Monthly Archives: December 2009

and we’re off. . . again

we’re off to hong kong and a few other asian countries!

i’m hoping to get my hands on a steamy hot bowl of congee the moment i land.

happy holidays to all!

sesame shrimp

i made sesame shrimp for thanksgiving and my mom even asked me for the recipe.   you can prep them in advance and freeze them for up to a month.  just drop them into some hot oil when your guests arrive and you’ll have some happy stomachs.

Sesame Shrimp
(serves 5 to 6 people family style; adapted from Cecilia Chang’s The Seventh Daughter)

Large shrimp 1 lb, shelled and deveined with tails attached
Flour 1 ½ cups
Sesame seeds 2 cups white sesame; ½ cup black sesame
Sesame oil 1 tsp
Rice Wine 3 tbsp
Eggs 2 large ones
Cornstarch ½ cup
Baking Soda 1 tsp
Canola Oil ½ cup, plus enough for deep frying
Water 1 cup
  1. Wash and dry shrimp.  Using a knife, cut down the back of each shrimp, leaving the tail attached.
  2. Put 1 cup of flour in a bowl.  Put sesame seeds in a separate bowl.  Set aside.
  3. In a third bowl, mix together sesame oil, wine, eggs, cornstarch, baking soda, 1/2 cup of canola oil, water, and remaining 1/2 cup flour.  This is your batter.
  4. Dip each piece of shrimp in the flour first, then the batter (from step 3), and finally the sesame.
  5. The coated shrimps at this point can either be frozen (by separating each layer of shrimp with parchment paper or plastic) until ready to fry, or fried immediately.
  6. To fry, heat a saucepan filled half-way with canola oil until it reached 360ºF.  Put 1 shrimp in first to test and then work with a batch of 2 to 3 at a time.  The shrimps are cooked when crispy and deep brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. I served the shrimp with a spicy mayo sauce.

dashi-maki tamago with nori (rolled omelette, 出し巻き卵 )

making dashi-maki tamago is quite a bit like constructing crepe cakes.  you work slowly with each paper thin layer. and with patience and a little bit of practice, you can end up with a plate of rolled up eggs that are quite dramatic to look at and fun to eat.

for thanksgiving, i made a great big plate of tamago rolls. i needed something that could be made in advance, served cold and easily stored until plating.  you do need some special equipment — a rectangular frying pan with a curved lip on one end and a sushi mat.  i bought one in my local sunrise mart for about US$12.  i tried making tamago in a round frying pan, but it really doesn’t work as well.

i got my recipe for dashi-maki tamago from the venerable shizuo tsuji’s japanese cooking: a simple art. i found the resulting omelet to be a bit lacking in flavour (either that or my taste buds have become de-sensitized) and have adjusted the recipe by the addition of sugar.

Dashi-Maki Tamago
(makes 2 rolls about 8 inches in length and 1.5 inches in diameter)

Eggs 8 large ones
Dashi or chicken stock 2/3 to ¾ cup
Salt ½ tsp
Mirin 1 tbsp
Sugar 1.5 tbsp
Soy Sauce 1 tbsp
Nori 6 sheets cut in half to approximately fit the rectangular tamago pan
Vegetable Oil A few tbsps
  1. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, dashi, salt, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce until just combined.  The mixture should not be frothy. (Depending on the type of sugar used, you may want to dissolve the sugar in a little bit of warm broth/dashi).
  2. Divide mixture in half.  One half will be used to make one rolled omelette.
  3. Heat the tamago pan over medium heat.  Lightly wipe the pan with cloth moistened with oil.  Test to see if pan is hot enough by putting a dab of egg mixture into the pan.  It should sizzle.
  4. When the pan is ready, pour 1/3 of egg mixture (from the half portion that had been set aside) in the pan.  Shift the pan around so that the egg mixture is spread evenly.  Add a piece of nori on top of the uncooked egg.  When the egg is about 70% cooked, use chopsticks or a spatula to roll the egg towards one end of the pan. Leave the egg in the pan.
  5. Pour in another 1/3 of the egg mixture.  Briefly lift the 1st egg roll up to allow the new egg mixture underneath the cooked portion of the roll.  Then add a piece of nori on top of the uncooked egg again.  Repeat with final 1/3 of egg mixture.
  6. When the omelette roll is completed, remove it from the pan and wrap it in a bamboo sushi mat.  Press the egg gently to shape it.  A small amount of broth-like liquid should be secreted from the roll.  If there’s no liquid, the omelette has been overcooked.
  7. Slice the roll into 2-3 inchs long cylinders to serve.

