Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Orange Pomegranate Almond Dark Chocolate Tart

Sometimes, magic just happens in the kitchen.  Which is what I found out when putting these three ingredients together in a dark chocolate tart:

The first time that I made this orange, pomegranate, and almond awesomeness, I actually made little tartelettes for Valentine's Day.  The recipe was sort of a complete amalgamation of whatever I had lying about the kitchen, which was, luckily, awesome winter pomegranate and citrus.  I knew I wanted to make some sort of chocolate tart, and I literally grabbed the first ingredients that I saw and folded them in.  Serendipity is such a wonderful thing sometimes.

Once I had finished the tartelettes, I took a few as a trial run up to my weekly class in Berkeley.  I watched silently in the middle of class as people slowly snuck bites out of their tartelettes, and their faces started lighting up.  Ah! I just live for those moments.

Anyways, after all of my tartelettes had been devoured over Valentine's Day weekend, I knew that I had to revisit the recipe and make one large tart for personal consumption.  The super-flaky pastry crust here is infused with blood orange zest and almond extract, making for one extremely flavor-packed tart crust.  The dark bitterness of the chocolate ganache filling is balanced out by a hint of sweet pomegranate liquor.  Put this all together, and you end up with a richly smooth and decadent chocolate tart that stores a burst of orangey and almondy goodness.

And, to demonstrate the magic of these tarts-- my Berkeley professor, who had completely lost her voice from a sore throat, ate one of these tartelettes and magically gained her voice back immediately thereafter!  Okay, sure, this might have been due to the amount of tea she was guzzling during class, but I like to think that these tarts had something to do with it.  :-)

Read on for the recipe...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

PotW: Banana macadamia nut pancakes with white chocolate creme anglaise

[last Pancakes of the Week: Orange-clove chocolate chip pancakes with coffee-clove syrup]

Argh. This weekend was spent being frustratingly unproductive.  But, I did manage to get my act together long enough to produce this little gem of a dessert breakfast:

Banana Macadamia Nut Pancakes
with White Chocolate Creme Anglaise

Yes.  Yum.  As my roommate and I were enjoying this, we decided, in the infamous words of Paula Deen, that we should be arrested for eating such lusciousness for breakfast.  And, I tell you, luscious it was, with the fluffy tenderness of the banana pancakes (banana mash does wonders for pancake fluffiness!) studded with the buttery flakiness of the macadamia nuts.  So good.  But, I think my favorite, favorite part of this pancake dish was the white chocolate creme anglaise.  I ate it straight from the bowl with no regrets, a healthy diet be damned.

The white chocolate creme anglaise sauce, infused with fragrant vanilla bean, is just the right balance of rich sweetness without being overpowering.  After this, I don't think I am ever going back to syrup on my pancakes.  EVER.

Now, excuse me while I go and lick up whatever is left of that white chocolate sauce....

(p.s. Toni--if you're reading this, we tried to call you to come over for these pancakes!)

Read on for the recipe...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Valentine's Chocolate Overload: Passionfruit-coconut dark chocolates and Raspberry mocha dark chocolates

Here we go again-- I did it for Christmas and couldn't escape it for Valentine's Day: Chocolate Overload.

Sooooo many chocolates.  My head spun.  Despite my best efforts at true, surgical cleanliness, there were wayward and unruly drops of chocolate everywhere, on every pair of jeans (and I have a lot of those), on the top ceiling of my freezer, on my chin.  A lot. of. chocolate.

This time around, I made four flavors again.  Because they were my hands-down favorite from Christmas, I made the saffron-honey dark chocolates again, which were just as much of a hit this time as the last time around.  Pictured above are some classic spicy dark chocolates, with a healthy kick of cayenne pepper to spice things up.  Then, there were these:

Passionfruit Coconut Dark Chocolates
with Meyer lemon curd filling

Probably due to the incredibly rainy weather and dreary days leading up to Valentine's Day this year, I was in a quite a tropical mood, which translated into these passionfruit-coconut-lemon dark chocolates.  The ganache in these are infused with this ultra-concentrated passionfruit syrup that is available at Asian markets (like Ranch 99), spiked with rum, and then studded with unsweetened dried coconut for texture.  For a little extra something-something, I also filled the chocolates with a dab of meyer lemon curd, whose tartness played off the passionfruit flavor quite well.

