Friday, December 30, 2011

christmas wreath triple chocolate mousse cake

Every Christmas we drive down to LA to spend Christmas Eve with my mom's side of the family, and this year I wanted to make a cake to mimic my Christmas wreath cupcakes from Martha's "Cupcakes" book, which I had made earlier in the week.  So I decided to make the triple chocolate mousse cake from America's Test Kitchen once again, since I've made it several times and it hasn't let me down yet!

For the bottom layer I made my favorite homemade chocolate cake recipe (instead of the flourless chocolate cake in the ATK recipe), but I followed the recipe exactly for the chocolate mousse (middle layer) and the white chocolate mousse (top layer).

From start to finish this cake takes a while to complete, because you have to bake the cake and then wait for it to cool for an hour or so.  Then you prepare the chocolate mousse layer, add it on top of the chocolate cake layer, and then let that set in the fridge for another hour or so.  Then comes the final layer, the white chocolate mousse, and once added to the top of the cake it also needs to set for another 2-3 hours.

After all the layers had set in the fridge for a few hours, I piped my wreath design in the middle of the cake with a leaf tip and cream cheese frosting colored green.  Then I sprinkled on holly and berry sprinkles (I used only the berries) that I found at Target (or you could use red sugar pearls like Martha suggests).

I unmolded the cake right before our drive down to LA, but I think I hadn't let it set long enough.  The sides were craggy and jagged, and not smooth like how I wanted it to be.  But I had no choice, it was time to go!  I hope everyone enjoyed it anyway!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

homemade caramel popcorn

The past few years, I've been giving out jars of homemade caramel popcorn as Christmas gifts.  It's so much fun to make, and it makes the whole house smell delicious!

I've been using Alexis Stewart's recipe (Martha's daughter) for caramel almond popcorn, and I've made different variations - sometimes I use peanuts instead, or sometimes I leave out the nuts altogether.  It still tastes delicious.

I start by popping popcorn in a large stock pot on the stove, which is so easy and fun for the kids to watch (especially if you have a clear glass lid for your pot).  Now at this stage, the popcorn is already delicious - you could just add some salt and drizzle on some olive oil (or drizzle on Giada's rosemary-infused olive oil - so good!).

But since we're making caramel popcorn here, I just pour the popped popcorn into the largest mixing bowl I have (and add your toasted nuts if using), and then set it aside.  Then comes the making of the caramel.  In a small pot, combine butter, brown sugar, and a little bit of corn syrup (to make the popcorn shiny), and melt it all down.  Once it reaches 255 F with a candy thermometer, take it off heat and add in some salt, vanilla extract, and baking soda.  Then stir it up, and immediately pour it over your popcorn.  Toss your popcorn with the caramel (I use two spatulas for this) until evenly coated, and pour out onto two silpat-lined baking sheets.

Then I bake it at 250 F for a little over an hour, stirring it up every half hour or so.  And then, out comes the most delicious, buttery, crunchy caramel popcorn!

I like to give out my caramel popcorn in large mason jars, with a pretty piece of fabric over the lid and tied with raffia.  The caramel popcorn will stay crunchy in the sealed jar for couple of weeks.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

christmas wreath cupcakes - chocolate cupcakes with peppermint cream cheese frosting

I saw these wreath cupcakes in my Martha Stewart "Cupcakes" book last year, but never had a chance to make them last Christmas.  So this year I had to make them!  I started by baking chocolate cupcakes, and then whipped up a batch of peppermint cream cheese frosting to top it with (basically a standard cream cheese frosting with about 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoons of peppermint extract added to it).

Before adding any coloring, I first used the white frosting to cover the tops of the cupcakes.  Then I added green coloring to the rest of the frosting, and began piping a ring of leaves on the perimeter of the cupcakes using leaf tip.  Then inside the first row of leaves, I piped a second row, and a third row, to finish forming the Christmas wreath.

Martha's book suggested using red sugar pearls as the berries on the wreath, but since I didn't have any of those, I used these cute holly and berry sprinkles that I found at Target.

I loved the end result.  And it had just the right amount of minty-ness and chocolate!  Next year I plan on using the same leaf technique to make Christmas tree cupcakes!

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

kimchi jjigae

I've been into watching the show "Kimchi Chronicles" on PBS lately - it's a show where chef Jean-Georges and his wife Marja (who is half Korean) travel throughout Korea and taste different Korean foods, and then they go back home and each cook up a version of the dishes they tasted.  One weekend I watched an episode where they had kimchi jjigae, a spicy Korean kimchi soup.  My mouth immediately started watering, and after that day I've been obsessed with it!

