Dabbling in dim sum

Trying new things keeps life interesting in the kitchen.  Among the fails and dishes that I'd probably only make once, there's always the possibility of discovering a new family favorite.  I also just love learning how my favorite foods are made.  It's like uncovering the magician's secret and, oftentimes, the "trick" is not nearly as hard as I imagined (though sometimes, it is).

Most of the time, my cooking experiments are spurred on by things I like to eat, something delicious we had at a restaurant, or some kind of food memory.  Inspiration is everywhere and there is no lack of it!  One of my inspirations have been the great Chinese-food blog, The Woks of LifeI've been able to re-create some of our favorite Cantonese dishes thanks to their very authentic recipes.  Lately, it tempted me into dabbling in a little dim sum-making at home!

First up, Chinese Sausage Buns...
Chinese sausage buns before steaming
Growing up, we routinely went out for dim sum on the weekends.  I have to be honest...I often dreaded it because it meant crowds and long waits as hoards of people descend on their favorite/local dim sum spot, which just happens to be yours as well.  It's still like that in many places and I don't go out for dim sum all that often but, of course, much of the food is the stuff of my childhood food memories.  One such was the Chinese sausage bun.  You might not be familiar with it if you didn't grow up eating it.  It's now practically extinct; I can't remember the last time I ate one or saw them being offered in a dim sum restaurant or Chinese bakery.  

Apparently, other people share my nostalgia because The Woks of Life has a recipe and I thought I'd give it a try.  Before this endeavor, I didn't own a bamboo steamer.  I quickly equipped myself and began my little dim sum project.
Chinese sausage buns steamed and ready to eat!
Working with yeast dough is always a bit daunting but at least in this case, I could focus on the dough since the Chinese sausages themselves are bought, ready to use after steaming.  Once I got the hang of working the dough and rolling it out, these Chinese sausage buns weren't that hard to make!  I thought it tasted like childhood - the distinctly sweet yet savory Chinese sausage encased in the soft bun was spot on!

Then I attempted Steamed Roast Pork Buns...

I moved on and thought I'd challenge myself with my son's favorite dim sum item, the roast pork bun.  This project did not go quite as well.
I had a hard time with the dough but tried to make it work, with the end result above
Making the filling was relatively easy, as I bought the main ingredient - the roast pork.  I had trouble with the dough.  It was dry and tough, making it difficult to roll and shape.  I wish I could say I knew exactly what I did wrong or could do next time to mitigate the issues but I really can't.  I think steamed roast pork buns will have to be enjoyed at dim sum restaurants (luckily, still readily available).
The saving grace is while my homemade buns might not have looked or been like the prototype, they were still infinitely edible.  No buns were wasted, and if the buns themselves were a little dense and not fluffy as they were supposed to be, my family (particularly, my husband) insisted they were great.  The flavor of the filling and the sweetness was there - I was missing that lofty bun texture.  All in, it was a great learning experience and I will be sure to appreciate the roast pork buns a lot more when I next have one at a restaurant.


Chestnut croissant

On one of our recent brunch outings, we went to Maialino, where I finally had one of their signature olive oil muffins (it was as good as I expected and it inspired me to bake up a batch back home a few days later).  Before going to the restaurant, I looked online at their menu and spotted something really interesting: "chestnut croissant".  I was so excited because (1) I love all things chestnut (just type in "chestnut" in my search function on the right-hand side of the page to see what I mean) and (2) I'd never had such a thing, and really wanted to! 
But when I next looked back at the menu, the chestnut croissant had disappeared.  It sounds crazy but I almost feel like I imagined it!  Well...there was only one thing to do since I've never seen chestnut croissant anywhere and that was to make it myself at home.  Sometimes an idea gets in my head and I just have to give it a go and this was one of those things.      
So I took inspiration from when I last made almond croissants and did a pretty simple version of chestnut croissant for breakfast this weekend.  It really helps if you have a stash of chestnut cream in your house like I do (otherwise, you can source it online).

To have your own chestnut croissant, all you have to do is take day-old croissants, split it, and soak it in a rum sugar syrup.  Then spread some chestnut cream/spread inside, and brush a little on the surface for fun.  Bake for about 15 minutes and you have it!  It's really easy since you're mainly working with store-bought ingredients, but with a little twist, you end up with something really special.

I'm here to say chestnut croissant is a really, really good thing! 


Ina's triple chocolate loaf cakes

New year, and much of the same routines here!  I'm thrilled with that because I'm very lucky to be able to enjoy and indulge in my favorite pastimes of cooking, baking, and eating.  Here's to happy cooking and feasting in the new year, and always!

