Monday, January 28, 2008

Triple-Caramel Cupcakes

I am a baker who loves to be exploited.  As much as I love eating sweets, I would be lying if I claimed that this is the reason I love to bake.  I'm not quite sure why, but the two greatest reasons why I love to bake are: 1. Creating desserts is somehow comforting and exciting, so I do it to escape from my other life when it is being neither comfortable nor exciting.  2.  I love feeding people, knowing that they are eating something delicious, and watching them enjoy it.  These two reasons are so prominent that it seems that nowadays I rarely end up consuming more than a taste of anything that comes out of my kitchen.  And I am completely OK with that!  So when my roommate told me that she had a "job" for me, and that it involved baking something for her brother's pre-wedding party (the bridesmaids were all supposed to bring desserts), I couldn't have been more excited!  A chance to feed people I had never even met= Fun times.  
I suppose I was just aching to melt some sugar (an especially comforting activity) because I created these triple-caramel cupcakes.  The cupcake batter has a caramel syrup incorporated in it, which provides the cake with extra moisture as well as the caramel flavor.  I filled and frosted the cupcakes with a chocolate-caramel ganache, which has a slightly chewier texture than regular ganache, as well as a deep, rich caramel flavor underneath the chocolate.  And because my then double caramel cupcakes didn't look like they had any caramel in them at all, I decided to garnish with some simple hard caramel.  
For the cupcakes (adapted from recipes on

3 c sifted cake flour
1 c + 1/2 c granulated sugar
1 c milk
2/3 c butter, softened
1/2 c boiling water
2 egg whites
2 egg yolks
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 F.
To make the caramel syrup, melt 1/2 c granulated sugar in a small saucepan. Once it becomes dark amber in color, slowly add the boiling water, and stir to combine.  Cook this mixture for 1-2 minutes, and then set aside to cool.  
Cream the butter in a large mixing bowl, adding the sugar gradually and beating until fluffy.  Add the egg yolks one at a time, and then the vanilla extract, beating after each addition.  Mix in the caramel syrup once it has cooled.  
Sift the flour together with the salt and baking powder, and then add to the cake batter gradually, alternating with the milk.  
Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form and then fold into the rest of the batter.
Pour batter into lined muffin tins, filling each cup 3/4 of the way to the top.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until golden and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  
Makes about 24 regular-sized cupcakes.

For the filling/frosting:

12 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 c heavy cream
1 1/4 c sugar
4 tbsp butter

Chop the chocolate into small pieces, put in a mixing bowl, and set aside.  
Slowly heat the cream and butter together in a small saucepan.  Meanwhile, melt the sugar in another saucepan and cook until it is dark amber in color.  Slowly add the heated cream and butter to the caramel, and stir until well combined.  
Immediately pour the caramel mixture over the chopped chocolate.  Let sit for 1 or 2 minutes, and then whisk until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  
Chill in the refrigerator to set, and microwave to re-melt.  I filled the cupcakes using a pastry bag and chilled ganache.  Then I topped them by spooning melted ganache over them.  

For garnish, melt 1/4 c sugar, and then drizzle it on tin foil or parchment paper.  Once it is hardened, peel it off and arrange it on top of the cupcakes.  yummmm =)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Tres Leches and Miami

Mmm, this is what I had for breakfast this morning.  It was sweet, refreshing, and it brought back some wonderful childhood memories.  I grew up in Miami, where I often enjoyed the many Cuban pastries and sweets that were widely available in bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurants there.  My favorite thing to do when I was small was to buy a few guava pastries (pastelitos de guayaba) on a weekend morning and walk along the beach eating them.  
After I left the city to go to university, I did not return for over a year and a half, which does not seem like a very long time, but in retrospect it was the longest time I had ever been away from the town I grew up in.  I finally returned for a very short visit (just 3 days!) the week before last, and I tried to make the most of this time to do all the things I could only do in Miami.  I saw some old friends, and I enjoyed the sunrise on the beach.  However, silly me forgot about guava pastries and other Miami desserts until it was too late.  So when I got back I decided that I needed to learn how to make two of my favorite Miami desserts.  I have not done the guava pastries yet, but I will!  But I started with something equally delicious instead!