A couple of weeks later I was craving that spicy soup, so I decided to try making it using Marja's recipe.  I didn't have any pork belly on hand, so instead I used a leftover rotisserie chicken, bones and all.  I know, rotisserie chicken bones in kimchi jjigae is probably not the authentic way to make it, but I was desperate for some soup!

So I browned my leftover chicken and bones with some sesame oil in my cast iron pot, added thinly sliced onions and chopped kimchi, and then covered it with water.  Then I brought it to a boil and then let it simmer for over half an hour, then added a bit of fish sauce and scallions and allowed it to simmer for another 10-15 minutes.

It was so simple to make, yet so delicious!  Hot, sour, spicy, salty ... perfect for a cold winter day.  Next time I'm definitely going to try it with the pork belly!

*** Update: I have no made this several times, using various meats such as leftover roast chicken or turkey, spam, or portugese sausage, and I still love it each time!  One note about using portugese sausage - it makes the soup extra spicy, so beware when inhaling soup as the spiciness will make you cough!

Friday, December 9, 2011

thanksgiving birthday cake - pumpkin spice layer cake with browned butter cream cheese frosting piped roses

My cousin Yvonne's birthday was on Thanksgiving Day this year, and since the two of us are known to devour an entire pumpkin pie together, I decided to bake her a pumpkin spice layer cake.  I used a recipe from Martha Stewart's "Cupcakes" book, except instead of making cupcakes I made two 8-inch round cakes.

While the cakes were cooling, I started on the filling and the frosting.  I knew that I wanted to make brown butter cream cheese frosting (when I made that combination for my Halloween cupcakes, the flavors combined were delicious!), but I wanted the filling to be a bit lighter, since my family doesn't like desserts that are too sweet.  So I whipped up some fresh whipped cream, and then added about a cup or so of the brown butter cream cheese frosting to it, to make a lighter filling with the same flavors.

Once my cake was filled and stacked, I let it set in the fridge so that I could add color to my remaining frosting.  I was going for a peachy-pinky color, so I mixed pink with orange and a bit of yellow.  Once that was ready, I applied my crumb coat of frosting (this is to seal the cake and to prevent any cake crumbs from ruining the finished frosting).

Since the first roses cake I made was so popular (inspired from the rose cake tutorial by I Am Baker), I decided to decorate this cake the same way.  Using a 1M Wilton tip, I piped large roses all over the cake, and filled in the remaining spaces with swoops and swirls.  I loved the way the specks (from the browned butter) in the frosting showed through the peachy color of the frosting.  Although, while my frosting started out to be the perfect peachy color, after a few hours the color set and turned into more of a bright orange sherbet color!  It wasn't what I was originally going for, but it actually worked out to match the whole Thanksgiving theme of the cake.

The final touch was a homemade birthday banner for the cake, similar to the one I made for my son's Superman birthday cake.  I took differently patterned craft paper and cut small triangles out of them, then threaded them together with string and a sewing needle, and then wrote "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" on them.  Then I attached the two ends of the banner to bamboo skewers ... I attached double-sided tape on the skewers, wound the string around the sticky part of the skewer, and finally tied the string securely in a few knots.

It was the perfect combination of Thanksgiving flavors, birthday cake look-and-feel, and girliness with the roses and patterned banner.  Hope you enjoyed it, Yvonne!  Happy Birthday!!!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

thanksgiving persimmon tart

My mom's neighbor has a huge persimmon tree which produces the most beautiful, crunchy, juicy persimmons.  And lucky for us, her neighbor doesn't like to eat persimmons, so he ends up giving bags and bags of them to my mom, who ends up bringing bags and bags of them to our house when she comes to visit us.  So this year for Thanksgiving I decided to use those beautiful persimmons to make a fresh persimmon tart.

I started out by making my favorite all-butter pie crust, and rolled it out into a 9-inch tart pan.  While that chilled in the fridge, I washed, peeled, and sliced my persimmons.  Then I added some sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and just a pinch of cloves, and tossed the sliced persimmons in it.

Then I pulled my chilled pie crust out of the fridge, and arranged my persimmon slices in a pretty pattern on top of the crust.

For the final touch, I brushed egg wash over the top of the exposed crust, and sprinkled on a bit of sanding sugar, before baking the tart in a 375 F oven for about 45 minutes.

