Monday, May 31, 2010

Mango Mousse Espresso Chocolate Cake

  To me, there is something so incredibly refined about a delicate cake with layers of airy genoise, mousse, and jelly.  I tend to associate these types of cakes with the manicured and exquisite displays of Japanese and French bakeries, where desserts just look almost too pretty to touch.  It's as if the desserts themselves are haughty--like, they're turning their proverbial dessert noses up at a little-too-crass, unrefined, and brash American like me who's just not good enough for them.  And yet, just as I futilely wish that I could carry myself with the elegance and grace of Audrey Hepburn (HA!), I've always wished that I could make a perfect little specimen of haughty, sophisticated mousse cake.  And, I think I've finally done it!

I can tell you that it hasn't been an easy road getting here.  I've tried my hand at mousse layer cakes multiple times now, always with some not-so-pretty (though, always tasty!) results.  Alas, even this specimen wasn't entirely perfect--silly old (unsophisticated) me forgot to line my cake molds with parchment paper or plastic, so getting the cakes out of the molds was a bit hairy.  But! it's the closest to complete success that I've gotten thus far (and perhaps as close as a boorish Chinese-Californian can ever hope to get!), and nothing that a thin layer of dark chocolate won't fix. ;-P

The impetus for this particular cake itself came from a typical source: my mom bringing me two gorgeous organic mangoes.  (which, by the way, is apparently my mom's favorite thing on the blog, when I mention that her fruit gifts inspire desserts written about here--hi, mom!)  Of course, like any sane, dessert-obsessed person, I looked at the mangoes and immediately thought, "Now, wouldn't these be stunningly lovely in mousse form?"  Because everyone thinks that--right?  right?  Thinking about it some more, chocolate seemed like the perfect companion to mango mousse.  Lastly, as I was wishing that I had some coffee one night for some late-in-the-school-year late-night paper-writing, I also realized that coffee would round out the flavor profile of this cake perfectly.  Hence, the birth of mango mousse espresso chocolate cake!

So there you have it.  The base: a moist and fluffy chocolate genoise, soaked in espresso syrup.  The middle: a creamy, subtly-flavored, and airy mango mousse (actually, a Bavarian cream if you want to be all technical and stuff), made with fresh mango puree.  The top: a thin layer of espresso jelly--a mixture of bitter coffee and sweet milk to balance out the fruitiness of the mango and the robustness of the bottom chocolate cake layer.  All wrapped up in chocolate.  Now, is that refined enough for you?

(Now, onto my Audrey Hepburn social graces training...)

Read on for recipe...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fresh Peas and Mint Spaghetti

Oh, peas.  How I love thee!  Call me crazy, but I think that peas make the top of my list of favorite vegetables ever of all time (while banana squash lands on the complete opposite end of that spectrum).  My friends always laugh at me because whenever I'm at the salad bar, I always end up with more peas on my plate than actual leafy greens.  It's the best part of a salad bar: all-you-can-eat peas!

So imagine my delight at the wealth of fresh peas at the farmers' markets lately!  Oh, there's nothing like fresh peas--the special snap and crispness that they have in them beats the frozen variety that I have to suffer through the rest of the year (though I do love those, too, when I have no other choice).  I don't even mind peeling them one pod at a time.  It's actually quite a therapeutic process for me to pop open each pod and run my fingers down the middle to scrape out all of the magical peas inside.  Like peeling pomelos, another favorite quirky pastime of mine.  (btw--does anyone know a good use for the pods besides the compost bin?  It always seems like such a waste!)

Anyways, I know that this is a dessert blog and all, but I hope that you all don't mind if I take up one post for a little tribute to the wonderful vegetable-love-of-my-life.  There was the possibility of making fresh pea ice cream (via David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop), but really, when it comes to the preparation of fresh spring peas, I like to keep things as simple and as uncomplicated as possible, because these little beauties stand on their own so incredibly well.

About as complicated as I'm willing to get is this fresh pea and mint spaghetti.  Basically, peas tossed in butter with al dente spaghetti, sautéed spring onions, and  refreshing mint leaves, and sprinkled with really good Parmigiano Reggiano.  Everything else in this dish here really just serves the purpose of showcasing the center-peas.  (haha--get it?  center-peas = centerpiece?  okay, okay, bad puns aside...)