Then, finally, we have the raspberry mocha dark chocolates, which were the runaway favorites for the overly caffeinated academic crowd I served some of these chocolates to:

Instead of raspberry jam, these dark chocolates were packed with a freshly cooked down raspberry reduction that added so much intensity to their flavor.  Then, coupled with the strong mocha dark chocolate ganache..... mmmm mm!

Anyways, despite all of my grumbling about the amount of chocolate work I've been doing lately, I have been relishing this chance to experiment with all of these flavor combinations.  I've got a few upcoming orders for chocolates, so I'm looking forward to trying some new ideas, too, and, thinking about working with chocolate transfer sheets.  Go, chocolate-ty fun!

Read on for recipes for passionfruit-coconut-lemon dark chocolates and raspberry mocha dark chocolates

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lemon blueberry skyr cheesecakes, and being adopted

Okay, wait.  My actual, real-life parents are going to freak when they read the title of this post.  Let me clarify.  I'm not adopted in real life (or at least, that *I* know of).  Nope!  But!  My blog and I have been adopted in Dine and Dish's wonderful Adopt-a-Blogger program, now in it's fourth cycle!

Adopt-a-Blogger is this cool program where veteran bloggers take a new foodie blogger under their wing to answer all of us new blogger's silly and simple-minded questions.  It's really a great deal for us newbies.  And, I am very honored to announce that I've been adopted by Kristen from Dine and Dish herself no less!  (On a side note, I must have some karma in this universe to be mentored by the Kristens of this world because my undergraduate thesis co-advisor's name was also "Kristin."  Coincidence much?)

Kristen runs such a great blog over at Dine and Dish, and she does so much that I can't even imagine doing, like planning a whole week's menu in advance.  I'm lucky if I even have the foresight to pick up enough frozen burritos and Hot Pockets to get me through the week (okay, now you are all going to question my culinary choices, but really! I eat far, far better when school isn't in session.  e.g., four to five course home-cooked meals.  My roommate can back me up on that.).  She's also doing a great 365 day photo challenge that you can follow via her Flickr stream.  Kristen has already been such a huge help in answering my questions, and participating in Adopt-a-blogger #4 has most definitely inspired me to make some of the long-needed changes that you see happening around the blog (like, the new header! and subscription links!).  So, I'm definitely grateful to be a part of this program and am looking forward to learning a ton.

Now, on to food...

Remember those meyer lemon ricotta pancakes with lemon curd and blueberries from a few weeks back?  Turns out that they were such a big hit that I really wanted to make a dessert encore with the same elements. At around the same time I was mulling the idea over, my roommate introduced me to these Cinnamon Graham cookies from Trader Joe's.  They're kind of like graham crackers, but on super steroids!  Packed with cinnamon-y flavor (oh boy, now I sound like a cereal commercial), the Cinnamon Grahams have this great, robust, earthy and wheaty texture to them, which actually reminded me of the texture of Finn Crisps (which, if you haven't tried yet, you must).  They were so much more interesting that regular graham crackers are as boring as cardboard in comparison.  Then, it hit me.  These Cinnamon Graham crackers would make an amazing cheesecake crust.  And everything fell into place.  May I present to you...

Lemon blueberry cheesecakes,
made with Cinnamon Graham crusts

Om yum yum!  These mini cheesecakes are infused with a rich blueberry reduction sauce, which packs them with creamy blueberry flavor.  Then, they're topped with light and tart meyer lemon curd for the ultimate lemon blueberry experience.  The cinnamon kick in the crusts makes them so much more interesting than your average cheesecake.  And, as a further tribute to my Icelandic roommate, these cheesecakes were made partially with Icelandic skyr, which is this yogurt-like cheese.  The Icelandic skyr lends these cheesecakes a great airy texture and tenderness, more so than when using all and only cream cheese.  And, blueberries + skyr is, I've been told, a classic combination of flavors.  I have to say, despite having questionable taste with their putrid shark, those Icelanders did get it right with their blueberry skyr.

I ended up making mini cheesecakes and a few larger, 4.5" ones, which I piled high with layers of lemon curd, blueberry sauce, fresh blueberries and a glaze of apricot jam.  While we sold the mini cheesecakes at a bakesale, the larger cheesecakes were all ours to devour.  Which we did, with great satisfaction.

