January 25, 2023

Opera Cake, in two acts

It never ceases to amaze me just how many things there are that makes me say, "I've always wanted to make that!" As much as I've slowly chipped away at that unwritten list over the years, I've resigned myself to the fact that I will never completely check off everything and be done. And that's not a bad thing. I still love a good project, gaining a new experience, learning new techniques, and savoring the satisfaction of creating something tasty that I can share with my family. 

Opera cake is one of those iconic French desserts that I've always wanted to make. Seven layers of alternating jocande, or almond sponge cake, with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache, topped with a chocolate glaze - plus, a serious soaking in coffee syrup for the cake layers. Everything melds together for a delectable coffee-chocolate experience.

Maybe with a spurt of New Year energy for learning something new and making more time to do things I enjoy, I recently made not one but two Opera cakes! One of those is the classic version we can hardly resist from pastry shop display cases. Its delicate layers of flavor requires some planning and patience but it's nice sometimes to clear the decks and make time to focus on a (sweet) project or two. 

After so many years of wanting to make Opera cake, little did I know it would actually begin with a beautiful, albeit unconventional, layer-cake version I spotted in a gorgeous book I received at Christmas. 
It was the inspiration I needed to check Opera cake off my unwritten list and after making the layer cake rendition, with all its many steps, I had the confidence (and heightened curiosity) to tackle the classic. Both were delicious and well worth the effort.

November 27, 2021

Chinese bakery style chestnut sponge cake

This time of year has me thinking of chestnuts more than ever.  Fresh chestnuts as well as jarred and vacuum-packed versions pop up at supermarkets and specialty stores, conjuring up images of chestnuts roasting on an open fire and special chestnut desserts for the holidays.

Chestnuts are one of my favorite things. My love for them is pretty well documented here (type in "chestnuts" in the search bar) and I'd like to add another chestnut dessert to the roster today.  This time, I'm exploring a rendition of the classic chestnut sponge cake you'd find at a Chinese bakery.

I am a bonafide chocolate lover but when my birthday rolls around, I find myself picking this chestnut cake as my birthday cake.  You can buy one at a Chinese bakery and you'll find them in this identical form across Chinese bakeries - 2 layers of light as air sponge cake (chiffon cake, specifically) between a delicious chestnut paste filling, wrapped around smooth, lightly-sweetened, whipped cream.  This cake is probably where my love of chestnut first originated.  We go way back and we've celebrated many a birthday together.  

So it was with great excitement that I finally attempted to make this cake at home recently.  I knew it would be impossible to replicate the exact thing from the bakery but I am happy to say this came pretty close.  The chiffon cake layers were a tad denser than they should be but the chestnut paste filling was rather spot on!  Next time, I'd make a couple of tweaks - including using lighter cake flour for the cake layers - but this is something this chestnut-lover sees herself making again.  

October 16, 2021

Thin, crisp chocolate chip cookies

It's been a minute since I've posted here! Despite the quiet, we're keeping busy in the kitchen, with plenty of cooking and baking taking place in "real life" (along with a decent amount of takeout, too).  It's incredible to think the holidays are almost upon us.  I've started taking stock and making a list of all the ingredients and supplies I need to have on hand for all the holiday bakes.  

In the meantime, I've been wanting to drop in here and spread the word on some seriously amazing thin, crisp chocolate chip cookies.  I've attempted this kind of cookie before but leave it to the amazing David Lebovitz to really deliver on a thin, crisp chocolate chip cookie that is exactly that.  

Even if you think you prefer the soft, thick, chewy kind of chocolate chip cookie (like we generally do at my house), believe me when I say these are more than worthy of a place in your chocolate-chip-cookie-eating rotation.  I have made these numerous times since early last year and it has become a real family favorite.  These nice-sized cookies spread and caramelize beautifully in the oven, leaving you with a delectable butterscotch flavor.  They're thin, they're crispy, and packed with amazing caramel flavor and a generous proportion of chocolate chips.  

I love making these and sitting down with my fellas to marvel at how good they are, over and over again!

December 28, 2020

Wrapping up 2020 on a sweet note

While this holiday season is certainly different, I feel very lucky that it's still been a source of light and a cause for celebration.

Continuing from my last post about holiday baking, I managed a few more bakes including making a batch of these must-have tri-color cookies.  I think my husband and son would be sorely disappointed if I didn't make these cookies, and every time I make and taste them, I'm really thankful I did.  They are just incredible and something we look forward to every Christmas.  

Mixing in the familiar is a touch of the new.  I tried my hand at making a Buche de Noel, or Yule log!  

