Friday, July 30, 2010

A Blue and Gold California Wedding

I've been so mired up in scrambling for a big deadline in my day job this past week that my head is quite literally spinning, and I haven't given a single thought to food at all.  But, now that we finally have a draft of our submission, I can at last take some time to blog about the wedding that I did way back at the beginning of July!

Because of the growing demands of my day job, I haven't been actively seeking out dessert orders this wedding season, but when my friend M. asked me to make the wedding cake and cupcakes for her wedding, I just couldn't say no!  It was even more fitting, too, because M. and her groom, S., went to UCLA for college and planned to have a blue-and-gold, California-themed wedding, which was so. right. down. my. alley.  (Go Bears!)

The wedding was so much fun--so much so that I didn't actually get any pictures of it, save the cake!  It was a morning wedding, and M. had sewn all of these beautiful picnic blankets so that everyone could picnic on the grass under the sun for brunch.  For the cake, I wanted to reflect the California rustic theme of the wedding, with the baby blues, golden yellows, and creams.  M. and S. knew that they absolutely did not want fondant (I concur!), so I went with a rustic buttercream exterior, which complimented the laid-back summertime feel of the wedding.  Then, I made three dahlia sugar flowers because all of the flowers at the wedding were to be in-season, organic, California-grown flowers, and dahlias were indeed in season!  Finally, the cream ribbon wrapping the cake was a bit of inspiration from M.'s wedding dress, which was super cute, with a cream sash around the waist, held by a bright, baby-blue brooch.

As for the flavor of the cake, M. and S. presented me with a bit of a challenge that took me a while of deep thinking to solve.  They wanted chocolate--lots of rich, dark chocolate.  And mint.  Nothing else--no fruit, just chocolate and mint.  Finally, I decided on a black cocoa chocolate cake--as dark as you can get--flavored with Bailey's liqueur and layered with fresh mint-infused dark chocolate ganache and vanilla Italian meringue buttercream.  The fresh mint and dark chocolate went together beautifully and worked wonders for a hot summertime day!  I'm so glad I went with the fresh (home-grown, may I add) mint instead of peppermint!  The cupcake flavors were much simpler: chocolate and vanilla cake bases, with chocolate-cream cheese frosting and vanilla buttercream.

One final congratulations to M. and S. for their marriage!  Thank you so much for letting me make your cake and be a part of your special day!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Olallieberry Extra Dark Mocha Cupcakes with Candied Cacao Nibs

Olallieberries are back!  And I am so excited, because I have a few more pounds of them sitting in my freezer right now, undergoing the deep freeze so that I can still enjoy berry goodness in the dreary days of winter.  If you can score massive quantities of excellent organic berries right now at your local farmers' markets, I would highly recommend getting a few flats and freezing them for later use--they hold up excellently in their frozen states and are a great treat come barren and grey January!

Anyways, with organic olallieberries burning a metaphorical hole in my freezer's pocket, I've been itching to make *something* with them for quite some time now but hadn't yet had the right occasion or recipe to do so... until this little cupcake popped into my head: olallieberry extra dark mocha cupcakes with candied cacao nibs.

The idea all started with a strong urge to make olallieberry Italian meringue buttercream.  The raspberry-lime buttercream that I made for my birthday cake was such a resounding success that I thought the sweetness of the olallieberry would balance really well with the creaminess of buttercream, too.  For the accompanying cupcake, I went for something more broody and sophisticated: black cocoa cake, laced with the roasted bitterness of espresso that is just barely perceptible in the flavor but makes the cake really, truly, and robustly deep and dark--a perfect accompaniment to the fresh berry puree in the frosting.  Instead of the customary sprinkles to top off the cupcake, I made candied cacao nibs and crushed them.  The candied cacao nibs provided a great crunch and nuttiness to the overall cupcake, and they're far tastier than sprinkles!

I made these for a doctor and some of the medical staff that I see often as a thank you, and I really hope they enjoyed them.  Having grown up around doctors and nurses and hospitals (my mom's a surgical nurse), I've always associated medical personnel with coffee because I was constantly seeing them guzzle so much of the stuff!  A huge part of making desserts for me is tailoring the perfect flavors and ingredients to the perfect people to enjoy them, so I hope that the combination of coffee, chocolate, and olallieberry here really hit the spot this time around--those people who take care of me every few months definitely deserve it.  (Oh boy, now my mom's office is going to be jealous that they didn't get any...! o.O)

Speaking of which, make sure you take the time to appreciate the dedicated doctors, nurses, and med staff that you have, too!  Bake them cupcakes.  ;-P

Read on for recipe...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

OT: Fish are (photogenic) friends, not food.

