on you, it is impossible, from a literary point of view, to give you a complete narrative of this recipe without mentioning its less celebratory beginning.  After all, it was a collateral payoff of the disaster itself.

So let’s fast-forward through the theatrical tragicomedy where we found ourselves strapped to a ticking time-bomb in a smothering hot day, playing house with apathetic companies in a sluggish smog, and as if not comical enough, the farce promptly heightened with a side-plot of tree pollen-allergy.  To cut it short, on the way home with a crippled spirit and minus four friends, the story brought me to a roadside fruit-stand which I was certain, giving my trickling “chi” lately, to be the final K.O. of my demise.  But NO.  Well… yes and no.

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The high-season peaches, smartly, decidedly to side with main plot and joined the mockery.  But tucked in an unnoticeable corner behind the loud flares of summer cherries and melons, was a box of quiet… off-season pears.  Out of place, awkward and unwelcome, they stroke a string inside my empathetic core.  As someone who isn’t normally familiar with pears, I felt a flush of faith and immediately… asked if I could conduct a taste-test.

God damn it! I can be really cynical sometimes!

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But the pears were generous, sweet, and surprisingly fruity and fragrant.  On the rest of the ride home, I had six new companies tucked between my feet.  Of course right away, I started imagining ways I could play with my new friends… possibly… the only friend left.  How about a glazed pear tart to up the already-boiling temperature of my apartment and switch my emotional meltdown to a physical one?  Maybe not.  How about caramel and poached pear cake to nudge me over the edge into those-curious-sidewalk-people-who-mumbles-to-themselves?  Maybe later.  Well, I guess any oven-related tasks were unadvisable.

So I turned my mind to transforming a warm, spicy autumn classic into high-summer treat.  A sweet, fruity white wine cooked down to a syrupy consistency with pears, vanilla beans, cinnamon, star anise and cloves, then blended with cream to form a thick and supple gelato-base.  The high sugar content, balanced by the tartness of pears, ensured the gelato with a dense, pliable and never-frozen-hard consistency that I love, and the flavours were above all else, elegant but rich.  Hugging a cold, soothing box of poached pear gelato freckled with vanilla bean seeds, came the epiphany.  I see that if it weren’t because of a will-bending disaster trip that has left me wary of all social gatherings, I wouldn’t have discovered one my favourite gelato creation and be able to keep it all to myself.

Hmph, if that’s not how your optimism works, I don’t want to hear it.

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This is a seriously good gelato.  I know that pears are not exactly in season yet, so I think a great substitute would be summer peaches.  The moscato (a sweet fruity white wine) I used was slightly fizzy, which wasn’t actually intended but I don’t think it matters because all the bubbles will be gone in the poaching process anyways.  You don’t need to bleed money for this recipe because the bottle I chose was very reasonably priced at around $10 and the result was still great.

I really struggled whether I should make this a no-churn recipe or not, because theoretically, you can whip the heavy cream to soft peaks then fold in the pureed poached pear-mixture then freeze until hard.  But in the end, I still busted out the ice cream-maker just in case…  If you want to try the no-churn method, chill the purred poached pear-mixture after it’s blended with potato starch, then fold it into softly whipped cream and freeze.  It should do the trick I hope…


Ingredients:

  • 4 medium sized pears such as bosc (16.2 oz/460 grams after peeling and de-cored)
  • 2 cups (500 ml/480 grams) of moscato wine, or other sweet fruity white wine
  • 1 cup (200 grams) of granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp of honey
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 star anise
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 small stick of cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (63 ml/60 grams) more of moscato wine
  • 2 tbsp of potato starch, or cornstarch
  • 2 cups (465 grams) of heavy cream (or half-half if you prefer)

Peel, de-core and cut the pears into quarters.  Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds.  Add the pears into a sauce pot with 2 cups of moscato wine, granulated sugar, honey, vanilla bean seeds and the split pod, star anise, cloves and cinnamon.  Cook over medium to medium-high heat until the liquid has reduced a little more than half, and becomes thick and syrupy, approx 30 ~ 40 min.  The pears should be very soft and translucent at this point.

Remove the vanilla pod, star anise, cloves and cinnamon, then transfer the mixture to a blender and add 1/4 cup more moscato wine and potato starch.  Blend until the mixture is completely smooth and thickened (the residual heat should cook the starch which thickens the mixture).  Then add the heavy cream and blend just until combined.  Chill the mixture in the fridge for at least 4 hours until completely cold.  Then churn it according to your ice-cream maker’s instruction, then freeze until hard.  (DO NOT over-churn it.  Stop when the gelato is slightly on the soft side then transfer to freezer.  The denser/less airy texture is what separates gelato from ice cream.)

Serve with extra shot of moscato wine if you’d like.

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CARAMEL APPLE PIE BISCUIT

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GENERALLY speaking, food makes people happy.

I’d like to think that I make happy foods.  I’d like to think that to the people wondering to this place, who are just one kale salad-away from opening a suicide.word, a fast responding blueberry oatmeal cookie, in some ways, is a contribution to humanity.  I’d like to think that to you out there who voluntarily devotes to a gluten-less life, though beyond my shallow comprehension, must have had your profound and keen purposes… the unintentionally gluten-free mochi donut is my gentle way of saying, I don’t get it but hey let me get you a donut.  Then of course, when all else fails, the sky is falling and all balls are tucked, a full frontal of a pornographic burger wouldn’t be the worst thing to remember last, before quitting it, whatever it is, all together.