Because of the incredible simplicity of this dish, it's really important to start with excellent raw ingredients: freshly made pasta (none of that dry stuff, if possible!), fresh peas and mint and spring onions, good butter and olive oil, and a nice, robust block of parmesan cheese.  All together, the freshness and snap of the peas and mint add a surprising sweetness to the pasta, with the parmesan cheese perfectly complementing and off-setting the sweetness-- the end result is a spaghetti that is seriously layered with all of these different flavors--from refreshingly crisp to deeply savory--that come together in a deliciously fulfilling spring-summertime lunch.  (And quite possibly one of the healthiest servings I'll ever present here on this blog! ;-P)

Alright, thanks for indulging me and my love for peas! It's times like these that make me so thankful to live in a city with two farmers' markets on two consecutive days so that when I unexpectedly polish off my pea-stash after the first day (oops!), I can still go and re-stock up for the week ahead the next day. Though, it would be even nicer if I had an endless supply of fresh peas every day....

Read on for recipe...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Banana + Nutella: Ice Cream + Whoopie Pies

Let's talk Nutella and bananas.  Why?  Because on their own, they're pretty darn good.  But together: magic.  Magic happens.

First up: Bananas.  Ah, what fond memories I have of bananas.  My dad eats one banana a day religiously, so growing up, there was always a wealth of bananas lying in the fruit bowl, ready for a quick snack.  Then, on my trips to visit family in tropical Taiwan, I learned about all of these different varieties of bananas, plucked fresh from the plants, putting the supermarket variety that we find here to shame--oh, the creamy richness!  mmmm.  Incidentally enough, there's a fascinating article about bananas in this month's issue of Saveur magazine, talking all about the history of the commercial banana trade, the other types of bananas there are around, and how richly entrenched the banana is into many of the world's cultures.

Plus, who doesn't have at least a few blackened bananas sitting in their freezer to be used at some later date?  I'm constantly shoving mine aside in the freezer to make room for ice creams and other frozen fruits, oftentimes cursing them as a bit of an annoyance because they take up so much awkward room.  And, who wants to be constantly making banana bread, as good as it is?  Not me, that's for sure.  So, as a project this weekend, I set out to figure out some new recipes to use up my frozen ripe bananas, using the perfect companion for them: nutella.

Oh, nutella, you blissfully smooth concoction of chocolate and hazelnut, you.  I know that David Lebovitz thinks that he's found a replacement for you, but in my book, thou art truly irreplaceable.  I would drink you with a straw if I could.  One of my favorite parts of traveling in Italy a few years ago when I was there (um, aside from the fact that I was in Italy--um, hello? what can beat that?) was waking up to a deliciously simple and guilt-ridden breakfast of soft, fresh bread with thick layers of nutella slathered on top.  Yeah, I want to go back to there, plz?

So, out of Italy- and tropics-inspired nostalgia and the need to clean out my freezer, I give you today a duo of banana and nutella desserts: banana+nutella whoopie pies and banana+nutella ice cream.

These banana whoopie pies, adapted from a Martha Stewart Living recipe, turned out to be a wonderful translation of banana as the fruit into banana as a cake form.  They are super moist--like, have-to-lick-crumbs-off-your-fingers moist and pack so much creamy banana flavor into them.  To help enhance the banana, I also threw in some ground cinnamon, and so the smell that filled the house as these were baking up in the oven was just positively divine.  Sandwiched between the cakes is some sweet nutella and cream cheese frosting, whipped until completely light, airy, and fluffy with a hint of the chocolate and hazelnut nutella coming through.

In doing research for nutella ice cream, it seemed as though most of the recipes out there are just a simple blend of nutella and milk/cream.  But, being the huge believer that I am in custard-based ice creams, I really wanted my version to benefit from triple the creaminess via the chocolate custard base, the nutella, and the banana.  And let me tell you--it does.  Even for a homemade ice cream, this version of banana-nutella ice cream achieves a rich, smooth, completely non-icy creaminess where you can basically dig a spoon into it immediately out of the freezer without having to wait for defrosting.  The subtle bit of banana, especially, really helps the texture go a long way underneath the sweet flavors of the nutella.

All in all, I am so happy with having found new ways to use up all of those leftover bananas in the freezer--I'm just sad that there are no more!  And, now, as for Italy...

[P.S. I also originally intended to make ice cream sandwich whoopie pies, with these banana cakes and banana+nutella ice cream, but time and laziness both got the best of me!  If you try it, you must tell me.]

Read on for recipe...

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Chocolate Cake Workout

Remember this cake from a few weeks ago?

The Blackest Forest Gateau:
black chocolate cake
dark chocolate ganache
dark cherry filling
mascarpone whipped cream

Well, Anne, the winner of the black cocoa giveaway accompanying this cake, has made the cake AND posted the best video of it.  May I present to you all : The Chocolate Cake Workout, Liz Lemon style.