Read on for recipe...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Like Me: Conversation Heart Cupcakes

Oh man, I am so behind on posting Valentine's Day desserts--there's a huge backlog on my blog queue!--because my every spare minute has been going into catering a department Valentine's party yesterday (more on that in a few days).  But now that it's over, I can finally catch up with the times!

One of my favorite, favorite candies on Valentine's Day is conversation hearts.  I know, they're probably tacky like the rest of Valentine's Day, but there's something so classic and succinct about them that's irresistible to me.  In fact, I'm munching on a box right now.  :-P

I wanted to translate conversation hearts into a true dessert for Valentine's Day, and after some serious consideration and questionable prototypes last year, I finally figured out these Conversation Heart Cupcakes this year, which I'm really happy with!  With the forms in place, I also set out to update those messages on the hearts for the 21st century:

Ah, yes.  Welcome to the digital age!  Hehe, thinking up new messages for these conversation hearts were so much fun.  How about some Twitter-inspired ones?

(Though not pictured, I also had ones that said "RT me" and "DM me.")  Or, some Facebook-inspired hearts?

I had to also, of course, pay homage to one of my favorite tech sites, Gizmodo, with a <3modo cupcake.  And, the "I Digg U" one is credited to Richard, who proudly came up with the whole tech-inspired idea in the first place.

Of course, I also couldn't quite resist making a sideways dig at Apple, because, quite honestly, they really need to coin a better term for their video-output connectors than "dongle."  Hehe.

Yeah, dongle just took on a whole new meaning. :-P

The conversation hearts are actually super easy and simple to make.  They are made out of flavored couverture chocolate, and the hardest part is really the writing on the top.  :-)  Underneath, I made red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting just because I love the bright red-ness for Valentine's Day.  And, I made more pina colada cupcakes, too, because they are just so darn good.

I took these cupcakes to the event that I was catering, and everyone was so incredibly thrilled, but I think what they loved even more were the linguistics-inspired conversation hearts, which were the perfect meld of geeky, suggestive, naughty, and sweet:

Yes, I kid you not: those are all technical linguistics terms.  :-P

I hope you all have a wonderful and lovely Valentine's Day, full of sweet, yummy treats!

Read on for directions on making conversation heart cupcake toppers.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I like Pina Colada Cupcakes! (and getting caught in the rain)

I wasn't going to post these until next week since they aren't very "traditional" Valentine's Day fare, but they turned out so damn good that they just couldn't wait!  Hello, lover.

Pina colada cupcake:
Coconut cake
with fresh pineapple Italian meringue buttercream

Yes, the pina colada cupcake.  But, before you all get another look at these yummy-licious beauties, I must first inflict some pain on you, because every time I hear or say the words "pina colada," this immediately gets stuck in my head:

Yes, okay, I apologize for that.  But, misery loves company.  Now that we have a soundtrack (of most arguably one of the worst love songs ever), back to more pleasant things.

This idea of pina colada cupcakes has been floating around in my head for a while prior to execution.  The original spark of inspiration, to give credit where credit's due, comes from my friend Toni, who I regard as one of my biggest dessert fans and who happens to be an amazing photographer.  For Christmas, Toni got me Rose Levy Beranbaum's Rose's Heavenly Cakes, promptly opening the book to page 23, pointing, and saying, "I want to make that into a pina colada cake."

A few weeks later (okay, the Christmas gift happened in mid-January), the pina colada cupcake was born (or baked, I guess, would be the more proper word choice)!  With a base of coconut cake, taken from page 23 of Rose Levy Beranbaum's book, and a liberal topping of Italian meringue buttercream flavored with freshly made pineapple puree, this cupcake is absolutely heavenly.  And I am not kidding.  It literally hurt me in the gut to give these cupcakes away to both the people who had ordered them, and, I have to confess, to Toni.  I just wanted to keep them all for myself.

