Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Bamboo Flower Wedding

July has been a quiet month on desserts for breakfast, but that doesn't mean it's been a quiet month in the kitchen! Quite the opposite--a whole week of mid-July was pretty much dedicated to churning out a set of wedding cakes! We had three stand mixers going, four pairs of hands in the kitchen, and went through mountains of butter and eggs, a Costco-sized bag of flour, and a whole lotta sugar.... whew!

It's been a while since I last made a wedding cake, and now I remember full well why: because the recovery from attempting such a project in a small, non-commercial kitchen is almost as exhausting as making the cake itself. My dish rack is still piled with spatulas, mixing bowls, and piping tips that I have yet to get around to putting away. But, recovery is coming slowly, and even as I type, there's a sweet something chilling in the fridge that I'll hopefully get to share on the blog soon.

I have to say that my favorite part of making a wedding cake is crafting the sugar flowers and decorating the final pieces. For this wedding, Helen and Evan--the bride and groom, and incidentally, my cousin and cousin-in-law!--had gotten married in Hawai'i a month ago and were having a separate reception here in San Francisco for extended family and friends. So for the reception decor, they wanted to tie in the tropical and Asian themes that were present at their wedding in Hawai'i: lush florals, bamboo accents, orchids, and a rustic, laid-back charm. So instead of one gigantic cake, I went for many cakes of different sizes to give the table a more casual feel. I decided to make a combination of royal and richly-colored peonies to emphasize the Asian feel, with punches of light green cymbidium orchids and hand-painted bamboo on the cakes for a uniting theme. I adore how the sugar flowers came out, even though each petal was cut, shaped, glued, painted, and glazed by hand so that every flower would be unique, like real peonies--*that* took forever.

Oh--and each cake was a different flavor: chocolate, passionfruit, raspberry-mocha, and macadamia nut mocha crunch.

I hesitated for the longest time about posting about this wedding, mainly because I hated the way the photos came out (I'm no wedding photographer!). But every now and then, I have to remind myself that this blog is ultimately a journal, and life, though sweet, isn't always perfectly placed all the time! This wedding cake is something I'll want to reminisce about ten years down the road, so of course it deserves a place on the blog. :)

A huge thanks to my best friend, Jessica, who pulled all-nighters with me to finish these cakes! and thanks to my parents who helped me transport them and clean up the disaster that was my kitchen afterwards. And, of course, a big congratulations to Helen and Evan! May you live long and prosper happily.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Peach Frozen Yogurt and Basil Snickerdoodle Sandwiches

Oh boy oh boy, is it wonderful to have a working freezer and refrigerator again! I've forgotten what it's like to not have all of your popsicles melt into a sugary, sticky mess in your freezer--though it was nice that my ice cream would come out of the freezer immediately soft and ready for scooping. :) Ever since I noticed that my freezer was on its last legs a few months ago (or more than a few months ago--I did spend several months in denial), I've been building up a list of "to-do"s once I had a working freezer again: (1) make ice cream; (2) make ice cream from the Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home book; (3) make peach-flavored ice cream. (See a theme here?) And now: check, check, and check!

I have been on such a seriously crazy peach kick lately. (Every other one of my tweets is about peaches!) The peach-lusting started long before actual peach season hit. It was May when I started having a mad craving for peach ice cream. And now that it's full blown peach season, I've been inhaling at least four or five of them per day. (granted, it's usually the small white donut/galaxy peaches, so four or five isn't *that* much! *smiles innocently*)

So of course my first ice cream out of the new freezer had to be peach flavored, and I opted in particular for a summery yellow peach frozen yogurt, with tiny bits of pureed peaches floating inside the tart Greek yogurt creaminess. Peach yogurt is something I learned to love when I was little from my cousin, whose favorite yogurt flavor at the time was peach (I was a vanilla yogurt kid). She would always request peach yogurt whenever my dad went grocery shopping. After she left for college, I switched from vanilla to peach as my go-to yogurt flavor-of-choice, partly out of wanting to be like my cool older cousin and partly out of missing having her around. While I still do very much like vanilla yogurt, I have to say that my cousin had it right all along: the sweet chunkiness of peach is just so perfect next to the tang of yogurt.