[Caveat: there's no food in this post!]
["Just keep swimming"]

As a food photographer, it's sometimes nice to remind myself that there's a wider world out there beyond my tabletop and to take the time to point my camera at something completely new, different, and exciting.  Last week, a few of my favorite photographer friends and I tripped down to the marvelous Monterey Bay Aquarium, something we'd been intending to do for quite some time now.  It was refreshing to be shooting something completely unlike what I've been used to, but more so, it was just incredibly inspiring to see examples of the utterly amazing natural world around us.  I really wanted to share what I saw that day through my lens with you, so I hope you excuse and enjoy this one off-topic, non-food post.  To quote Finding Nemo, in this case, "Fish are friends, not food." ;-)


[Clockwise from top left: "Ghosts"; "Alight";
 "the Secret Lives of Seahorses I"; "Upwards and Onwards"]

["the Wonder-filled Connect"]

["Frenetic Float"]

["and the whole world spins around you"]

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

One more after the jump...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Apricot Pistachio Chocolate Mousse Tartlets

Last week, I promised more stone fruit, and here they are!  Apricots!  Apricots always remind me of my grandparents because when my grandpa and grandma would tend the wonderful apricot tree in our backyard, it would bear the most amazing fruit in the largest quantities you've ever seen for us.  We'd have more apricots that we could ever imagine what to do with, and my mom would futilely try to stuff the ones that we couldn't eat into our already over-packed freezer. (Yeah, apricots never taste quite as good after they've been frozen.)  Too bad that I didn't bake back then or else I would have made this: apricot pistachio chocolate mousse tartlets

There's something about the chillier nights that we've been having lately that really had me craving a dessert more substantial than a simple apricot tart (though there is absolutely nothing wrong with a simple apricot + pastry tart!).  I wanted something darker and more robust (I think this goes along with me being a very mood-oriented baker)--hence, enter the dark chocolate mousse and the layer of velvety dark chocolate painted on the bottom of each pistachio tart shell.

Years ago when I first started learning about cooking and watching the Food Network religiously, I, for some reason, came to think of mousse as this ridiculously difficult dessert to make and avoided it because of that, but in actuality, as I discovered a few years later, it's super simple, especially with chocolate mousse!  The mousse filling for this tart is adapted from a chocolate mousse recipe out of my chocolate bible, and the hardest part is just folding the cooled chocolate custard into the whipped cream--but even that is hard to screw up, I promise.  Then, the chocolate does all of the setting work in the fridge with no fuss required.

The tartlet crusts here are flavored with a hint of ground pistachio, just enough to give the crust a bite of nuttiness and earthiness.  They turn out with the faintest trace of green if you squint your eyes and look really closely for it, but I love that they aren't the bright, in-your-face-food-dyed-unnatural green pistachio you sometimes see.  Then, the rich creaminess and smoothness of the dark chocolate mousse is perfectly off-set by the almost-crispy, fresh, and mildly sweet apricot slices on top--I try to pile and stack as many of them as tightly as I can on top, because I like to have as much fruit as possible.  Finally, a sprinkling of roughly chopped and toasted pistachios hint at the flavor in the tart crust, amidst all of that fruit and dark chocolate.

My serving suggestion for this tart would be to pair it with a nice, light dinner, as summery as you could possibly go (I opted for Vietnamese spring rolls), because this tart is so rich and hearty that you'll want to save most of your stomach for it--and a dark, straight-up black tea to go along.

Read on for recipe...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

PotW: Sweet Corn Cherry Pancakes with Sour Cream

It's cherry season!  Okay, yes, I know it's been cherry season for a while and that I'm quite late to the game, but better late than never, no?

Sitting down to think about what pancakes could be made with the sweet, dark, and wonderfully juicy cherries that are gracing the farmers' markets these days, my thoughts almost immediately turned to one of my favorite cherry baked goods: corn cherry scones from Berkeley's Cheeseboard.  If you are in the area, you must make a pilgrimage to Berkeley's Cheeseboard--right across from Chez Panisse!--for their baked goods: in the morning, there are hot-out-of-the-oven corn cherry scones, chocolate things, and cheese bread and in the afternoon, there's a line out the door and down the block for their famous Cheeseboard pizza.  Recently, I took people on a tour of Berkeley, and of course we started out our day eating fresh-baked Cheeseboard bread with cups of steaming hot chocolate and tea on the sidewalk in the chilly summer morning sun.  Ah, Berkeley.

For my pancakes, I opted for fresh cherries instead of the dried ones that are studded throughout the Cheeseboard corn-cherry scones.  I also decided to add kernels of fresh-off-the-cob sweet white corn, which is also reaching the height of its season right now.  I really love the juicy, sweet, and milky kernels of corn that we get here in California, so I wanted to make full use of them while I can get them super fresh.

