August 13, 2020

Freeze-Dried Berry No-Bake Cheesecake

 
I love the idea of no-bake desserts especially when it's hot outside because the last thing I want to do is turn on an oven.  When I saw this post on Serious Eats for a no-bake cheesecake that used freeze-dried fruit I was definitely intrigued.  I've made an icebox cheesecake before but I liked this recipe from Stella Parks because it used the freeze-dried fruits to infuse a fruity flavor, but sans the additional moisture that fresh fruit would bring. 
 
 
Luckily I had a bag of freeze-dried raspberries from Trader Joe's sitting in my pantry along with the other cheesecake ingredients to make half the recipe.  The recipe scaled down easily to fit a 9x5" loaf pan.  Since I'm trying to limit the number of trips I make to the grocery store it's always a plus when I have everything on hand.   
 
 
I had a taste of the filling as I was making the cheesecake and the intense raspberry flavor from the freeze-dried fruit was incredible.  It was literally a berry explosion.  Is it strange that it reminded me of fruit-flavored Starburst candies?  As a self-professed lover of the color pink this cheesecake also appealed to me aesthetically.  I could easily picture this dessert gracing the table at a baby shower or birthday party.  

August 5, 2020

Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts)


It was love at first bite when I tasted the famous Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon a few years ago. The combination of creamy, rich custard and crispy, flaky crust was too good to pass up.   I don't think I let a day go by during my stay in Portugal when I didn't indulge in those delicious pastries.


As a souvenir from my trips I brought back a few dozen pastel de nata tins with every intention of creating them at home.   Who would have known that two years later and I only managed one attempt at making the tarts.  Much to my disappointment the results I got were less than stellar, honestly they were crap, so I basically gave up.   I just couldn't seem to find a recipe that worked for the home kitchen.  That is, until now! 


The authentic recipe I had been looking for came by way of Jeremiah Duartes Bills, a Portuguese-American baker I follow on Instagram.  He was offering an online pastéis de nata class and I signed up immediately.  The format was a three hour virtual Zoom class where the students would bake alongside Jeremiah.  Although there were more than thirty five students the class still felt quite intimate and Jeremiah was a great instructor who answered our questions and proffered baking tips.  Three hours went by in a flash.

 
The recipe he used for the class was based on one he was taught in a pastel de nata workshop.  By the looks of my tarts and those of my fellow students I can happily report that his recipe really worked.  I couldn't believe how well they turned out, almost as if I was transported back to pastelharia Manteigaria in Chiado.  I sent pictures of my pastéis to a Portuguese colleague and even he said they looked like the real thing.  If that's not a seal of approval I don't know what is.   If you love pastéis de nata as much as I do I highly recommend you give this recipe a try and also take Jeremiah's class.  Trust me, you won't be disappointed.


Special obrigada to Jeremiah for the fantastic class and also giving me permission to share his pastéis de nata  recipe on my blog.  I hope he'll be offering more classes on Portuguese baking because I'll be one of the first to sign up.  Also, be on the lookout for his upcoming cookbook, "The Baking of Portugal."


August 1, 2020

Peach Streusel Cake


The yellow peaches at the farmer's market were looking especially nice so I had to make a repeat of the Summer Peach Cake, but this time with a twist.   The original Cook's Illustrated recipe calls for putting the oven roasted peaches in between the cake batter and then topping with fresh peach slices.  But after making the Blueberry Crumb Bars recently I had streusel on the brain and that's how I came up with this Peach Streusel Cake, a mash up of the two recipes.  I loved the idea of the crunchy topping to contrast the soft fruit.


It couldn't be simpler to make since there's no layering involved.  Make the streusel, roast some peach chunks, make the cake batter and then assemble.  Easy peasy!  For the cake in this post I made a 6-inch cake using 1/2 the cake recipe.  NOTE: For the streusel I made the full recipe but you won't use it all.  I just like having extra in the fridge to make more crumb bars or for other baking.  

Just as I had hoped the finished cake was really delicious.  You could easily serve it for breakfast but it's also nice as a dessert with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraîche.  If you like peaches then this cake is for you.


