Friday, December 31, 2010

champagne macarons

For New Years, I wanted to make something with champagne in it, since champagne is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of celebrating the New Year.  I tossed around ideas for a cupcake with champagne frosting, or adding champagne to the cupcake itself, but in the end I decided to make champagne macarons (since making macarons has been a recent addiction of mine).

I made the macaron shells golden yellow, but plain (I've decided that I don't like to flavor my shells - after tasting the chocolate macarons that I made for Christmas, I realized that the extra flavor drowned out the taste of the almonds in the cookie, which I love).

For the filling, I added some champagne to my standard buttercream, but after whipping it together, I noticed that the it looked slightly foamy.  Did the champagne curdle it?  I almost threw it out and was about to start over, but decided to taste it first.  The buttercream was light, airy, and had the slightest mildest champagne flavor to it.  And the foamy-ness reminded me of champagne bubbles!  So I went with it.

Hope you have a happy New Year!!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

hello kitty mini cupcakes

Last Thursday was my little Melodie's first birthday!  I wanted to make Hello Kitty cupcakes to bring to her little celebration at daycare, so I decided to make mini cupcakes since there would only be babies and toddlers there.  I decided on a fresh strawberry batter from Martha Stewart's "Cupcakes" book for the cake, and cream cheese frosting to go on top.

I used the smallest scooper I had to fill the mini cupcake pan.  Once the mini cupcakes were cooled, I piped Hello Kitty with cream cheese frosting, and gave her a pink nose and bow.

Then I made regular-sized cupcakes for the teachers.  I had found cute Hello Kitty cupcake liners a while ago, and this was the perfect time to use them!

To make them look a little different from the mini cupcakes, I did a basket weave piping with cream cheese frosting, and then piped Hello Kitty on top in pink (the exact opposite from the Hello Kitty birthday cupcakes I did before).

At the party, Melodie was a little confused by the cupcake at first, but once she tasted it there was no stopping her.  She loved it and ate the whole thing!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

strawberry macarons

My friend Helen had us over for dumplings this past weekend, and I wanted to make macarons for dessert since I know that she loves them.  I decided to make pink macarons to match her pink-decorated Christmas tree!

Since I was going with pink, the obvious filling would be my fresh strawberry buttercream!  And I was excited to try making macarons again, as I was disappointed that my first attempt didn't end up with much of the beautiful ruffly bottoms, known as "feet".  This time I reduced the temperature a little bit (from 350 F to 325 F).  The resulting macarons had a little more feet than the first try, but still not what I was looking for.

Also, next time I'd want to make them more pink.  I guess this means there will be many more macaron-making attempts before I'm satisified!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

french macarons

I have been itching to make macarons for some time now.  I've been reading about all the different techniques used in making them - French style, Italian meringue style (also known as the sucre cuit method), aging your egg whites, not folding your batter too much, not folding your batter enough ... I finally decided to try Pierre Herme's recipe since his macarons are legendary, and I even bought his Macaron book, which is completely in French!

I must say, making macarons is quite a process.  First, you have to "age" you egg whites at room temperature for 48 hours (although I only aged mine for a few hours).  Then, you need almond meal, which I decided to make myself (I know it doesn't need to be this complicated, but I had bought a huge bag of almonds from Costco and needed to use them up!)  I blanched the almonds in boiling water for 30 seconds, then rinsed them in cold water so that I could peel/pop them out of their skins.

Then, I pulverized the blanched almonds with a food processor to turn them into a fine almond meal, then added powdered sugar and pulverized them some more.  After sifting the mixture 2-3 times, I was satisfied with the consistency.

Next up was the making of the meringue.  This involves cooking sugar and water on the stove, while using a candy thermometer to ensure that it reaches 245 degrees F.  In the meantime, I started whipping the aged egg whites.  Once they formed soft peaks and the syrup was hot enough, I added the syrup (slowly) to the egg whites and continued whipping until the meringue was stiff and glossy.

After that, I added fresh room temperature egg whites to the almond and powdered sugar mixture, and then folded in the meringue mixture in three batches.  After filling a pastry bag with the batter, then piping out the macaron shells on a silpat-lined baking sheet, I let them sit for 20 minutes before baking.  This is supposed to give them a nice shell, and also help in forming the "feet" (the puffy, frilly bottoms that form while baking).

