Archive for the 'Cakes' Category

baking cake with mommy brain

Thursday, March 18th, 2010


Blame in on the hormones, or “mommy brain”. In our childbirth prep class last year, we learned it’s partly the pregnancy hormones that can cause women to be a bit, well…”clumsier”. I used to pride myself in my technical precision and fine motor skills, skills which have escaped me to a lesser degree lately. I was, after all, able to trim and paint three rooms without getting a single drop of paint on my hands and clothes. But as I get back into the swing of things, I found myself stumbling with this cake. Maybe it didn’t help that I came up with this one on the fly, the day before it was to be served, but I managed to dump a can of sugar, spill the flour, overbake, etc. Oh well.

This was a cake for my dad. A dense, rich chocolate almond sponge cake soaked with ginger syrup, layered with ginger buttercream and ganache. The top is decorated with homemade crystallized ginger nuggets that I remembered watching Alton Brown making, recipe here. The ginger syrup was inspired by this recipe, except I omitted the vanilla bean and added some Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur after the syrup had cooled. Incidentally, the ginger used to infuse the syrup did not go to waste – I used it to make the crystallized ginger. The cake is loosely inspired by both the “Alhambra” and “Opera” cakes. As I mentioned, the process was pretty much spontaneous as I made up the components as I went along, modifying recipes here and there. Normally I wouldn’t work this way, and have everything planned and organized with recipes pre-determined. Having a baby has forced me to shift the way I work and has definitely given “multi-tasking” a new meaning, as I was making buttercream with one hand, baby in the other.


I do not have a recipe for this one, because 1) I made things up as I went along and 2) I would do things differently the next time. Perhaps my baking is shifting more towards “process” than product. They say baking is a science, an exact art. True that while I am not without my digital scale and laser thermometer, I value my intuition far more…

flower power

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009


This cake is a departure from the French style ones I’ve been making recently. I made this lemon layer cake with passion fruit buttercream for my mother (yes it was for Mother’s Day – so late posting, I know!), so I wanted it to be whimsical, light and Spring-like. Sometimes, it’s just fun to make a good old fashioned American style layer cake with buttercream!

At any rate, in this cake I wanted to experiment with these soy wrapper sheets I found at Japanese mega mart Mitsuwa, in Edgewater, NJ. They’re also available on Amazon here. I’ve even found it in the International section of a local A&P supermarket. The flower pattern was inspired by the popular Marimekko Unikko fabric.

For the recipe, please see this post.


coconut cheesecake. cashew ginger crust. pearls.

Monday, April 27th, 2009

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
April’s Daring Bakers challenge was a cheesecake recipe, the challenge of which involved taking a basic recipe and being creative with it. While I’m not a big fan of cheesecake, I took this as an opportunity to try out some techniques I’ve learned or read about recently (though they’re hardly novel and have been used for some years). Ultimately, I created a Coconut Kaffir Lime Cheesecake with Cashew Ginger Crust, and Mango-Blood Orange pearls. The white “sauce” is coconut foam.


When I visited Thailand several years ago, I became enamored with kaffir lime leaves. It’s often used in curries and the delightful Tom Kha Gai soup (coconut lemongrass chicken soup). I finally received a baby kaffir lime tree last year as a birthday gift, which I’ve been nursing since. After the dormancy of winter, I’m quite thrilled with how much it’s been growing. Generally, the leaves are not eaten, but rather torn and used in soups or curries, similar to the function of bay leaves. However, it is more easily ingested when finely chiffonaded.


Instead of a traditional fruit sauce topping or glaze, I tried my hand at making fruit pearls or spheres, which originated several years ago in El Bulli restaurant in Spain. The spheres are often made with sodium alginate or calcium chloride, but not wanting to use such ingredients (not did I have access to them), I used a recipe using agar agar (seaweed-based gelling ingredient) from a recent class with Michael Laiskonis as a basis, omitting the locust bean gum. I basically cooked the juice of one mango and and one blood orange with some sugar (I read that certain fruits such as mangoes, due to their high acidity level will not set with agar agar, but coooking them might change their enzymes and alter their ability to gel). I thought the juice needed a little more kick so I also added some from half a lemon. I had to experiment with the amount of agar agar I used, but I ended up using just over a teaspoon of powder, which needs to be dissolved by boiling in water for several minutes. This juice-agar  mixture was poured into a squeeze bottle and “dropped” into a container of very cold canola oil. In class, we used a large square bucket-like container and the type of container you use will be a determining factor in the success. This part is somewhat trickier than it would sound, because the spheres can fall to the bottom and puddle, or flatten when they reach the bottom of the container, (which happened to some of my pearls). Then you strain the pearls and rinse under cold water.