Yeah, now *THAT'S* my kind of workout. Thanks, Anne!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mothers' Day Duo: Matcha Orange Pots de Creme and Orange Carrot Ginger Cake

To all of the moms out there: Happy Belated Mothers' Day!  Here's my duo of desserts for you on your (though belated) special day--one dessert that's completely healthy and one that's completely indulgent, just the way it should be. :-)

Years ago, when I was in third grade, my mom became a vegetarian, and so from a fairly early age, I grew up in a meat-free household (which I didn't entirely mind, since I'm pretty picky when it comes to meats anyways).  Meat free, though, didn't mean dessert free in any sort of way, but my mom, over the years, has been experimenting and trying out desserts that are egg- and dairy-free as well.  This orange-carrot-ginger vegan cake is our hands down favorite.

Trust me when I say that, though this cake is vegan, it rivals even the best of the full-on dairy and egg cakes.  It's super moist and perfectly dense, with the spiciness of ginger and the sweet tartness of orange.  I like to have it sans frosting, with just a simple orange and maple syrup glaze and then piled as high as I can with mandarin orange slices.

As much as my mom loves this cake, though, part of me is convinced that she's always slightly annoyed whenever I make it.  For some reason, I always insist on topping the cake with a fresh cut orchid flower, which means stealing a precious blossom off of one of her orchid plants.  *smiles innocently.*  Granted, though, that I do buy her orchid plants for Mothers' Day, so I make up for it!  :-)

On the indulgent side, we have orange matcha green tea pots de creme, which are packed full of rich creaminess and the complete antithesis to the vegan cake.  The fragrant and slight bitterness of the matcha complements and balances out the hint of sweet orange in the cream really well--I definitely liked how this combination turned out.  These pots de creme made a great pairing with the fresh and earthy carrot cake, too, since the texture of the carrots and walnuts in the cake helped enhance the creaminess of the pots de creme.

I hope everyone had a wonderfully lovely Mothers' Day.  I always feel as if on Mothers' Day, we shouldn't merely limit our thanks and appreciation to our own mothers, but also we need to recognize all of the women who have helped us through our lives and given us motherly guidance and advice.  The older I get, the more I realize that the truth that it takes a whole village to raise a child, and all of you motherly-s out there need a extra special shout-out of thanks!  Here's wishing I could send a duo of desserts to all of you!

And, of course, to my own mom-- thanks.  :-)  And sorry I steal all of your orchids.

Read on for recipe...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Farmer's Market Obsessions: savory tarts and fresh strawberries

Today's post is going to be short and sweet.  And savory.  I hope you don't mind.  Because, it sort of looks like this outside right now, and I want to be sitting under that tree:


Yes, after more rainy days than we've gotten in the past few years (though, we needed it!), it's finally been consistently sunny and gorgeous for the last week or so--while, ironically, I've been longingly gazing out the window and being stuck inside for work.  When the weather is this good (think not-to-hot days and mild, jacket-less nights), I start hankering after more and more spring and summer fruits and vegetables and constantly finding every opportunity and free minute to hang out at farmers' markets.  Hence, today I bring you my ideal farmers' market meal: a caramelized onion, goat cheese, and heirloom tomato buckwheat thyme quiche/tart finished off with a lemon curd cream and strawberry pavlova.  Oh spring/summer, how I adore thee.

I call this tart a tart/quiche, because it's really a tart but with a layer of egg on top to hold everything together.  There's a healthy handful of fresh thyme baked into the buckwheat crust, which makes a super-flavorful base for the tart/quiche (quirt? tarche? tuiche?).  Then, there's a thick layer of caramelized red and sweet yellow onions sitting on the bottom, topped off with a lighter layer of creamy egg, thick yogurt, and goat cheese.  I also love these mini heirloom tomatoes on the tart, which impart tiny little bursts of fresh and juicy flavor to the deep and dark onions sitting underneath.  Pair with a spicy arugula salad for extra om nom nom.

For dessert: lemon curd cream pavlova with fresh organic strawberries.  Though I've learned that pavlova is probably one of the hardest desserts to make look pretty on film, I've also learned that it is one of the best, lightest desserts for the springtime.  Those Australians/New Zealanders (or whoever invented it first) were geniuses.

 Though the highlight of this dessert was supposed to be the sweet and tiny organic strawberries lightly macerated in vanilla sugar and lemon juice, I have to say--and everyone who had this dessert agreed-- that the lemon curd cream stole the show.  I'm going to the record for this: if you haven't had lemon curd cream, you haven't lived at all. And I will swear by that.  The concept is super simple, just tart lemon curd folded into sweet whipped cream, but sometimes, the simplest things are just the best.  I literally ate it by the spoonful out of the bowl, and I didn't have a spoon large enough.  Top the crunchy-outside, soft-inside pavlova meringue with the lemon curd cream and fresh strawberries, and you have a gorgeous-springtime-weather-worthy dessert.

Okay, I'm off to find some excuse to enjoy more of this gorgeous weather!  Too bad there's no more of this lemon curd cream sitting in the fridge....

Read on for recipes...