a pink birthday cake

here’s the the pink cake i made for R’s birthday still on its work mat.  it did make it to its final destination in one piece!  then again, husband only had to carry it for a few blocks northwest, and it was nicely sheltered in a cardboard box. we were stopped a few times while walking there by curious bystanders.  everyone likes to look at cake, i guess.

i forgot to take a picture of a cake vivisection.  underneath the pink fondant wrapping, i had baked a matcha cake with a lychee cream filling dotted with raspberries and frosted with matcha italian meringue buttercream.  i think the lychee cream and raspberry filling was everyone’s favorite at the party.

i took the opportunity to experiment a bit with the cake.  i actually made the matcha cake using two different cake bases:  i based one matcha cake off of rose levy berenbaum’s golden dream wedding cake recipe (from rose’s heavenly cakes) and the other off of dorie greenspan’s perfect party cake recipe (from her book baking from my home to yours). i adapted each cake to a matcha taste by leaving out the lemon flavoring where called for and substituting for a very generous tablespoon of matcha powder.  in comparing the two cakes, i felt that dorie’s perfect party cake served as a better canvas for the matcha flavoring.  it also had a much tighter crumb structure, which made it easier (for my butterfingers, at least) to work with than rose’s version.  rose’s golden dream wedding cake incorporates almond flour in addition to regular flour, resulting in a richer and nuttier cake.

Pink Birthday Cake
(for a two tier cake consisting of a nine-inch bottom and a six-inch top)

  • 1.5 x recipe fondant.  Colour 1 recipe fondant with the scantest amount of red food colouring to turn it pink.  Leave aside a 1/2 recipe of the fondant white to make the flowers.  The flowers should be made at least 2 days in advance so that they have time to thoroughly dry.  To make the flowers, roll the fondant out until it is about 1/8 inch thick.  Stamp out the flowers using a cookie cutter and then dry at room temperature in half tubes so that they have some texture.
  • 3 x recipe dorie’s perfect party cake baked in 2 nine-inch rounds and 2 six-inch rounds.  Leave out the lemon flavorings and add in 1 generous tbsp of matcha powder
  • 1 x recipe italian meringue butter cream. Leave out chocolate from recipe entirely and add in 2 tbsp of matcha powder at the very end of the process.
  • 1 x recipe lychee cream. Leave out jackfruit and lemon zest.  Use juice from 1/2 lemon only.  Take 2 cans of lychees, drain them, and grind in a food processor until it becomes puree.  Add lychee puree into step 2 of recipe.
  • 1 pint raspberries
  • Simple syrup.  Boil 1/2 cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of water until well-dissolved.

To assemble:

  1. Level all cakes with a serrated knife to make sure you have a flat surface. (I made a 2 layer cake but you can also cut the cakes in half to make additional layers.)
  2. Dab a bit of buttercream on a nine-inch cardboard round.  Place the first layer of cake on top of the cardboard.  The buttercream will help preventing the cake from sliding around.
  3. Brush simple syrup on top of the cake.
  4. Pipe a ring of matcha buttercream around the edge of the cake.
  5. Spoon in about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of lychee cream within the buttercream ring, using an offset spatula to make sure it is evenly spread. Scatter raspberries on top of the lychee cream.
  6. Brush simple syrup on the interior end of the second piece of cake and place on top lychee cream.  (The end with the simple syrup should be touching the lychee cream.
  7. Frost (crumb coat) with buttercream, ensuring a clean smooth finish.  After you’re done frosting the cakes, put them back into the refrigerator to let the buttercream set.
  8. When the buttercream has set, the cakes can be covered with fondant and then decorated to your heart’s delight.  I covered mine with white fondant flowers, which I affixed to the cake using cookie icing.
  9. To tier the cakes, I used Rose’s method of pushing plastic straws into the bottom layer of the cake for structure. Wooden dowels work as well, especially for larger, heavier cakes.

making peace with fondant

my friend R’s birthday is coming up.  it’s the X anniversary of either her 21st or 25th birthday. she’s hosting a PINK party.  to help her celebrate the occasion, i decided to make her a two-tier pink fondant cake covered with one hundred white flowers.