The cheesecake itself is flavored with coconut extract and coconut flakes and infused the whipping cream with kaffir lime leaves. I also decided upon a cashew ginger crust using ground cashews and crystallized ginger from the book In the Sweet Kitchen. I also tried foaming, a technique made infamous (and not necessarily in a good way) by the contestant Marcel from Top Chef. It is easy to make foam (depending on the liquid-some will not foam) using an immersion blender. You just need to ensure the blade is not entirely immersed in the liquid, but rather at an angle.


Thank you to this month’s host, Jenny.

A Lighter Note…

Monday, April 13th, 2009

My last two posts were perhaps a bit heady, admittedly. And speaking of heady, my head has been spinning from all this talk about the psychology and science of food. So I thought I’d lighten things up with a cake to celebrate Spring: green tea sponge cake, yuzu mousse, lavender creme brulee, white chocolate caramel ganache, pistachio white chocolate crisp, white chocolate glaze with green tea and “lavender” macarons.


While this cake was intended for an Easter gathering, I wanted to avoid using any symbols specifically associated with the holiday. It was also for a family gathering, for which I tend to be more experimental – to their benefit or not – because they’ve tried it all, because I know they will still love me and because they will be brutally honest in their critique.

The main  flavor combination of green tea and yuzu was inspired by my recent class with Michael Laiskonis. I used his flavorful green tea biscuit recipe as a base (though in his blog, he doesn’t recommend this cake for an entremet). His recipe calls for the use of trimoline, an invert sugar used for stability and also to retain moistness. Honey is an invert sugar, so I used that instead, also to see what effect it would have. There did seem to be some disparity in the structure and stability of the cake between my cake and the one made in class. Not that the cake I made didn’t hold together well; it also seemed lighter.

Yuzu is an East Asian fruit that’s not commonly found in the US. It’s more commonly found in bottled form as a juice in some Japanese grocery stores. To me it smells sweetly of clementines, yet has the sharp tang of lemons. Little did I realize that I actually grew up on this stuff in yuzu tea form called Yujacha (a Korean marmalade that is mixed with hot water, mainly used to nurse a cold – I could go for some now as I feel a bit under this ‘glorious’ April weather). At any rate, I made a yuzu mousse filling by modifying a lemon mousse recipe found here on Jen Yu’s blog. I also flavored a creme brulee insert with lavender, which also served as an excuse to introduce the lavender color in the final presentation. For a crispy texture, I made a pistachio white chocolate feuillette.  There’s also a caramel white chocolate ganache insert. In the end, the cake was covered with a white chocolate glaze, and decorated with green tea and “lavender” macarons, and dried lavender.


Due to time constraints, I wasn’t going to include the caramel white chocolate ganache. I wasn’t sure about the yield of the yuzu mousse, and quickly realized after layering the creme brulee insert that I wouldn’t have enough, so I decided to make the ganache after all (I would have preferred more mousse between the pistachio white chocolate feuillette and the biscuit – it really bothers me as I look at the cross-section!). I was wary of the use of the white chocolate ganache recipe, but in the end I thought the caramely flavor didn’t compete with the flavors. I was concerned there was too much going on, but ultimately, I think the components worked together and the cake was really enjoyed by all, including an unexpected visitor – a precocious 8 year old who I wasn’t sure would appreciate the cake, but was able identify various flavors and even requested a second serving.


Green Tea Biscuit

Yuzu Mousse (I substituted powdered gelatin with gelatin sheets and lemon juice with yuzu juice.)

Pistachio White Chocolate Feuillete
50g white chocolate, chopped
13g butter
15g pistachio paste
30g rice krispies, crushed

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler. Add the pistachio paste and crushed rice krispies, mixing quickly and thoroughly. Spread in a thin layer onto wax paper to a size appropriate for your mold. Refrigerate until hard. Cut to desired shape (slightly smaller than your mold).

The following components were from December’s Daring Baker’s challenge, original recipes available on Saffron & Blueberry:
White Chocolate Ganache Insert
25g granulated sugar
68g white chocolate, finely chopped
68g heavy cream (35% fat content)
Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small sauce pan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color.
While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling.  Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.