December 17, 2020


As essential as cookies are, I love trying a candy or confection recipe every holiday season. Whether it be toffee or a nut brittle or marshmallows, it's fun to mix things up and learn something new.  This year, I landed on Orangettes, or candied orange peels dipped in chocolate. 

As someone who loves the combination of chocolate and orange, I adore Orangettes and buy them occasionally as a treat (they do tend to be on the pricey side).  When I stumbled upon a recipe for them, I thought this was a perfect project for me to try right now.  I highly recommend it!

December 13, 2020

Christmas in the making, 2020

This sure is one unusual holiday season, to put it mildly! So many things are different this year, and as we stay cautious during these times, I'm thankful for the holiday season. Frankly, it's a welcome distraction, and keeping busy making Christmas cookies and treats is a tradition that I'm happy (and grateful) to keep up with.
So despite everything, our kitchen is humming along and I've been busy making some of our favorite Christmas cookies. My love of almond paste is well documented and it's surely the time of year for a batch of chewy, fragrant cherry almond macaroons

There's no neglecting peppermint this time of year.  My son is a big fan of all things chocolate-and-peppermint so we've been enjoying these peppermint brownies....
and a batch of chocolate cookies with peppermint chunks.  I use this recipe but instead of white chocolate chunks, I substitute peppermint chunks along with semisweet chocolate chunks.  A touch of peppermint extract in the chocolate cookie dough adds plenty of cool holiday flavor.
Naturally, we're all about "sugar, spice, and everything nice" during the holidays season.  Personally, I crave the combination of gingerbread and chocolate.  It's become the taste of the holiday season for me.  So to kick things off, I made a loaf of chocolate gingerbread loaf.  It's chock full of gingerbread flavors (from fresh and dried ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves), made sweet and moist from dark brown sugar and molasses, and studded with chocolate flavor with a little cocoa powder as well as chocolate chunks that somehow turn into bits of fudgy pudding baked in the cake.
As if that wasn't enough, I can't let Christmas go without a batch of soft & chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies.  I'm savoring them as we speak!

November 20, 2020

Food and cooking in 2020...

What a wild ride the last 8 months and counting have been!  Like everyone else, we've been staying home as much as possible, taking things day by day.  There are far too many emotions boiling just beneath the surface to address properly here but for what it's worth, keeping busy, focusing on basics like food and our meals, has been a much-needed distraction, particularly during the early days of the lockdown.

That said, I have to admit that cooking/baking fatigue set in by around week 12 for me.  Cooking three meals a day, plus snacks and treats, for three straight months got a little exhausting.  Nevertheless, I can't express enough how grateful I am to be able to get groceries, and to have the luxury of cooking for my family and myself, during this time.

Luckily, businesses began to open up and the occasional takeout became part of life and provided a reprieve to the non-stop cooking.  I also learned to ease up and get back to basics more often.  Because in the early days of mid-March through April and May, meals were more elaborate than normal, as a way to both comfort and distract us.  I was doing things like making fresh crepes for afternoon snack (the recipe Dominique Ansel shared online was a hit at our house).  If it wasn't crepes, cake, or cookies, I was making things like chouquettes dipped in chocolate sauce...

...and craquelin-topped cream puffs - some of which were filled with chocolate cream and others made into profiteroles stuffed with ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce.
Like a lot of other people, I was concerned about my store of yeast (and flour) because I was baking bread and making English muffins...

I had a successful attempt at making soft, fluffy Japanese milk bread for the first time. 
There was even a session of pretzel-making in my kitchen. Back in April, I finally made my almond crunch pretzel daydreams come true.  They were an homage to ones my husband and I would often get at the mall back in the day.  I was happy with how well they turned out.

February 14, 2020

Valentine's Day interlude

Happy Valentine's Day!
It's been a long week here at our house and Valentine's Day is a bright pink light I'm focusing on and hanging dearly to!  So I'm having a little Valentine's Day interlude here and savoring the excuse to celebrate love (of all kinds) and eat lots of chocolate today!

We'll be starting the day with some heart-shape buttermilk pancakes (recipe here).  I formed the rough heart-shapes by placing the pancake batter into a piping bag and piping out the shapes onto the griddle.  In all likelihood, these will hit the table with a heart-shaped dollop of chocolate hazelnut spread in the middle.
I plan to make pasta with lobster and shrimp for dinner at home with my fellas tonight.  For dessert, I made chocolate covered ice cream hearts (recipe and idea inspired by the Food Network).  A small word of warning...as with most ice cream projects, it's never quite as easy as it sounds or looks.  It's a reminder that ice cream melts, and melts very quickly.  In other words, it gets messy fast.


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