now, i have a love-hate relationship with fondant: love the way it looks, hate the way it tastes.  i don’t think i’ll ever learn to like eating fondant (it’s way too sweet). But, it really is an excellent substance for preserving the moistness of cake while you’re decorating, and it’s arguably easier to transport than a buttercream iced cake.  so there you have it.  girl who hates eating fondant, making fondant.

there are all sorts of places that sell ready-made fondant.  it’s not cheap!  a small little package enough to cover a 8  x 2 inch  round cake goes for $7.  plus, i don’t trust it.  the stuff looks like its been sitting around for longer than a twinkie.  even if you don’t eat fondant, do you really want shelf-stable fondant anywhere near your food?

fondant is easy enough to make.  you just have to remember to make it a few days in advance.  it needs time to relax and set.  you also have to get your hands on some glycerine and corn syrup OR glucose.   sur la table carries glycerine.  you can find glucose at ny cake but corn syrup works just as well.  i swear they used to carry it at my local whole foods but suddenly it just disappeared.  i guess john mackey or someone close to his philosophy had a heart attack when they saw that very processed food product there. the rest of the ingredients in fondant are fairly common.

Colette’s Rolled Fondant
(enough to cover 1 nine-inch cake or 2 six-inch cakes)

Gelatin 1 tbsp
Cold Water 60g
Glucose or Corn Syrup 170g
Glycerine 1 ½ tbsp
Powdered Sugar 900 g (you likely will not need all of it)
  1. Mix gelatin with cold water.  Let stand for 5 minutes.
  2. While waiting for gelatin to dissolve, measure out the glucose and glycerine.  The way to do so is to pour the glucose and glycerine into a piece of plastic wrap set a top of a bowl.  You can then just pick up the plastic, cut open the bottom and squeeze the glucose out of the plastic wrap.
  3. Set the bowl of your stand mixer over a water bath, and add the gelatin into the bowl. Stir the gelatin around and allow it to warm up.  Do not let it boil, as it will really smell.   The gelatin is at the right temperature when it feels just warm to the touch.
  4. Add in the glucose and glycerine, and stir around.
  5. Take the bowl off the heat and fit it into the stand mixer with the paddle attachment on the lowest speed.
  6. Start adding in about 2/3 of the powdered sugar.
  7. The stand mixer will only get you so far.  When you start noticing that the mixture isn’t getting any better combined, transfer the fondant onto a clean surface dusted with powdered sugar.
  8. Continue to knead the fondant by hand, slowly adding in more powdered sugar to reduce the stickiness of the fondant. Depending on the humidity of your area, you may not need all the powdered sugar.  I usually use around 750g of powdered sugar, rather than all 900g.
  9. The fondant is ready when it’s soft to the touch and elastic,  but not sticky.  Wrap the fondant in plastic and let it rest at room temperature for 1-2 days before using.

a very berry jam square

the final leg of my rain saturday cookie-a-thon involved making these jam squares.  flo discloses in her book that she had admired these creations at a local coffee shop for a long time and when the baker, susie block, was getting ready to move to the midwest, she gathered up the courage to ask for the recipe.  and i’m sure glad she did!  my husband loves these jam squares. he ever so quietly popped four down the gullet before i even noticed.  they are fruity, rustic and crunchy — all at the same time.

once you get the pastry dough down, the recipe is highly adaptable. however, the recipe is really only as good as the jam that you use.  i still have a ton of earl grey blackberry jam that i made earlier this summer, and decided to pop that into the recipe. you really want to use a jam that has got more fruit than it has water / gelatin content.  the latter, once melted in the oven, would just turn the pastry dough soggy.

i decided that these were sturdy enough for shipping, and individually packaged them up in cellophane sleeves for my xmas cookie bundle.  they kinda look nicer once they’re separated into 2 inch small squares!

Very Berry Jam Square
(adapted from Flo Braker and Susie Block.  Makes about 24 squares)