Lavender Crème Brulée
Replace vanilla with dried lavender

White Chocolate Icing (not posted on Saffron & Blueberry’s site, but available as an option in the original challenge)
1.5 gelatin sheets
3.5 oz (100g) white chocolate
2 Tbsp (30g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (90 g) whole milk
1 2/3 Tbsp (30g) glucose or thick corn syrup

Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes. Coarsely chop the chocolate and butter together. Bring the milk and glucose syrup to a boil. Add the gelatin. Pour the mixture over the chocolate and butter. Whisk until smooth.
Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

Apologies if this recipe is confusing to follow. I just want to give proper credit to those whose recipes I’ve borrowed from!

Pichet Ong’s Carrot Cake with Lime Cream Cheese Frosting

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009


This is going to be a quick “cook the book” post. I am all for incorporating vegetables into cakes, be it zucchini, sweet potatoes, or in this case, carrots. On an whim, I purchased a juicer not too long ago and would like to incorporate the pulp of my fruits and veggies into a cake some time. If anyone has recipes for this, please do drop a note!

Anyway, I went home for my dad’s birthday, and rather than making a vegan cake for him as I have done in the past, I tried a carrot cake from Pichet Ong’s The Sweet Spot. This recipe calls for canola oil in addition to butter in the batter. The frosting has some cream cheese, sour cream and lime zest in it, and prior to spreading it, the cake is sprinkled with rum-soaked raisins. I decorated the top with carrot slivers soaked in a sugar water syrup for a very rustic look.

i heart chocolate and ginger…and valentine’s wishes

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009


Phew! I was in quite a bit of a baking frenzy this weekend, preparing these cake bites for a recent Arts to Grow charity event.  With refrigeration and transportation being a concern, I ultimately decided upon chocolate raspberry ginger cake bites which are dipped in dark chocolate, and dusted with gilded cocoa nibs and crystallized ginger slivers. The event was also Valentine’s Day themed, which also influenced by decision.

Up to my eyeballs in cake bites! Two of three boxes pictured here.

These were a lot of fun and the sheer quantity was a great challenge, but most importantly, I’m happy to have contributed out a great cause, namely children’s arts programs in New York City. For more info or to donate on the program, click here.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Buche de Noel and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008


I was very happy with the selection of this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge. I’ve made the traditional yule log cakes before with a genoise that is rolled up and I’ve been wanting to try the more modern French style cakes which I saw everywhere in Paris last winter. The challenge cake is comprised of an almond dacquoise, chocolate mousse, praline crisp, creme brulee, ganache, and chocolate glaze.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I’m once again down to the wire, as I’m preparing for a party tomorrow, where I’m presenting this lovely cake. Hopefully I can write a bit more…erm, after the New Year? Yikes. I pretty much followed the given recipe exactly, but incorporated a bit more orange essence, by infusing the creme brulee insert with orange rind and vanilla, using orange chocolate for the praline crisp, and grand marnier in the ganache.


This month’s challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

Thank you for a wonderful, challenging challenge!

Happy New Year to all and best wishes for a wonderful 2009!!

Tiered Caramel Cakes with Caramelized Ginger Butter Frosting

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

After hosting a hectic Thanksgiving gathering, I erm, didn’t get to complete this challenge until today. I wasn’t sure I could find the time or the room in my stomach, but I couldn’t skip a cake challenge! November’s challenge, caramel cake with caramelized butter frosting, comes from Shuna Fish Lydon, from Eggbeater and the original recipe is posted here. The cake was made following her recipe exactly, but after reading about some Daring Bakers complaining about the overly sweet nature of the frosting, I added ground ginger and a bit of cinnamon to the frosting.


I decided to go with a stacked mini cake this time, well, just because. Now, I underestimated the difficulty of this mini cake. I found it a much more painstaking process to frost these little babies as opposed to a larger cake because you don’t have the weight of the cake to anchor it as you frost. Well, I had to see my idea it to its completion, so I stuck with it.

Admittedly, my mini cake resembled a wedding cake. My wedding anniversary has passed, so we found some other friends who were celebrating their anniversary. In case you don’t know who they are, they are Moomins, adorable and adventurous Finnish characters from books my husband grew up reading.




10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

caramel syrup (though probably darker than it should be)


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for “stopping” the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner’s sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

Thank you Dolores from Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, Alex from Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie and Jenny from Foray into Food for hosting this month’s challenge. To see what other Daring Bakers have come up with this month, please visit the Daring Bakers site.

Matcha Opéra Cake with Black Sesame Seed Ganache and Green Tea Buttercream

Monday, October 20th, 2008


I think the Opéra cake is becoming one of my favorite styles of cake for its elegant style and limitless layering opportunities. I made this matcha Opéra cake for a recent birthday in my family. With its green tea joconde soaked in green tea syrup, green tea buttercream, black sesame seed chocolate ganache and chocolate glaze, it’s a must for green tea lovers!