July 23, 2020

Blueberry Crumb Bars


People sometimes ask where my baking inspirations come from and I wish I had a deeply profound or creative answer, but in truth often it's something as simple as timing.   That was exactly the naissance of why I made these Blueberry Crumb Bars.  Recently I was scrolling through Instagram and saw the bars posted on Smitten Kitchen's feed.   Fortuitously I had some blueberries in my fridge that were on their last leg.  See, it's all about the timing!

Although I only had enough blueberries to make half the recipe I didn't have any issues downsizing it into an 8-inch square pan.   It's also a win when you don't need any equipment to make the bars, just a bowl.  The recipe came together in no time at all.


For ease in cutting later on make sure you chill the bars in the fridge.  After photographing the bars for this blog I couldn't help myself and had to have a taste.  The first thing I noticed was the fresh burst of blueberry flavor, which actually made me think of pie but with a lot less work.  Anything with streusel is a win in my book and I like how the bars overall aren't too sweet. 

July 18, 2020

Scallion & Ham Bread




Scallion Bread is a staple item sold at most Chinese bakeries you come across.  My favorite place in San Francisco to get them is Sunset Bakery in the Inner Sunset District.   There they add bits of ham to their scallion buns which are, in my opinion, the ne plus ultra: incredibly delicious, super soft and beautifully browned.  Since they're so easy to buy I never really thought of making it at home, that is, until I saw this post on Healthy Nibbles blog.  Lisa's bread looked exactly like Sunset Bakery's so I had to give it a try for myself.



The dough uses tangzhong, or a roux made of milk and flour, which gives the baked bread a lovely, soft texture.  In my experience any bread using this technique always turns out amazing.  The main modifications I made to Lisa's recipe were to replace the water in the tangzhong with milk, use instant yeast and add pieces of chopped ham.  


I made the recipe twice in a week so trust me when I say it's a good one.  The first time I shaped the dough into a very large four-strand braid.  For the second I shaped it into smaller knots because I wanted individual portions.   You wouldn't believe how excited I was that the bread turned out completely authentic!   Another plus is that it freezes beautifully so I can enjoy this yummy treat anytime I want.

July 11, 2020

Financiers


I've had leftover egg whites sitting in my fridge for a few weeks now and I finally got fed up looking at them and decided to make something.  But what?  Macarons would be the obvious choice but I was too lazy to deal with the lengthy process of making and piping the batter, the drying time and then filling the cookies.  I was after something quick, easy and delicious - cue the Financiers!

These little French almond cakes have a delicious nutty bite and texture and go perfectly with a cup of coffee or tea.  I used a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that was super easy to come together in one bowl.  The only "tedious" thing was to make the brown butter and that took no time at all. 

Normally the cakes are baked in rectangular molds so that they resemble gold bars, which is where the "financier" name comes from but not everyone has those specialty molds.  I like this version that uses a mini muffin pan.   The financiers were delicious plain but I jazzed mine up by topping them with fresh raspberries, blueberries and chocolate chunks. 

NOTE: You can make this gluten-free by replacing the all-purpose flour with a gluten-free flour.

July 5, 2020

Triple Berry Brita Cake


Rarely does a dessert exceed my expectations but I have to admit that this Triple Berry Brita Cake had me smitten at first bite.  I initially spotted this cake on Jenn Yee's Instagram and was immediately obsessed with the combination of cake and pavlova.   The recipe for this beauty comes from Susan Spungen's Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings and can be found online here.


Apparently brita cake has Nordic origins but in all the years I've visited Norway I don't think I've ever tasted it.  I can't believe what I was missing!  Pavlovas are one of my favorite summertime desserts so how excited was I find discover a dessert that added cake to the mix?  


This cake is so good that I actually made it twice in two days.  The first cake I brought along to a 4th of July BBQ and the second cake was to photograph for the blog, but I only made half the recipe which fit a loaf pan perfectly.  

I strayed slightly from the original recipe when it came to the cream toppings  I didn't have any creme fraiche so I increased the amount of heavy cream to a total of 2 cups and added some vanilje-sukker (vanilla sugar) that I picked up on previous trips to Norway.
 

The combination of moist, yellow cake and crispy meringue topped with fresh vanilla whipped cream and strawberries, blueberries and raspberries is absolutely amazing.  It's pure symphony I tell you!  It couldn't be easier to make so I highly encourage you to make this fruity dessert to really showcase summer's best berries.