Butter 2 sticks (225g)
Sugar 275g (amount decreased from the original recipe)
Eggs 2 large ones
Vanilla Extract 1 tsp
Flour 300g
Salt ½ tsp
Pecans 85g, chopped in a food processor (you can use any kind of chopped nuts. it doesn’t have to be pecans)
Jam 280g (about 1 cup) (you can use any kind of jam.  i used a blackberry earl grey jam)
  1. Line a 9x13x2 inch pan with foil. Leave about a 2 inch overhang on the short ends.
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar using the paddle attachment until light and creamy.
  3. Add in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.  Beat until smooth. Stop the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
  4. On the lowest speed, add in the flour and salt. Mix until a dough forms.
  5. Divide the dough into 2 portions: one about 400g and the other 470g.
  6. Wrap the 400g portion in plastic and let it rest in the refrigerator.
  7. Take the 470g piece of dough and fit it into the bottom of a 9x13x2 inch pan.  The easiest way to do so is to use a soda can (wrapped in plastic) to roll the dough slowly out into a thin layer to cover the bottom of the pan.  You can also use your fingers to spread the dough around the bottom of the pan.
  8. Sprinkle the pecans evenly across the top of the dough, then spread the jam on top of the pecans using an offset spatula.  Some of the pecans and jam will intersperse together.  But it will all taste great, so don’t worry about keeping the two apart.
  9. Split the 400g piece of dough (that had been resting in the refrigerator) into 8 equal pieces.  On a well floured surface, roll each piece into a rope that is about 12 inches in length.  Fit these pieces of rope in a diagonal criss-crossing fashion across the top of the jam. You’re aiming to make a lattice window frame with the dough ropes, and should be able to see some of the jam and nuts through the “windows”
  10. Bake at 350ºF for around 40-45 minutes.  The jam should be set, and the tops and bottom of the jam squares will be golden brown.
  11. When the pan has completely cooled, carefully take the large jam square out of pan by lifting it out using the foil and a spatula.  Peel off the foil and discard.
  12. Cut into 2-inch squares using a serrated knife.
  13. To store, stack the cookies using layers of parchment paper to separate.  They should keep at room temperature for 3 days in an airtight container.

espresso shortbread cookies

part of my rainy saturday cookie-a-thon included making these espresso cookies adapted from flo, of course.  they are really easy to make and with a little bit of ground up stumptown espresso beans, delicious in the mouth as well.  that said, in a future iteration, i’d probably throw some chocolate into the mix for added depth.

note: flo’s original recipe advocated baking the dough in a 8×2 inch pan and then cutting the baked dough into 12 shortbread bars.  i’m a fan of smaller nibbles and decided to make about 5 dozen petite cookies instead.

Espresso Shortbread Cookies
(makes about 5 dozen cookies using a 1 inch diameter cookie cutter; adapted from Flo Braker)

Flour 255g
Salt ½ tsp
Butter 225g (2 sticks)
Sugar 120g
Finely ground espresso coffee 2 tsp (I used Stumptown’s Ethiopia Mordecofe)
Vanilla extract 1 tsp
  1. Beat butter in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment until the butter is light and creamy.
  2. Add the sugar and ground coffee and continue to beat until the mixture becomes fluffy and light.
  3. Add in the vanilla and mix till incorporated (15 seconds).
  4. On the lowest speed, add in the flour mixture and mix until a dough forms.  Do not overmix.
  5. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
  6. On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick.  Use a cookie cutter to form shapes in the cookie dough.
  7. Transfer the cut-out cookie dough onto a parchment lined baking pan.  Bake at 350ºF for 12-15 minutes.  The cookies will no longer be shiny when they are done.
  8. The cookies can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for about 1-2 weeks.

flo’s mexican wedding cookies

it was cold this weekend, and wet, and it snowed.  i decided to stay cooped up at home and bake…well…a lot of cookies from flo’s book.  the first cookies i made were these surprisingly simple to make mexican wedding cookies shaped into crescent moons.  they came out really well with very minimal effort.  they taste quite a bit like the velvety and crumbly russian tea cookies i made in cooking school with the benefit that one doesn’t have to be quite as careful not to overmix them.

i’m about to head over to the post office to mail out the cookies i made this weekend.   hopefully they don’t arrive at due destination as a pile of crumbs!

Mexican Wedding Cookies
(Makes 4-5 dozen; adapted and simplified)

Flour 255g
Salt ¼ tsp
Powdered Sugar 70g + more for dusting
Pecans 115g
Butter 2 sticks (225g)
Vanilla Extract 1 tsp
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until it is light and fluffy.
  2. Pulse together powdered sugar and pecans in a food processor until finely ground.
  3. With the stand mixer set at its lowest speed, add in the sugar/pecan mixture to the butter, then add the vanilla, and finally the flour and salt until all ingredients are combined.  You may need to intermittently stop the food processor and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to help things along.  Do not overmix.  The dough will be quite soft, almost like mashed potatoes.
  4. You can make the cookies into any shape you’d like:  cutouts, slice and bake, crescents or thumbprints.  I chose to make crescents.  To do so, measure about 15g of dough (~2tsp) and roll it into a ball.  Then shape the ball into a short rope about 2 inches in length with slightly tapered ends.  Bend the rope into a moon shape and place on a parchment covered baking sheet.  The cookies don’t spread very much and can be placed about 1/2 inch apart.
  5. Bake the cookies at 325ºF for about 12-15 minutes.  The bottom of the cookies will be a light golden brown.
  6. Dust the cookies with powdered sugar when you take them out of the oven.  You can dust them directly in the pan or transfer them to a cooling rack first.  The heat from the cookies well help the sugar adhere to the cookies.