For the joconde (and for most of the cake components for that matter), I used the Opera recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets, and the May 08’s Daring Baker’s Challenge, adding some green tea powder. I also added black sesame seeds to give the ganache and cake a hint of a crunch. The top is sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and green tea powder.

For the Joconde (edited from the May 08 Daring Baker’s challeng/Dorie Greenspan):
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) almond meal
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp matcha green tea powder
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

Preheat the oven to 425?F. (220?C).

Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

Beat the egg whites in a large bowl until they form soft peaks using stand mixer or handheld mixer. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy.

Attach the paddle attachment to a stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and using a separate bowl, beat the almonds, icing sugar, matcha powder and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.

Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined. Do not overmix. It should only take a few seconds.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Again, avoid overmixing and deflating the batter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.

Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

Green Tea Syrup:
2/3 cup water
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp green tea powder

In a saucepan, heat water and sugar until boiling and sugar is dissolved. Take pan off the heat, let cool 2 or 3 minutes and add green tea powder, stirring. Let cool completely until ready to use.

Black Sesame Seed Ganache:
8 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tbsp black sesame seeds coated in 1 tsp corn syrup

Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat milk and cream in a saucepan until boiling. Pour the liquid over the chocolate, letting sit for 30 seconds before stirring slowly. Whip the butter and add to the melted chocolate in 2 or 3 additions. Stir in black sesame seeds. Let the ganache cool in the refrigerator, checking and stirring every so often. This ganache can be prepared several days in advance.

Green Tea Buttercream:
2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon size chunks

Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved. Remove the bowl from the heat.

Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a piece at a time, beating until smooth.

Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, about 5 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. The buttercream can be prepared 2 days in advance.

Chocolate Glaze:
1 stick unsalted butter
5 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate

To clarify butter, melt it in a saucepan. Scoop off the white froth that rises to the top and discard. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, being very careful not to get any water in the chocolate. Pour butter into the chocolate, avoiding the layer of milky residue that forms on the bottom.

Assembling the Cake:
The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Cut a 10″ x 10″ square from each of the 2 sheet cakes. You will have two 5″ x 10″ pieces of cake left which will be laid side by side to form a third layer.
Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with 1/3 of the green tea syrup. Spread about two-thirds of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with another 1/3 of the syrup. Spread ganache over the second layer. Top with third square of joconde. Moisten with the last 1/3 syrup. Spread remaining 1/3 of the buttercream. Refrigerate (or freeze) until very firm.

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake, using an offset spatula to coax the glaze to the edges. Refrigerate (or freeze) the cake again to set the glaze.

Using a knife dipped in hot water and water wiped off with towel, trim the edges. Heat the knife/wipe clean with each slicing of cake.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

the slice that almost slipped away

Monday, August 25th, 2008


This is a cake that almost never made it to my blog. In the frenzy of preparing for my husband’s birthday celebration, I forgot to photograph the star of the party – this peanut butter and chocolate mousse cake – before it was sliced and devoured! Fortunately, I was able to save the last piece for this photo.

My husband’s favorite cake (coincidentally, the one got me started with this whole with this whole baking thing) is a chocolate cake with peanut butter mousse, dulce de leche and bananas. This year, I modified it, incorporating the main flavors into a lighter cake more suitable, perhaps, for summer. This cake is almost bakeless to boot, which is a welcome relief from the the oven heat in the summer. The layers from the bottom up: a chocolate cookie crust, peanut butter mousse, dulce de leche chocolate mousse surrounded sliced bananas, ganache, decorations of chocolate shavings, peanut butter and dulce de leche sauce.

I was concerned about the proportion of chocolate/peanut butter mousse to cake (or the lack thereof of cake), but it far surpassed my expectations and turned out to be light and absolutely perfect as a summer cake. Guests went for seconds and thirds. People defied their dairy allergies and vegan principles to eat this cake (I felt a bit guilty about that, but I didn’t exactly force them). So yes, it was a big hit.

Hopefully I will make this again and eventually post the recipe – I’ve been baking more based on instinct rather than precise measurements (I know, pastry is supposed to be such a precise art) and modifed various recipes as I was making.


To all those readers asking for recipes, I am sorry to say I have still not made this cake again since this post and would not feel comfortable posting the measurements based on memory. You could recreate this cake using your favorite recipes for the various components – chocolate cookie crust, chocolate mousse, peanut butter mousse, chocolate glaze, etc. I try to post recipes when I can, but this blog is more about documenting the things I’ve made and providing inspiration.