Like so many people, I'm a fan of Ina Garten's and adore watching her cooking show.  I'm no expert but there's something about an Ina Garten recipe that usually manages to surprise you a little bit even when you already expect it to be good.  Her recipes are clearly well thought out and whatever it is we're cooking or baking, she's figured out a way to squeeze out, or amplify, every bit of flavor possible.
So you don't have to twist my arm to try one of Ina's recipe - particularly when it involves chocolate!  For a chocoholic like me, it's nearly impossible to resist a recipe called "triple chocolate loaf cakes".  And you can be sure that if Ina's offering a chocolate recipe, it's going to be unmistakably chocolate.  Here, bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened cocoa (along with a touch of coffee) bloom in boiling water to create the foundation for these cakes.  Then, chocolate chunks or chips add another decadent and delicious dimension.  I opted out of adding walnuts to these loaf cakes.  Personally, I adore nuts in baked goods but I was making them to share with others and went with a nut-free version.
This recipe makes 2 regular-size loaf cakes.  I made 4 smaller loaves so I could share with friends.  To offset our smaller slices, we just had to cut ourselves an extra one, which was easy enough.  

This moist, chocolaty cake satisfied my daily chocolate craving.  I love the light yet almost fudgy texture to the cake, and the serious chocolate flavor doesn't disappoint.  Not too surprisingly, there is something a little extra special about this particular chocolate loaf cake recipe.


Holiday (cookie) season, 2018 - Part 2

It's almost Christmas!  The baking is essentially done and we can sit back and enjoy the fruits of our preparation.  I hope your holiday season has been sweet.  
I'm happy I checked off everything on my to-bake list and even had room to improvise a little along the way to the finish line.  Following my previous post, I made the requisite batch of sugar cookies.  The kids in my life adore sugar cookies and they seem to have to make an appearance at Christmas.  These sugar cookies, with mugs of hot chocolate, make for a sweet finale to our family Christmas party.  
And what's not to love about sugar cookies...they're classic for a reason.  They're sweet (obviously) and always festive and eye-catching decorated however you like.  I'm not very creative but some kids tell me that when it comes to decorating sugar cookies, the key is lots of sprinkles.  I may need to up the sprinkle quotient on my sugar cookies next season! 
Aside from sugar cookies, I loved the simple vanilla sables (recipe from Dorie Greenspan) I baked this year.  The wonderful sandy texture, with the simple yet delectable flavor of the vanilla butter cookies, made me forget my love and commitment to chocolate for a moment.  I will be making more slice-and-bake cookies during the next holiday season!


Happy holiday (cookie) season, 2018!

Happy Holidays!

Italian butter cookies - always festive and makes me think of the holidays
It's my favorite time of year again!  The best time, when baking takes center stage - our kitchen smells like sugar and spice, and sprinkles go flying everywhere!  No matter how hectic it is, with those long to-do lists, there's a magical quality about spending time making things and doing things for others at this time of year that makes it all worthwhile.  I look forward to gathering and sharing, spending peaceful time with family over platters of cookies and mugs of hot chocolate!
I wanted to dust this blog space with a little holiday cheer right now and what better way than to talk cookies and treats.  We may bake cookies all year round but come December, it is all about cookies.  It's no wonder we love the holidays!  It's especially fun to see all the variety, the colors, the festive decorations, the flavors that come alive during the holidays.  I love it all and while I certainly can't do it all, we have family favorites that we bake and we also try a few new things because there are just so many enticing recipes out there.  



Double chocolate Toblerone cookies

Growing up, Toblerone chocolate bars were one of my favorite treats.  I have this picture of myself, maybe around 5 years old - standing with my family at an airport, looking rather glum, and clutching a Toblerone chocolate bar while glaring at the camera.  I assume it was given to me to try to get me to smile and cooperate; it didn't seem to be working that well in the picture but maybe I needed to open the chocolate bar and eat it for its magic to work.  Because then and now, I do love a Toblerone!
Thinking back, I had more than one favorite when it came to chocolate.  Besides Toblerone, there were Cadbury bars as well as Smarties (the chocolate kind that came in a cardboard tube), which I've incidentally also incorporated into cookies in the past.   Even as a kid, I was a serious chocoholic.  While my tastes have changed a little bit as I got older, old favorites like Toblerone will always have a special place in my heart.
So when I saw a recipe in a British baking magazine for double chocolate Toblerone cookies, I was eager to make a batch!  Surprisingly, the recipe actually called for dark chocolate Toblerone.  Growing up, it was only milk chocolate but now there's dark and even white chocolate Toblerone to choose from.  While I actually do prefer dark chocolate these days, it's still the classic milk chocolate Toblerone that I stick with - it's the one that conjures up a happy nostalgic reaction whenever I take a bite.  