While tres leches is not a Cuban-specific cake, and is actually popular in most Latin American countries, especially Mexico, all of my exposure to it involves Cuban households and restaurants.  So even though I know I can get it here in Los Angeles if I want, I think it just wouldn't feel the same outside of Miami!  So I decided to make my own; this way I could make it the way I remembered it, and leave no room for disappointment.  I love this cake so much because even though it is incredibly sweet and rich, it is chilled and packed with liquid, so I can eat it and feel as refreshed as if I had been drinking a cold glass of milk (except that the cake tastes way better).  
I had never made this before, so I searched online for a long time for recipes, and eventually decided to use one by Emeril.  Oddly enough, when I compared them, his recipe seemed like it would produce the most effective and authentic tasting cake.  The cake had so many eggs, and no added fat, so I knew it would work well to soak up all the liquid and not fall apart.  And the topping is an Italian meringue, rather than the whipped cream so many recipes called for; I think whipped cream would be way too sweet and rich for a cake that already has so much of that.  Well, it came out beautifully and was delicious - just how I remembered it.  The only modification I really made was to double the amount of the liquid, because I like my tres leches oozing.  
So here is the recipe, adapted from Emeril Lagasse's

For the cake:
6 egg whites
6 egg yolks
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan.  
Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.  Then add the sugar gradually, while beating, until stiff peaks form.  
Add the egg yolks one by one, beating after each addition.  
Sift together the flour and baking powder, and add to the egg mixture, alternating with the milk.  Then add the vanilla extract.  Pour into the pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Using a serrated knife, cut off a very thin layer from the top of the cake, so that it will absorb the liquid better.  

For the liquid:
28 oz. evaporated milk
28 oz. sweetened condensed milk
2 cups heavy cream

Whisk all three ingredients together until well combined.  While the cake is still warm, slowly pour the liquid over it.  It will take a while for all of it to absorb, and it may seem like too much, but the cake should be able to take all of it eventually!  Once all the liquid has been poured into the cake, chill the cake for at least 4 hours (preferably overnight).

For the topping:
3 egg whites, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp water

Just before ready to serve, combine the water and sugar and a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Heat until the temperature reaches 235 - 240 F, and then remove from the heat.  Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.  Then add the syrup slowly, while beating, until stiff peaks form and the mixture is completely cooled.  Spread the topping evenly over the cake and serve.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

My Guilty Canadian Eating Pleasures

As a university student, I am currently on my winter break from school. YAY. This is a good thing, as I now have lots of time for baking. I have been staying with my parents in Canada for the past week or so, and on Monday I was supposed to fly to Florida (where I grew up) to visit all the people I grew up with and such, since I don’t go back to school until next Monday. So on Sunday, I did what I always do the day before I have to fly, and that is stay up all night packing and baking and eating and watching movies. I leave the sleeping for when I am on the plane. But this time, the plane part didn't happen - practically every flight out of the airport was cancelled due to fog.

I was disappointed and tired, but still in pretty happy since I had never seen fog + snow before, and it is a beautiful combination. When the fog lightened up, it was barely noticeable, except in the places where there was snow, and there it would seem to linger, giving the illusion that the snow was being drawn up and fading into the sky. Amazing. I was even so inspired that, when I got home, I made myself some hot, frothy, frangelico and hazelnut infused milk. Somehow, the look of the frothy milk reminded me of the snow and fog. Unfortunately, at this point my camera had run out of batteries and my parents had already left town, with the car, so I had no means of obtaining batteries or taking pictures of anything – which is why I am instead describing the beauty in such detail. (The pictures I am posting with this were taken earlier on my trip)

Even more flights were cancelled the next day, leaving me still stranded in Ottawa. But this time, I had no food and couldn’t bake anything, since I had cleaned out the fridge of anything perishable (my parents wouldn’t be back for two months). I was tired from the two days of barely any sleep, I was fed up after 4 cancelled flights, and couldn’t even understand why the last one was cancelled since I could see no fog. And I was hungry. Starving. And when I opened my fridge I would see the ketchup and the lonely jar of jam, mocking me because I had nothing to eat them with. So I said, "Screw this, I’m only in Canada for one more day; I’m going to go eat some poutine!"