After the macarons were finally done baking, I was a little disappointed when I pulled them out of the oven.  While the tops were smooth and pretty, the bottoms barely had the "feet" that I was looking for.

But once I tasted them, I didn't care.  The texture of the macarons blew me away!  They had a lightly delicate crisp shell, yet they were super tender and soft on the inside.  My husband pointed out that they were like biting into a toasted marshmallow, similar in that there was a thinly crispy exterior, with a soft and airy interior.

I could have eaten them all plain, but I decided to fill my macarons with chocolate ganache, although next time I might try a flavored buttercream of some sort.  Maybe I'll also try aging my egg whites the full 48 hours, to see if that helps with forming the "feet".  I can't wait to experiment with different colors and flavors too!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

pink hello kitty cake

My friend Hsing asked me to make a Hello Kitty cake for her friend's daughter's birthday.  Since I had made pink strawberry Hello Kitty cupcakes for Hsing's birthday a few months ago, I immediately wanted to make the same pink frosting for this cake!  So I decided on a chocolate layer cake with fresh strawberry buttercream.

After the crumb-coating, I piped a basketweave design along the sides, and then piped a decorative rope border around the top.

Then I piped Hello Kitty in white buttercream, with a red bow and nose.

Right before Hsing came to pick up the cake, I realized that I had forgotten to pipe Hello Kitty's whiskers!  Oops!  I pointed it out to her, and she said she wouldn't have noticed had I not said anything, so hopefully no one else noticed either!

*** Update:
You can now find my recipe for Pink Hello Kitty Cake in my new book, "The Hello Kitty Baking Book"! Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

two pumpkin thanksgiving desserts

For Thanksgiving this year, I wanted to try something other than my usual apple pie and pumpkin pie.  So I thought I'd try two different takes on pumpkin pie - a chocolate pumpkin tart, and a pumpkin cheesecake.  Unfortunately, both experiments were not entirely successful. :(

For the chocolate pumpkin tart, I found a recipe at Everyday Food that looked simple and tasty.  It had a chocolate wafer cookie crust (or, Oreos in my case), a layer of melted semi-sweet chocolate spread over that, and then a layer of pumpkin pie.


While the tart tasted good, the crust was way too crumbly and fell apart when serving (perhaps it needed more melted butter to hold it together?)  And the pumpkin pie layer was very thin compared to a regular pumpkin pie.

As for the pumpkin cheesecake, also from Everyday Food, the recipe called for 4 bars of cream cheese, but thinking I'd try to make it lighter, I substituted 2 bars of cream cheese with plain yogurt instead.  (In my defense, my usual cheesecake recipe calls for 2 bars of cream cheese plus 1 1/2 pints of sour cream ... and I've read that you can substitute plain yogurt for sour cream ... thus the yogurt instead of the cream cheese).  Major fail!  While the outermost area of the cheesecake was still tasty, the middle was way too soft - probably because of all the moisture from the yogurt.

In addition, the recipe said to only spread the graham cracker crust on the bottom of the springform pan, but for some reason I decided to pack some onto the sides of the pan too.  I'm not sure why I did it but I regret it, because when I unmolded the cheesecake the sides were really ugly, craggly and uneven.  (I'm not even going to include a picture of the unmolded cheesecake, I'm too embarrassed!)

I think I'll try making the pumpkin cheesecake again for Christmas this year, and this time I'm going to just follow the recipe!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

thanksgiving turkey cupcakes - brown sugar pound cakes with bailey's irish cream frosting

After being inspired by Bakerella's Thanksgiving cake pops, I decided I wanted to make turkey cupcakes for Thanksgiving.  (And no, they are not made out of turkey!)  I went with brown sugar pound cakes (recipe from Martha Stewart once again), with a Bailey's Irish Cream frosting.  

Then I piped the turkey's body out of chocolate cream cheese frosting.  I added candy corn for the feathers, and an M&M for the face (I originally tried using Whoppers, but the eye balls didn't stand out enough).  I dotted the eyes with an edible food marker, added an orange rainbow chip for the beak, and an upside-down heart confetti sprinkle for the wattle.