This was my first time eating cooked persimmon - we usually just eat it raw, sliced thin or in thick wedges, and I have to say I think I actually prefer eating it raw.  There's just something so delicious about the crunch and juiciness of a perfectly ripe persimmon.  That said, while I loved the look of the finished tart, I think next time I'll stick to using other fruits for this type of tart, such as apples or pears, or rhubarb (my favorite!).

Thursday, December 1, 2011

lemon meringue pie

By the time I got to the signup sheet for my son Matthew's preschool Thanksgiving party, the only things left were things like napkins, plates, (boring!) and ... lemon meringue pie.  Really?  For Thanksgiving?  In any case, I have never made lemon meringue pie, so of course I instantly put my name down!  I wouldn't have ever thought to associate lemon meringue pie with Thanksgiving, but at least this year I didn't have to make an entire turkey for the party like I did last year!

For the crust I used my favorite all-butter crust recipe - I've used this crust for everything from rhubarb piechicken pot pie, pocket pies, savory tarts, and fruit tarts, and it always comes out great.

For the lemon curd filling, I chose this recipe from Gourmet on Epicurious, except I increased the lemon zest to one tablespoon (instead of 2 teaspoons), for more of a lemony flavor.
I also used the recipe's meringue topping, but instead of just spreading all the meringue on top of the pie, I used a piping bag fitted with a large star tip to pipe the meringue in decorative swirls.

Once assembled, the pie went back into the oven for the meringue brown nicely.

When it came out of the oven, I was so excited to try it since I had never made one before!  And Matthew was so excited to bring it to school the next day!

Later on after the party, I asked Matthew how he liked the pie.  He said he loved it, except ... he didn't like the yellow part!!!  But, that's the "lemon" in "lemon meringue", I explained!  Alas, he thought it was too sour.  On the other hand, my husband and I both thought the filling was a perfect balance of tart, sweet, and creamy.  And especially delicious when combined with flaky crust and soft clouds of meringue!  Maybe one day when Matthew grows up, he too will learn to love the "lemon" in "lemon meringue"...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

blogiversary and banana cream tuxedo cake

I totally missed my one year blogiversary.  My very first post was October 5th of last year, and I totally forgot about it until I suddenly realized one day in November that I had missed it!

To celebrate, I decided to recreate a cake that I had eaten at a birthday party a few months ago.  It was a banana cream cake - two layers of moist banana cake, filled with a thick layer of pastry cream, and covered with whipped cream.  And it was delicious!  To take it one step further, I wanted to decorate it like this tuxedo cake at Annie's Eats, with a gorgeous ganache glaze dripping down the sides.

For the cake I initially considered using my mom's banana bread recipe, which I love because it's so easy and very moist and delicious.  But I thought perhaps I should choose a recipe intended for cake, since i wanted a cake-like fluffy texture.  So I chose a recipe from David Lebovitz's book "Ready for Dessert".  It called for ingredients that I would never think to pair with bananas, including cinnamon and espresso!  I was curious to see how the combination would taste.

Once the cake was baked and cooled, I made a batch of pastry cream, using the recipe from my boston cream pie inspired cake.  After letting the pastry cream cool in the fridge, I piped a thick layer on top of a layer of banana cake, and returned it to the fridge to let it set.  When I though enough time had passed, I placed the second layer of banana cake on top, and placed it back in the fridge while I prepared the whipped cream frosting.

When I was ready to decorate the cake, I opened the fridge, and gasped when I saw that the pastry cream was oozing and dripping down the sides of the cake.  Not pretty.  I guess I didn't let it set enough.  But I tried not to freak out, and just used a spatula to scrape off the excess pastry cream and dump it in the sink.  What a waste.  At least there was still a thin layer of pastry cream in between the two cakes!

After covering my cake with whipped cream and piping a shell border on the bottom, I returned it to the fridge and then began to make my ganache glaze.  I used an Ina Garten recipe, and it was so simple to make - just semisweet chocolate, heavy cream!  I didn't want the glaze to melt the whipped cream on my cake, so I waited for it to come to room temperature first.  But perhaps I waited too long, because by the time I spread it over my cake, it wasn't drippy enough to ooze down the sides!

The next time I make this, I think I'd change a few things - a) I'd use my mom's banana bread recipe, as it is still my favorite; b) I'd lighten the pastry cream with whipped cream, which might help it from oozing out the sides; c) I'd spread the ganache when it's warm and still slightly runny.  But the cake still ended up tasting great, and I especially loved the flavor combination of all the components!  Bananas, chocolate, and cream - YUM!  Perfect for a blogiversary! :)