June 19, 2020

Hummingbird Cake


Can you believe this is the first time I've ever made a Hummingbird Cake?  I'd heard of this Southern dessert before but never actually got around to trying it for myself.  Ironic if you think about it because it contains so many things that I love: bananas, pineapple and pecans.


I found a no-fuss recipe from Cook's Country and decided to turn it into a bundt cake rather than the traditional layer.  I adore anything pineapple and what I love about this recipe is that the pineapple flavor is really amplified by reducing the juice to a concentrate. 


To finish the cake I made a simple icing using powdered sugar, pineapple juice and a drop or two of yellow food color.  It definitely has a technicolor effect, but I actually kind of like that!

June 13, 2020

Mango Mousse Cake


My friends recently commissioned a cake to celebrate their son's graduation from MBA school.  When I asked what kind, they responded, "something with mango."  The first thing I thought of was a light and refreshing Mango Mousse Cake.  The profile I was after was something that had intense fruit flavor without being overly sweet and a mousse cake fits the bill perfectly.


I searched the internet for inspiration but to be honest none of the cakes I saw particularly captured my fancy. In the end I went the Frankenstein route for my mango mousse cake, i.e., I took components of different recipes to come up with my creation.   I'm pretty thrilled with the results!

Here's the recipes I used:

Vanilla Chiffon Cake
Mango Mousse Filling
Ladyfingers
Mango Gel Topping

Now I'm inspired to use other fruits to make mousse cakes.  I'm thinking raspberry for next time.  Plus I also want to try my hand at wrapping the cake in a joconde imprime, an almond flavored sponge with a piped design.  Or maybe I'll finally get around to attempting a mirror glaze cake.

June 2, 2020

Homemade Nutter Butters


Oreos may be the store-bought cookie of choice for many in the world but I'm proud to be in the minority with my preference for Nutter Butters, the delicious peanut butter sandwich cookies.  I'm a huge peanut butter fan so these cookies are right up my alley.  When I saw that Stella Parks had included a recipe for a homemade version of Nutter Butters in her fantastic cookbook, BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, I bookmarked the pages for a future baking project.  No better time than the present, especially when we're still under shelter in place orders for the next few months, at least!


The cookie is a thin and crispy peanut flavored shortbread, but in my opinion the real star is the whipped peanut butter creme filling.  Made with butter, peanut butter, honey, vanilla, salt and powdered sugar, the creme is a peanut lover's dream!  I could seriously just eat the creme on its own and it would also be amazing as a frosting for cake or cupcakes.


The sandwiched cookies are pretty darn close to the original from Nabisco, if I do say so myself.  In all honesty I won't be making homemade Nutter Butters frequently because it's much easier to just buy a small pack at the store, but it was a fun project!

May 24, 2020

Patriotic Pound Cake


I think it's safe to say this Memorial Day Weekend is unlike any we have ever known due to shelter in place and, of course, the Bay Area weather is forecast to be glorious and sunny.  But hey-ho, no use getting down about it, right?  I'll still enjoy the lovely weather, albeit from a safe social distance!

 

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer season here in the US and I wanted to make something patriotic to celebrate the holiday.  In the past I've made blueberry pies with a star cutout crust or Ina Garten's festive flag cake.  This year I decided to try my hand at making a Patriotic Pound Cake.  I love a good marble cake with swirls of different colored batter so why not try it in the iconic red, white and blue?



I started with the Martha Stewart Living recipe for three-layer pound cake because it has the most delicious texture and crumb using the reverse creaming method.  I omitted the chocolate ingredients and tinted 1/3 of the vanilla cake with red or blue gel food coloring.   To create the marble effect there are quite a few different techniques, but for this cake I used small ice cream scoops to portion each of the colored batters into the loaf pan.  Use a sharp knife to slice the pound cake and I guarantee you'll be delighted with the patriotic swirls!

Hope everyone has a fun, safe and healthy Memorial Day Weekend! 

May 22, 2020

Braided Challah


I don't have much experience braiding bread dough but when I see beautiful loaves twisted in such interesting ways I'm determined to give it a go.  My colleague Inna makes challah every Friday for the sabbath and recently she made a mini loaf so I could try.  Her bread had the deepest, mahogany crust and such a beautiful braid.  As soon as I got home I cut a few slices and enjoyed them toasted with butter.  Delicious!  