Poutine is something I had never heard of before my parents moved to Canada, and when I first heard of it, I admit that I thought it sounded disgusting. But I really shouldn’t have, because it is one of the most delicious guilty food pleasures I know of! It consists of a bunch of greasy French fries covered in melty cheese curds and drenched in beef gravy. You can usually find stands (like hot dog stands) on the streets in Ottawa that sell poutine, but it is so popular that they even have places specializing in poutine in pretty much every mall food court up there.

So I walked around downtown eating poutine and stomping in the now slushy snow, and then I got some Timmy’s, which is what we call food from Tim Horton’s, a Canada specific (I think) chain that sells coffee and doughnuts. To make a comparison, I’d say that Tim Horton’s is even more popular in Canada than Starbucks is in the States. Not only are they everywhere, but at any given time you can look in any direction and see someone carrying a Timmy’s cup. No lie. And they’re popular with kids, too, because of their wonderful pastry and doughnut selection. Their chocolate doughnuts are the best tasting doughnuts I have ever had, and I am a doughnut connoisseur. But my favorite thing to get when I go is a french vanilla cappuccino and a maple pecan danish. The thing I love most about this chain is that they don’t have the fancy, expensive feel of other coffee shops, nor the cheap, tacky feel of places like Dunkin Doughnuts. To me, going to Timmy’s is comforting. Always cheap, and wonderfully delicious at the same time. There is nothing like a Timmy’s French vanilla, in which I can barely taste the coffee but know it’s there because it accentuates the vanilla with its toasty nuttiness. And the maple pecan Danish – a light, flaky pastry filled with sweet maple goodness, with toasted pecan halves on top. The combination never fails to make me smile.

So if you ever find yourself in Canada, make sure you take advantage of the popular street food and coffee shops, because you really can’t get the same thing anywhere else. I'm glad that this is what I decided to do with my extra day in Canada-land!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Raspberry and White Chocolate Pastry Flowers

I recently decided that it would be a good idea to learn how to make puff pastry.  Because of all the hype around making puff pastry, and because I was sure they must sell it pre-made in stores for a good reason, I was rather terrified to make my own.  But I thought about it, and I researched it, and I thought of all the great things I could do if I could whip up puff pastry whenever I felt like it, and I decided that I should just go ahead and attempt to make it immediately.  Coincidentally, it was already about 8 PM on New Years Eve.  So at the stroke of the new year, I was in my kitchen, happily rolling out and folding puff pastry dough!  It didn't go perfectly, but luckily all the problems I ran into were easily fixed; my first batch had melted butter leaking out, as well as considerable pastry shrinkage.  So I let the dough rest longer and I turned the oven heat up, and my second batch baked perfectly.  And now I can happily say that I have conquered puff pastry!  

Afterwards, I just had to decide what to do with all my pastries...  Well, I had a ton of raspberries in my freezer, and I was out of raspberry jam anyways, so I made some jam and filled the pastries with it.  I thought they needed a touch of something sweeter than the jam, so I made a white chocolate ganache and piped it all over them.  mmm.  Sadly, I gave most of them to my neighbors, since I am currently the only one in my house who can eat sweets.  But I ate quite a few of them right after they were finished... they aren't too sweet so you can eat a good many in one sitting!  Here is the recipe:

Puff pastry (I used this recipe)

Preheat oven to 420 F.  
Use a cookie cutter to cut shapes out of the dough.  I used a flower shape, but many shapes would work for this.  Use a knife or a smaller cookie cutter to score a circle on each pastry.  Arrange 1 inch apart on a baking sheet, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until puffed and golden.  Then use a knife to remove the inside circles created on the pastries from the scoring.  

Raspberry Jam
2 cups raspberries (frozen or fresh)
1 scant cup sugar
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ceylon cinnamon (if you use regular, use less of it)

Mash up the raspberries in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil.  Boil for 1 or 2 minutes, and then gradually add in the sugar.  Add the spices once the sugar is incorporated, and continue to boil, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken.  Take off of the heat, and let cool a few minutes before pouring into the pastry shells.  