I have to say that I love the way these sweet corn cherry pancakes with sour cream turned out.  The cornmeal and crunchy kernels of fresh corn give these pancakes such an unexpected and fun texture, balanced out by the tart creaminess of the buttermilk in the pancakes and the sour cream on top (or creme fraiche, if you want to splurge! or have homemade lying about).  The plump cherries in each pancake also help to bring out the sweetness of the corn.  Together, the combination of corn and cherries and cream make a great, hearty plateful for a summertime breakfast, especially perfect eaten outside on a crisp and bright Bay Area summer morning.

More stone fruit to come!  I am so loving and embracing the fruits and veggies of summer!

Read on for recipe...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Raspberry-studded Lemon Creme Brulee (An Addendum)

I was frequenting one of my bookstore haunts a couple days ago when I picked up The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco and Mindy Fox, which just happened to be sitting out on a feature shelf.  It's not often that I find cookbooks that I like--I'm extremely picky when it comes to cookbooks, especially since bookshelf space is at such a huge premium in my small house.  But, upon flipping through The Craft of Baking, I found myself immediately enamored by the simple recipes that stress the use of fresh and seasonal ingredients and the encouragement in the book right from the get-go to modify the recipes at the whims of your own creativity: that's my kind of baking philosophy!

One recipe that immediately caught my eye was the lemon-raspberry creme brulee because my raspberry and lemon-lime birthday cake was still fresh in my mind.  Plus, it was the perfect way to use up some of the left over ingredients from making the cake, including some of the massive amounts of egg yolk that I have sitting in my fridge from a wedding cake last weekend (more on that in an upcoming post).  (P.S. Any and all ideas for using egg yolks now being gratefully accepted!)  Creme brulee is such a quick and lovely low-maintenance dessert, and with the lemon flavor and fresh raspberries floating in the smooth custard, I think I've found a new favorite creme brulee flavor.  That is, until the next one.  ;-P

Ack--I also just realized that this makes three raspberry recipe posts in a row!  Time for this blog to go on a massive raspberry diet.  (I say as I pop another fresh raspberry into my mouth...)

Read on for recipe...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Raspberry and Lemon-Lime Birthday: Raspberry Lemon Lime Sparkling Punch and Layer Cake

Growing up, having a summertime birthday was the saddest thing in the world because while you celebrated all of your friends' birthdays during the school year, no one was around to celebrate yours!  (and the sorriest part for me was that you couldn't bring cupcakes for your class to enjoy!)  But, since then, I've begun to embrace having a summertime birthday, namely because you're almost always guaranteed lovely weather (well, that is, unless you have June Gloom as we do here in the Bay), childhood friends are in the area visiting for the summertime, and some of my favorite flavors, flowers, vegetables, and fruits are in season, making this one foodie particularly happy.

This year for my birthday cake, I decided to take inspiration from one of my favorite childhood treats which also happens to take advantage of the fresh berries and gorgeous citruses overflowing at the farmers' markets recently: raspberry and lemon-lime sparkling punch.  This particular drink comes from my childhood piano teacher.  She used to mix up and serve this punch after every recital that we gave, and it made for a extra incentive for me to play well in the recitals so that I wouldn't have to guiltily sip my punch in a corner.  Then, she would let me take the leftover punch home in a large re-purposed mason jar!  When I got older, I was given the important task of making the punch from the ingredients she'd left out on the counter during the last few performers of each recital, which was, to me, one of the largest honors that could be bestowed.

The punch itself is a wonderfully bubbly blend of sweet and seedy pureed raspberries with tart and citrusy lemon lime.  My piano teacher used to make it with lemon lime soda, but I've re-written the recipe here to use fresh lemons, limes, and sparkling water.  The crispness of the freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice better enhances the raspberry flavor of the punch, in my opinion, though don't tell my piano teacher that I said that!  ;-P

I love this punch so much that I really wanted to capture and transform its essence into cake form for my birthday.  This lemon and raspberry-lime layer cake features layers of raspberry-studded lemon cake with raspberry-lime Italian meringue buttercream, and two different curd fillings: lemon and raspberry-lime.  The end result is a cake truly tailor-made and meant for a summertime birthday.

The raspberry-studded lemon cake layers are moist and robust, with pockets of lightly tart baked raspberries inside.  The hint of lime in the raspberry-lime buttercream and raspberry-lime curd filling comes through as a crispness to the overall cake, balancing out the sweetness of the lemon curd filling.  When stacking the layers, I alternated the lemon and raspberry-lime curds, so in each slice, you get both.  You could combine them, too, but I wanted some separation of each of the flavors for extra definition.

Overall, I was very happy with how the translation from sparkling punch to birthday cake turned out!  This cake is totally perfect for enjoying in the summer, in the warm shade away from the hot sun, under a tree or on a porch, with good company and a glass of accompanying raspberry and lemon-lime sparkling punch right next to you.  I think my piano teacher might approve.  As long as I go and practice afterwards, I think.

Happy birthday to all of you other summer babies out there, too!  :-)

Read on for punch and cake recipes...