The coconut cake recipe is really good and super coconut-y.  But what really makes these cupcakes for me, personally, is the fresh pineapple puree in the pineapple buttercream.  You absolutely don't want to cut corners here and use canned pineapple.  It's just not going to be the same.  And fresh pineapple puree is easy to make.  All it involves is cooking the pineapple down with sugar and water, draining away the liquid, and whizzing it through the food processor.  The resulting puree is so good and light-as-air that I ate most of it fresh out of the food processor.  It's better than any applesauce you will ever touch.  Don't throw away the pineapple syrup, either!  It makes a great base for homemade pineapple soda (just add fizzy water) or cocktails.

The punch of pineapple and coconut flavors in this cupcake linger in your mouth for a long while even after you've finished the cake, making you really, really crave more.  I can seriously scarf down about ten of those mini ones in one sitting if I'm not careful.  Trust me: make these for your Valentine.  Despite not being made of the traditional chocolate, they are sure to impress.

Oh, but a fair word of warning: you'll most definitely want to make an even number of these cupcakes.  If you and your Valentine have to fight over one, it's not going to be pretty.

(P.S. On an unrelated topic, a reader kindly brought to my attention yesterday that there was no obvious way to subscribe to this blog's feed located on the homepage--a gross oversight on my part!  (Thanks, June, for bringing this to my attention!)  I have since remedied this situation, and you'll find links at the top of the side bar -----> that can allow you to subscribe easily via your feed reader of choice (e.g., Google Reader) or via email (Thanks to my Adopt-a-Blogger mentor, Kristen, for pointing me in the right direction for this).  So go subscribe!

In other blog-related news, I've started a recipe index page, also located for now on the *new* left sidebar <----, where you can find a list of recipes by category.  It's still a work in progress, but hopefully, you'll find it helpful!)

Read on for recipe...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

PotW: Orange-clove chocolate chip pancakes with coffee-clove syrup

What do you get when you put together orange, clove, chocolate chips, and coffee beans?

How about a morning wake-up call, in pancake form?

Say "good morning" to these orange-clove, chocolate chip pancakes, with a side of coffee-clove syrup.  Yup.  That's how we started our weekend here at the house, because *that's* how we roll.

Every time I've been at the market recently, I've been bombarded with gorgeous citrus fruits of all sorts, from countless varieties of tangerines to juicy, thin-skinned meyer lemons to absolutely blood-red blood oranges.  Oh, the glory of citrus season!  It's always so incredibly difficult to resist returning home without at least a bag or two of a few oranges, lemons, or grapefruits.  Our fruit bowls have been constantly overfilling with citruses--I even get these great lemons on campus, where all of the citrus trees are bountifully fruitful right now.  (I always try to stuff my bag with a few whenever I'm biking through the History Corner.)

Given this overabundance of oranges that have been rolling about our kitchen table for the past few weeks, I decided to whip up some orange-flavored pancakes for breakfast this weekend.  Since it's been cold and wet almost non-stop for the past few weeks, the wintery clove seemed to be a natural companion for the oranges.  Then, my thoughts turned to chocolate--little hints of melty, gooey, sweetness--to go with the tartness of the citrus and the spiciness of the cloves.

Finally, as I bent down over the mortar and pestle to get a whiff of the cloves, coffee suddenly popped to mind!  Now, I don't really drink much coffee, but the earthy darkness of a strongly brewed coffee would be perfect with the cloves, orange, and chocolate, so I whipped up a bowl of coffee syrup, adding a handful of whole cloves in to further tie together the flavors.

The final result?  A bold and fragrant blend of juicy orange and spicy clove, a kick of coffee, with just a dash of decadent chocolate mixed in for a sublime start to a wintery, cold weekend.  A perfect breakfast in bed.

Happy Monday, all!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Happy Nutella Day! (Rice Krispies and Nutella)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: sometimes, simplicity is key.  Case in point:

Rice Krispie treats!  One of the easiest, simplest, yummiest, and quickest treats that you can whip up.  Take note: running short on time for Valentine's Day?  Rice Krispies literally take, like, ten minutes only.

Which is why these things were one of my STAPLE foods in undergrad.  Yes, yes, I know.  Totally healthy.  But, when I needed a quick fix of sugar for late night studying, these definitely hit the spot.

With rice krispies treats, simplicity is most definitely the way to go.  Rice krispies with chocolate chips?--too complicated and the textures are too incompatible IMO.  Rice krispies with nuts?--BLECH! (why try to make a perfectly good sugary snack healthy at all?)  Plain is always my preferred choice.  Maybe, hit them with a dash of sprinkles to dress 'em up, and you're good to go.