I haven't had candy corn for years, but I remember loving them as a kid (I could eat them by the handful).  But when I tasted the candy this time, I couldn't believe how they were much too sweet!  So I ended up  removing most of them when eating the cupcake.

As for the cupcake and the frosting, I loved the combination.  The brown sugar pound cake was caramel-y and not too sweet, and the Bailey's in the frosting complimented the cake perfectly, and gave it just a little touch of Holiday cheer.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

pan-fried mantou

One of my favorite snacks as a kid was mantou, which is a type of Chinese steamed bun.  It's slightly sweet and very dense yet fluffy, similar to the bun you'd find in a char-siu-bao (or manapua, if you're from Hawaii).  When I was little, my favorite way to eat these was steamed, covered in butter, and dipped in sugar.  But as an adult, my favorite preparation is sliced, pan-fried with butter or olive oil, and lightly salted.

I'm not sure if this is just something we do in my family, or if it is widely prepared this way, but BOY is it good!  It's crunchy, toasty, slightly sweet and slightly salty, and perfect with a cup of coffee or as a side starch to any meal.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

thanksgiving turkey

When it was time to sign up to make something for Matthew's preschool Thanksgiving party, I hesitated.  Did I want to make an apple pie?  Maybe pumpkin pie - since the previous time I signed up to make pumpkin pie, I had made pumpkin cupcakes instead.  I couldn't decide, so I held off signing up so that I could have more time to think about it.

Turns out I didn't have to decide.  My husband came home a couple of days later and informed me that Matthew's teacher had asked us to make the turkey.  The turkey?!  I guess no one else wanted to sign up for this task.  It's only like the biggest and most important part of a Thanksgiving meal!  I can understand why no one would volunteer for this!

Luckily, I have a favorite way to roast my turkey.  I generously season the cavity with salt and pepper, and then stuff it full of aromatics - I use garlic, lemons, whole sprigs of fresh herbs (rosemary from our garden, in this case), and a whole quartered onion.  Then I slather the outside with lots of olive oil, and season with more salt, pepper, and chopped herbs.  Tuck the wings under, tie up the legs with twine, and it's ready to go in the oven!

Unfortunately for my husband and I, we didn't start this task until the night before, just after midnight.  Which meant that it would be done cooking in the middle of the night.  I was able to take a nice nap on the couch though, and my husband woke me around 4am when the turkey was out of the oven and we could finally go to bed.  (Thanks hon!)

It was worth it though.  Matthew was very proud that he brought the turkey, and all of the kids (dressed as pilgrims and indians), teachers, and parents all enjoyed a nice, although chaotic, Thanksgiving lunch.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

fresh grape sorbet

I love anything Chez Panisse and/or Alice Waters, so when I was browsing for new ice cream recipes and happened upon David Lebovitz's blog, and then found out that he used to be a pastry chef at Chez Panisse, I had found my new ice cream idol.

One weekend my mom brought over two giant bags of fresh grapes (she is constantly bringing fresh fruit to our house, faster than we can finish it!), I decided that I had to try his fresh grape sorbet recipe.  The resulting sorbet was so delicious and refreshing - even my father-in-law declared it as his favorite ice cream!

Friday, November 5, 2010

trick-or-treat cookies

Last year at Halloween, we didn't get to pass out any candy because we went trick-or-treating at a friend's neighborhood and didn't get home until late.  So we had this huge unopened bag of chocolate candy left over.  Fortunately, I had just read an article on GOOP that had a recipe for cookies that are made with leftover Halloween candy.  It's a perfect way to use up your leftover candy!

I've made different variations of this cookie, but my favorite combination of candy is Almond Joy, Milky Way, and Hershey Bars.  The coconut in the Almond Joy, mixed with the caramel in the Milky Way, and the chocolaty goodness in the Hershey Bars makes a perfect combination!

Just chop up the candies and mix them into the cookie dough like you would with chocolate chips.

Use a mini ice-cream scoop to make uniform cookie dough balls, and then bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for easy cookie removal (and clean-up!).

I'm planning on making these again this weekend with our leftover candy.  This time I'm going to freeze the cookie dough after I've scooped them into balls, so that they're easy to bake off a few at a time whenever we're craving some chocolate candy cookies!

Happy Friday!