Straightaway I asked Inna for the recipe she used and she referred me to this one from Chen Shukron.  The original post is in Hebrew but one click on Google and you can easily get the English translation.  To shape the bread she referred me to this Instagram post, but to be honest it seriously intimidated me!   I needed to start with something more for the beginner.

A few years ago I attempted a challah, but the braiding technique was a "cheat" version because you stacked a simple plait one on top of another.  What I wanted was to make the intricate, multi-strand braids that you see in bakeries, but for a novice.


I remembered seeing a Braided Round Challah from an issue of Cook's Illustrated that looked so appealing because it used the tangzhong technique, or cooked flour paste, and was shaped so beautifully.   In the end, I decided to make Inna's recipe and the Cook's Illustrated version using the braided round technique because two challah are always better than one! 


The aroma of homemade bread permeated throughout my kitchen and it was heavenly!  Both loaves baked up gorgeously, if I do say so myself.  I should definitely practice my braiding more because now it's not as daunting as it used to be.

Shabbat Shalom y'all!  

May 9, 2020

Peanut Butter Cup No-Churn Ice Cream


Here's a great recipe to make delicious ice cream WITHOUT an ice cream maker.  At first I was a bit skeptical when I read about No-Churn Ice Cream on the Cook's Country website, but after making it for myself I'm now a complete convert.  All you need is a blender, which most households have over an ice cream machine.  The other plus with this recipe is that there's no eggs used, so no cooking a custard base.  The ice cream mixture literally came together in less than ten minutes, even better in my book!


Reese's cups are one of my favorite candies so I opted to go for the peanut butter cup version of the ice cream.  [The website has many other flavors if you don't like peanut butter.]   The recipe couldn't be simpler to make: whip heavy cream in the blender for about 30 seconds until heavy peaks form, add the rest of the ingredients (except the stir-in), pour into a loaf pan, mix in the stir-ins and then freeze for at least six hours.  That's it!


The ice cream is delicious served alone but I had some extra choux pastries so I filled them with the ice cream to turn them into profiteroles. [Yes, I know technically you need three pastries on the plate for profiteroles, but I didn't have a third one!]

May 3, 2020

Bánh Mì


The Vietnamese Baguettes I made were destined to become Bánh Mì sandwiches.  I filled the baguettes ith char siu pork, pickled carrots and daikon, fresh cucumber and a bunch of cilantro.  By way of condiments I prefer lots of mayonnaise and a splash of Maggi seasoning.  The only thing missing was some pork pâté but I'll get some for next time.


May 2, 2020

Vietnamese Baguettes


Bánh mì (or Vietnamese baguette sandwich) is one of my all-time favorite things in the world.  It's the perfect food if you ask me.  Crisp, crunchy, soft and airy baguettes filled with meat, pickled vegetables, fresh cucumber and herbs.  Heaven in a bite!  Almost a decade later and I still think about the most delicious bánh mì I ever ate from Bánh Mì Phượng in Hội An, Vietnam.  


The key to a really good bánh mì boils down to the bread.  Viet baguette is slightly different than the French variety.  Yes, it was introduced to the country by the French in the 19th century but there's definitely a Viet spin to it.  The Vietnamese kind is much lighter and airier than the traditional baguette.


When I saw Uyen Luu had posted a recipe for homemade Viet baguette on her Instagram and website I could not contain my excitement.  Hers looked totally legit so I had to give it a go.



It's always intimidating trying a new recipe, especially when you have such high expectations for it.  Turns out I didn't need to worry.  The recipe wasn't complicated but there were a few steps you had to follow.  What I found very helpful was the YouTube video that was included in Uyen's post that showed how the baguettes were made.  Forewarning though, the video is in Vietnamese, but even if you don't understand the language you can still watch the video for visual clues on how the recipe works.


I literally jumped up and down when I pulled the baked baguettes out of the oven.  They totally looked authentic, down to the beautiful split on the top.  Straight away I FaceTimed my mom to show her the results and she even said the baguettes looked really good.  [And she's a tough critic!] I promised her that once I was able to visit again I would make them with her.

I'm planning to fill the baguettes with char siu or Chinese bbq pork.  Stay tuned!
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