Since the milk chocolate version is what I have on hand, that's the kind I used for this cookie recipe.  The end result is likely a slightly sweeter cookie than intended but I tried to go a little light on the added sugar and all in all, it turned out well.
These cookies are sweet and moist, with a little chewiness to them.  Melted dark chocolate add the first layer of chocolate and chopped pieces of Toblerone stirred into the cookie batter give them texture with its bits of honey and almond nougat.  Half a Toblerone triangle goes on top so everyone knows what these cookies are all about.  
What fun to incorporate one of your favorite childhood chocolate bars into a delectable cookie!  I'm happy I stumbled upon this fun recipe.  

These cookies have me thinking of both Halloween and the holiday season/cookie baking season coming up!



Three-layer pound cake

It's been a while since I've been in this space.  Though it's been quiet here, I'm still in the kitchen, keeping busy trying out different recipes (especially on the savory front).  Recently, I bought an Instant Pot and it's fast becoming my favorite appliance in the kitchen.  I now know why everyone who has an Instant Pot seems to turn into unpaid brand ambassadors; I've been singing its praises to everyone I know!
I haven't been neglecting my family on the dessert front.  There is more than enough homemade cookies, muffins, cakes, and even ice cream, to go around.  Having been blogging the last few years, I'm thankful to have a solid repertoire of sweet recipes my family and I love enjoying regularly - and that's what I've been doing...mainly baking up those family favorites.  

Of course, there will always be room to try something new and I plan to continue doing that whenever the whim takes me.  While I love to document and see the treats I bake up here on this blog, it's really nice to simply bake for the sake of baking, and not have a lot of ceremony, or any kind of self-imposed schedule, surrounding it.
That said, it's nice to be here...and I brought cake with me!  This 3-layer pound cake is the latest new recipe I tried in my kitchen and it comes straight from the pages of the latest Martha Stewart Living magazine.  After all these years, I still can't resist a good Martha Stewart recipe!  

I don't make pound cake all that often but there is something classic and comforting about one.  Plus, a loaf cake is the kind of casual, no-fuss cake I love to have around - subbing in for breakfast, snack, or as dessert.  This buttery pound cake also offers extra visual appeal that called out to me.  Adding chocolate and cocoa to the base recipe of vanilla pound cake, you end up with 3 layers: a rich chocolate base layer, a lighter cocoa layer, topped with traditional vanilla cake.  
I'm very happy with how this pound cake turned out and while we might have been partial to that rich chocolate layer on the bottom, the combination is altogether the best part.  



Chocolate marzipan scone loaf

Watching traditional weekend morning cooking shows (i.e., old-school cooking shows with recipes, not reality or competition-based shows) is still one of the things I like to do.  Recently, I've been watching Molly Yeh's new show, Girl Meets Farm, and spotted a cool recipe I had to try.
It was her chocolate marzipan scone loaf, and I was captivated in more ways than one.  First of all, if there's one thing I really struggle with when it comes to making scones is...cutting and shaping them.  My dough is invariably too dry and it's a high-wire act trying to cut them into individual scones that don't fall apart.  Here was a chance to make scones in an easy loaf cake form!  Not only do I get to skip the shaping and cutting, the result promises to be more moist, and stay that way longer.  
Beyond being technically easy, the flavors drew me in as well.  Because if there's one type of pastry/dessert that I particularly favor, it's got to be ones that include things like chocolate and almond paste.  In this case, the loaf is studded with chunks of marzipan - the sweeter sibling to almond paste (I considered subbing it with almond paste but stuck with the recipe in the end) and bits of dark chocolate chips.  They provide tons of flavor and each bite of this scone loaf is like a treasure hunt for these generous bits.  
I adored how this scone-bread baked up...its rustic top with craters of marzipan and specks of chocolate chips on display.  A sprinkle of sanding sugar gives it extra crunch and sweetness.  And true to promise, the scone loaf stayed moist for a few days.  We enjoyed it for breakfast and it's just a fantastic treat for lovers of almond and chocolate baked goods.
I have baked my fair share of almond and/or chocolate treat (from buns/rolls to scones and babka, to name a few) and they rarely disappoint.  This one didn't either! 


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