White Chocolate Ganache 
1 cup finely chopped white chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Place the chopped chocolate in a small bowl.  Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it begins to boil, and then pour it over the white chocolate.  Let sit for 1 or 2 minutes, and then whisk until all the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream.  Mix in the vanilla extract, and then refrigerate until it is a good consistency to be piped.  Using a very small round tip, pipe over the pastries in a decorative manner.  =)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Chocolate Cinnamon Flourless Cakes

Last night it was -32 C outside... that's really cold.  So cold that I stayed at home all night and was craving something hot and chocolatey.  I love these cakes because that's exactly what they are, except they're much more filling and satisfying than drinking hot chocolate.  They are flourless, so they're good for low-carb eaters (if you can ignore all the sugar), but that's not why I make them.  I like the flourless cakes because they seem, to me, somewhere in between brownies and custard.  I eat them when they are hot and they melt in my mouth like a soft custard would, but they are as dense and rich as a brownie or cake.  To make them even better, I add a ton of cinnamon to the mix - it deepens the flavor of the chocolate, and who doesn't love cinnamon?
So here is the recipe; I adapted it from this one for gluten free flourless chocolate cake.

8 oz chocolate (I used part semisweet chips and part 75% dark)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tbsp cocoa powder
4 eggs
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
3 tsp cinnamon + extra for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F and butter 10 5 oz. ramekins.  
Chop up the chocolate into small pieces, and combine in a large mixing bowl with the sugars.  Add the boiling water, and whisk until all the chocolate is melted and sugar is dissolved.  Add the cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and 3 tsp cinnamon.  Then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  
Pour the mixture into the ramekins, filling them up about halfway.  Place on a large baking sheet, making sure that none of the ramekins touch each other and that they are evenly spaced. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  The cakes will more than double in size when they are in the oven, but will deflate once you take them out.  
Sprinkle the tops with cinnamon and serve them warm.  Leftovers can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator,  and reheated in the microwave when ready to eat.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Flavored Dango

Dango are Japanese dumplings made from rice flour.  They can be made sweet or savory, but I chose to make a few sweet ones as a dessert.  

These are very close to "Kushi Dango", which is usually presented on wooden skewers.  I didn't have any skewers, though, so we ate them with toothpicks instead.  The dumplings themselves are plain, but the sauce gives them a wonderful flavor - I couldn't stop eating them.  
I adapted the recipe from this one

For the Dumplings:

3/4 cups glutinous rice flour
1/3 cup hot water
1 tbsp sugar

Mix the sugar with the rice flour in a mixing bowl.  Add the hot water and combine to form a dough.  Knead with your hands until all the flour is incorporated and the dough is soft.  If it is sticky, add more rice flour.  
Form the dough with your hands into 1 inch balls.  Then drop them into a pot of boiling water. Once they float to the surface, let them cook there for 2 or 3 more minutes before removing them.  

For the Sauce:

2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp molasses
3/4 cup water + 2 tbsp
2 tbsp cornstarch

In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in 2 tbsp of water.  
In a small saucepan, heat the rest of the ingredients until the sugar dissolves.  Then add the cornstarch mixture and stir over medium low heat until the sauce thickens.  
Pour the sauce over the dumplings and serve on wooden skewers.  Or just eat them with toothpicks, fingers, forks, or chopsticks!  They're good any way you eat them.  

I made these dango sweeter (since they are sauceless) and flavored them with melon.  

To make them, follow the dango recipe above, but use 2 1/2 tbsp of sugar instead of one, and add 3 tsp of melon liqueur to the hot water before pouring it into the rice flour and sugar mixture.  

These are green tea flavored dango, also known as "Cha Dango."  I used matcha (green tea powder) to flavor them.  

To make these, follow the first dango recipe, but use 3 1/2 tbsp of sugar, and add 1 1/2 tbsp of matcha to the rice flour and sugar mixture before adding the water.