But this theory has been testing quite unsoundly in my personal life-lab in the past week (previously on…), mostly due to my neurotic anxiety who has a very inappropriate humor of its own which has proven to be funnier than eating.

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Just to be clear, this is not where I brag about thing, but I’ve been cruising effortlessly through the most successful and effective, week-long fasting program that normally only Beyonce can pull off, and finding it a little… bittersweet.  This would have otherwise been a great news, a long-planned and awaited reunion with my dormant human-shapes, unfortunately just not in the optimal scenario as I envisioned it.  Don’t get me wrong, waistline, you look fabulous but fuck I look like shit.

MY ANXIETY… HAS A VERY INAPPROPRIATE HUMOR OF ITS OWN

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So in a desperate effort to restore such theory, I’ve embarked on a mission to make the happiest food alive.  Given that this is high pie-season, what’s better than something that, even just by the sound of its name, incandescently cheerful – the all American apple pie.  Hey, I figured if it’s happy enough to have sex with, it’d be sufficient for my condition.

But having said that, I have to be acutely aware of the danger of what a pie-making disaster can do to a fragile state of mind.  These crusty, happy-sounding fellas can be, more often than not, little mean soggy bi-polar bastards.  Best not to go there for the sake of my livelihood.  Instead, I’m going to impose the happy ideal of an apple pie onto these much faster, easier, and above all else, less disaster-friendly folks.  I’ve decided to turn it into biscuits.

So there I found myself in a gloomy, bleakly spirited afternoon, clinging over the edge of the kitchen-counter gulping down dose after dose of buttery crumbed biscuits that are sweetened with salted caramel and twinkle-lighted with soft, candied apples and warm cinnamon, allspice and nutmegs.  Then it occurred to me that, no, I needed something even more potent.  So I brushed them with melted butter and tumbled in nutmeg sugar.  At this point they were already reaching heavenly goodness but I was a holier mess, and I kept thinking that it just… just needed a litttttle something more…  What is it?  God damn it I had it at the tip of my tongue…

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Then OH RIGHT!   Of course.  Silly me.

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Makes: 7 small biscuits

Ingredients:

  • Caramel apple/wet ingredient:
    • 1/2 cup (154 grams) of granulated sugar
    • 1/4 cup (61 grams) of apple juice
    • 1 1/2 cup (185 grams/approx 2 small apples) of small-diced baking apple
    • 1/4 tsp of sea salt
    • 1/8 tsp of ground cinnamon
    • 1/8 tsp of ground allspice
    • 1/8 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1/4 cup (60 grams) of apple juice
    • 1/4 cup (58 grams) of heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cup (212 grams) of all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tbsp of aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp of baking soda
  • 5 1/2 tbsp (80 grams) of unsalted butter, very cold and diced
  • 2 tbsp of melted butter for brushing
  • 1/4 cup (77 grams) of granulated sugar + 1/8 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg for surface

To make the caramel apple/wet ingredient:  In a sauce pot, bring 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and 1/4 cup of apple juice to a boil over medium heat.  Swirl occasionally and continue to cook until the liquid has evaporated and the sugar becomes a rich, dark amber color.  This will take a few minutes.  Then add the small-diced apples and continue to cook over medium heat.  The caramel will harden in contact of the cold apples, so stir with a spoon until all the caramel is melted again.  Cook until the liquid/juice from the apple has mostly evaporated, and the sauce slightly thickens again, approx 7 ~ 10 min.  You should have what looks like about 1/4 cup of liquid in the pot, and the apples should be almost translucent, like candied.

Stir in the sea salt, ground cinnamon, ground allspice, and freshly grated nutmeg.  Then add another 1/4 cup of apple juice and heavy cream.  Mix evenly then chill for at least 1 hour in the fridge, or 30 min in the freezer until cold.

To make the biscuit:  Preheat the oven on 425ºF/220ºC.

Whisk all-purpose flour, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl (or you can do it in the food-processor).  Add the diced and cold unsalted butter, then with a pastry-cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the largest bit is about the size of a small pea (or pulse the food-processor until this happens, then transfer the mixture to a large bowl).  Add the chilled caramel apple/wet ingredient, then with a spatula, fold the mixture together until a wet dough forms.  The dough should be wet and sticky.  If it’s too dry with loose crumbs and flour not coming together, add another tbsp of heavy cream.

Transfer to a floured surface and pat into 1″ (2.5 cm) thickness.  If the dough feels warm or even room-temperature (due to the wet ingredient not being chilled enough), wrap in plastic and flash-freeze for 30 min before proceeding.  Cut the biscuits out with a small cutter, then transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Gather the scraps and cut again.  You should have about 6 ~ 8 biscuits.  Brush the top with heavy cream then baking in the oven until golden browned and puffed, approx 15 min.

Allow to cool for 20 ~ 30 min on a cooling rack.  Brush the tops with melted butter then gently press against the nutmeg-sugar until it sticks.  If you want to slice it open for ice-cream sandwich, use a serrated knife because these are quite delicate.

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