dim summin’ at yauatcha

whenever i go to london, i find myself eating a lot of asian food (hakkasan, bar shu, pathara thai, chachamoon, four seasons). it’s been my working hypothesis that asian food is prepared with a lot more care and dignity in london than new york city.  most recently, my mom visited london with me, and to test out my hypothesis, i dragged her to some of my favorite asian restaurants in london.  she concurred with my general hypothesis. in particular, she absolutely raved about yauatcha.  being someone who generally esteems “value” above all other things, i was rather surprised that she loved yauatcha.  at around £4-£10 for a small plate of dim sum, my mom remarked that the prices at yauatcha were on average 5x the typical chinatown dim sum menu item.  there is, however, no comparison between the two in terms of quality, creativity and ambiance — and even she walked away from lunch thinking that the dim sum was something really special and well worth the price.

we ordered a smattering from the extensive dim sum menu. from those,  our favorites were the winter melon dumplings shaped into carrots  and the shrimp toast (top 2 pictures).

as a side note, yauatcha used to feature a pastry counter filled with amazing petit fours and exotic macaron flavors.  during my latest visit, the pastry counter seems to have been converted into a tea utensil and chocolate shoppe.  i asked the hostess about this and she didn’t really provide a reason for the conversion.  she did say that the desserts are still available to be ordered from the menu.  assuming that the quality of the desserts is still consistent, the dessert menu is worth a gander as well.  there’s a mango pudding i tasted on a prior visit, which is really quite well executed.

15-17 Broadwick Street
Soho, London, W1F 0DL
Tel: 020 7494 8888
Mon – Sat: 12pm – 11.45pm
Sun: 12pm – 10.30pm

the jetsetter cookie: crispy anzac biscuits

i think i may have found my new favorite cookie (or should i say biscuits as they hail from down under)!  crispy, crunchy, fragrant … flo says these anzac biscuits were invented during WWI by housewives to send to australian and new zealand soldiers fighing in the trenches. the housewives used golden syrup to bind the cookies biscuits together as eggs were in short supply during the war.  the cookies biscuits were also designed to survive a long journey — it’s actually quite a bit like a granola bar cookie, if i do say so myself!  i think i might just send a few to my friends in different parts of the country for christmas…as they travel well!

i came across a few other anzac biscuit recipes and will be testing them out in a bit.  for now, i’ve got quite a big jar of flo’s anzacs to work through.

Crispy ANZAC Cookies Biscuits
(~4 dozen cookies; adapted from flo braker’s Baking for All Occasions with a few modifications)

AP Flour 195g
Sugar 280g
Unsweetened Shredded Dried Coconut 130g
Rolled Oats 130g
Baking Soda 1 tsp
Lemon Zest 1 tsp
Dried Cranberries ½ cup
Dried Currants ½ cup
Butter 190g
Lyle’s Golden Syrup or Honey 90g
Hot Water 3 tbsp
  1. Mix together flour, sugar, coconut, oats, baking soda, lemon zest, cranberries and currants in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment on low speed.
  2. Melt butter in a saucepan.  Take it off the heat and then add in golden syrup and water, stirring until even.  (here’s a trick for measuring out the golden syrup or honey:  line your measuring bowl with plastic and pour the syrup into the plastic lining.  to add the syrup into the mix, just gather up the ends of the plastic, cut a small hole on the bottom and squeeze the syrup through.  this way you won’t leave 30% of the syrup in the measuring container).
  3. Add the liquids into the flour mixture and combine with the paddle attachment set to low speed.
  4. The resulting cookie dough is very crumbly.  Use a tablespoon to scoop out the dough and squeeze it tightly into a ball. Set the ball on a parchment lined baking sheet.   Then slightly flatten the ball with the palm of your hand.   The cookies can be placed about 1 inch apart from each other.  They spread but not too much.
  5. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown and then cool on a rack.