Unless, of course, it's Nutella Day...

On Nutella Day, take a knife (or any other paste-spreading implement), open a Costco, mega-sized jar of Nutella, grab a big dip of the totally delicious hazelnut chocolate spread, and liberally smooth it all over your rice krispie treat.  And enjoy.

Yup, life doesn't get much simpler or better than this.

P.S. If you *must* insist on making these treats healthier, you might be able to find organic, brown rice rice krispy cereal at certain food stores.  (In the Bay Area, I know that Berkeley Bowl carries it in the bulk section.)

Read on for recipe...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

We will return to our regular programming soon!

I promise!  Between encountering numerous technical difficulties and being absolutely, completely, and utterly swamped at my day job, regular posts this week have sort of fallen by the wayside.  But don't fret--Valentine's Day, aka one of the biggest dessert holidays of the year, is coming up, and I have lots of sweet stuff to share that I'm very excited about.  For example, this:

Mmm... so stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Finnish February: the Runeberg Cake (aka: Runebergintorttuja)

Happy February!  I always breathe a sigh of relief when February rolls around because we've officially survived the grey month of January and can has holidays again! (yes, grammatical error intended.... I can has weird grammar?)  I know that many of you out there object to Valentine's Day as a Hallmark-invented, consumerist holiday, but I adore it, because it's just one more excuse to make more yummy-licious desserts.  *grin*  But, before we get onto the topic of Valentine's Day here on the blog, I first want to introduce you all to another February holiday dessert:

Runeberg Cakes!
(or more accurately: Runebergintorttuja)

Rune..what?  Okay, I admit it.  These are not American desserts, but Finnish-Swedish ones.  They are named after the Finnish national poet, Johan Ludvig Runeberg, who apparently was especially fond of these cakes (no idea what they were called prior to being graced by Runeberg's fondness), and are traditionally consumed on February 5th, Runeberg's birthday.

Now, why in the world--you are indeed thinking--is this native Californian, Asian-American girl making a Finnish dessert?  Well, first of all, they are good.  But I didn't discover that until after I'd made these.  Nope. Here's the actual reason:

We have something of a Finnish invasion force in my department.  Both my main advisor and one of my secondary advisors are Finnish.  Now, to me, that's a lot of Finns in one place.  They're even teaming up with another Finnish professor in the Computer Science department this quarter to teach a whole class all about Finnish.  So, we hear a lot about Finnish where I am.

Of course, being the curious academic, I once asked my advisors about desserts that they missed from their native countries (naturally, because I talk about dessert way more than I talk about my day job), and my advisor told me about Runeberg cakes.  This was two to three years ago that we had that conversation.  Finally, when my advisor's birthday rolled around this year, I had an excuse to try my hand at these intriguing-sounding cakes.  They were even more fitting for the occasion because my advisor studies poetics, so why not make a cake named after his country's national poet for his birthday, which is incidentally right around the same time as February fifth?

So I did my research, reading up all about Runeberg cakes that I could find.  I even attempted some Finnish websites, but gave up very, very, very quickly.  (Despite being around Finns all the time, my Finnish knowledge is still nonexistent.)  I amassed a bunch of varying Runeberg cake recipes and studied all of them. Finally, I set out to make my own, keeping what I thought were the most important features of the cakes and then adding and adjusting things based on my own baker's intuition (or, however much baker's intuition I fancy myself to have).

This was the result: a super dense, super moist, super robust tower of individually-portioned cake, packed full of almond, ginger, and orange-y goodness, then topped with a thick and barely-tart raspberry reduction, a dash of lemon juice, and held in by a ring of sweet icing, with just the faintest hint of almond.  And boy, it was YUM.  But would it pass the true Finnish test?

Hell yes!  My advisor was so excited when he saw these that he would stop lecturing to take bites of the cake sitting in front of him.  The ultimate compliment then came when he said to me:

"You should go open a bakery... in Helsinki!"

Ohhhhh yeahhhhhhhhhhh. *grin.*

Read on for the recipe...
(I really hope you try these--according to the Finns, I hit the nail right on the head!)