Then in the bizarre way that my mind seems to work, I got obsessed with this idea of basil and cinnamon with the peach frozen yogurt. I know that it sounds quite odd, but trust me: these basil snickerdoodle and peach froyo sandwiches are really pitch-perfect flavor-wise. As my friend Toni (one of the unofficial dfb taste testers) put it when she ate one, these froyo sandwiches pack so much flavor and taste into one bite: sweetness from the peaches, sugary spice from the cinnamon, tart from the yogurt, a wee hint of salt from the cookie, and a bright burst of freshness from the basil, all creamy and sandwiched between two soft and chewy snickerdoodle cookies. It's like a summer party in your mouth. ;)

[click on photo below for a larger image]

P.S. The Jeni's frozen yogurt recipe--like her ice cream recipes--is unconventional, but I'm really quite pleased with the results. The tapioca starch-thickened base really helped produce a super creamy frozen yogurt that isn't crumbly or hard, like most homemade froyos. You can find tapioca starch (also know by some companies as "tapioca flour") at well-stocked grocery stores or Asian supermarkets. I would recommend seeking out tapioca starch instead of corn starch (which she mentions in her book) because, as other dessert makers have informed me, corn starch leaves a odd after-texture.

Read on for recipe....

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Coconut Chocolate Cake with Raspberries

I know I've been more absent from the blog these days than I really should be, but Real Life (TM) has been happening, keeping me off the online world--even off Twitter and Instagram and facebook, which, in all honesty, is quite refreshing. It's been a lesson in remembering how to experience life and how to find joy and emotions in the world and in our actions without the pressures of reporting all the gory details online. Though it's a bit of a work-in-progress, I think this re-connection to the Real World is necessary every now and then to keep myself grounded.

In the past few weeks, as Online Life keeps speeding along without me, I celebrated my last mid-20s birthday. (Next year, I officially enter my "Late 20s," which is terrifying, given all that I haven't yet accomplished!) On my birthday, we had a wonderful dinner with a few of my closest friends at my favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant, replete with creamy gnocchi pesto, my favorite lobster and shrimp risotto, and housemade, sweet limoncello (highlights amongst numerous other delicious dishes). Then, a few days later, more close friends gathered at a big backyard BBQ to continue the celebration. All being foodies (though many not of the blog world), the BBQ was packed with chipotle BBQ cherry pizzas, grilled chicken and portabello mushrooms with chimichurri, buffalo grilled shrimp with blue cheese dip, garlic soy chicken wings, fennel lychee spring rolls, olallieberries and raspberries and melon and prosciutto, virgin and non-virgin margaritas, Dynamo Donuts, grilled corn with lime and paprika, sesame fried mochi and mochi cupcakes, so many types of whole grain salads, and more and more to stuff one's face and stomach with. But more importantly than the bounties of food was the realization when we went around introducing one another that every single one of my friends is so uniquely cool, and that I'm blessed to be surrounded by some of the most creative, kind, hilarious, talented, smart, and amazing people one could imagine.

(There were many photographers at the party, but Jackie, I think, was the unofficial Photographer of the Day: see her view of the BBQ here. I barely took a single picture, since my hands were alternately covered with either pizza flour and dough or buffalo sauce for the whole afternoon.)

For the rest of the past few weeks, between work and work, there was also that weird July 4th that happened smack dab in the middle of the week. Then, I finally got a new refrigerator to replace my poor old dying contraption that kept melting all of my popsicles and ice cream for the past few months--a special thank you to my parents for that! Of course, the first thing I put in there was my ice cream maker, so hopefully there will finally be proper homemade ice cream/gelato/sorbet cranking out of the desserts for breakfast kitchen soon. :) The big fridge move/clean-out also coincided with helping one of my good friends in the area with her big move and packing, so it's been a lot of lifting and taping and cardboard and bubble wrap for me in the last few days!

And at last this stream-of-consciousness blog post brings me to this coconut chocolate cake with raspberries, which I actually made quite a few weeks ago. Ever since my first tango with the raspberry+coconut combo in April, I've been obsessed with this ingredient pairing. This cake is no different: it's so good that I'm actually quite upset that it's been upstaged by the photographic/pedagogical purpose I used it for, but I can tell you that I made this cake four times for the photography styles study, and I still can't get enough of it! The cake layers are dense and moist with a refreshingly coconut-y flavor and wrapped in a creamy and dark coat of my favorite chocolate ganache frosting. The fresh raspberries lend the rich cake a lightly sharp fruitiness and a little bit of tart against the chocolate and coconut underneath. It's a cake that's dramatic enough for a special occasion but also simple and humble enough to sneak in for afternoon tea. :)

[click on photo above for a larger image]

P.S. Don't miss a few interviews about sated magazine on Foodie Bugle and BlogHer Food!

Read on for recipe....