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 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.

February 9, 2020

Chocolate snack cake

Sometimes, all you need is chocolate.  At least, all you want is chocolate!  Once again, it's time to celebrate chocolate - one of my greatest loves - in this month of February and ahead of Valentine's day in a few days.  
So for no more necessary reason beyond my love of chocolate and for making, eating, and sharing chocolate cake, I'd like to present this simple chocolate snack cake that's good for any occasion or for just any ordinary day.
I have certainly baked many a chocolate cake and generally enjoy them all.  For an excuse to keep making chocolate cake throughout the year(s), I'm always happy to try a new twist.  In this case, I was captivated (and immediately motivated) by Now, Forager's chocolate sprinkle snack cake; her photographer is stunning and one look at her gorgeous cake had me itching to make one of my own!  It's simple, classic and just a happy cake to bake - and eat - any time of year. 
This cake is familiar in its lineup of ingredients - cocoa powder and coffee for chocolate flavor, sour cream and oil for moisture.  An interesting note on the frosting - this dark chocolate frosting has a relatively small amount of powdered sugar in it relative to most buttercream frosting recipes.  I actually worried it might be a bit too little but it works, which opened my eyes to new possibilities.  The smaller amount of powdered sugar makes for a creamier, silkier frosting where you can really taste the chocolate.  That is definitely a good thing. 
Sprinkles are optional, or maybe not.  I know that colorful sprinkles always makes me smile - the hard part is deciding which sprinkles to use!  My family and I are also partial to chocolate sprinkles on our chocolate cake.  But whether you like it plain or bespeckled with sprinkle confetti, you won't regret this chocolate interlude!

February 3, 2020

Brioche Veneziana

For those of us who like to cook and bake, trying new dishes and recipes keep it fun and interesting even if we rely on family favorites most of the time. Recently, I tried my hand at making Brioche Venezianaan Italian brioche that's usually filled with custard cream and covered with coarse sugar grains.  These buns are usually enjoyed at breakfast with coffee, like you would do with croissant (or a cornetto if we're staying on the Italian pastry theme).
Brioche Veneziana filled with chestnut cream (left) and Nutella (right)
My fascination with these buns, or brioche Veneziana, started a few months ago on a breakfast outing with my husband.  The mall near our home opened up an Italian food hall not long ago.  I like the coffee there and we stopped by for coffee and a pastry before starting our day one morning.  Somehow the puffy round brioche bun coated in coarse sugar (shown below) - which I'd come to find out are known as brioche Veneziana -  captivated me.
Not only did they look good, they tasted good...sweet and buttery but not overly so, with a tasty vanilla custard middle.  They were light and airy - perfect with a cappuccino in the morning.  
The buns kept swirling in my mind and I found myself looking up information on them online.  I found a seemingly simple recipe in English that I just had to try.  Since it wasn't particularly demanding (mainly wait/proof time), I didn't think I had a lot to lose.
Brioche Veneziana filled with Nutella after baking
Based on family preference and also since I was not confident how they would turn out, I took another shortcut by filling the baked brioche with chestnut cream (which I have left over from holiday baking) and Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread, rather than custard.  I think they're both Italian pastry-appropriate fillings and delicious alternatives to custard
Filled with Chestnut Cream
The homemade brioche I've made thus far were not nearly as light and airy as the ones we can pick up at the Italian market.  I've attempted these buns twice.  After they turned out on the dense side during the first go, I did a little more research and thought maybe a longer knead time would help.  My family and I all agree that the second batch did turn out better (a bit lighter) but, in fairness, still not as puffed and lofty as the model I had in mind.  

Despite not being "perfect", both batches of these brioches were quickly polished off.  They freeze quite well.  I froze leftovers (unfilled) and when I was ready to serve them again, I left them out on the counter overnight, then warmed them up in the oven.  I cut a small hole in the middle of these buns and fill them with their filling right before serving.  While they're certainly not the best brioche Veneziana you can get, I like them so much that I just might keep on trying to get them better and better...wish me luck!

January 13, 2020

Fortnum & Mason's scone recipe

After the holidays, it's nice to have a lighter schedule.  I'm enjoying the slower pace and having time to do things, like read, again.  That said, I'm happily staying busy in the kitchen in the new year.  In fact, I've been paying attention to satisfying all my random food cravings!
These cravings run the gamut, from steel cut oatmeal to veggie stews, to, of course, chocolate.  One recent craving I've been having was for scones.  I think it may have something to do with my vague idea for a Christmas afternoon tea of sorts during the holidays that I couldn't manage to make happen.  So with more time to cook more random things, it was time to make another batch of scones!

I have developed a preference for British-style scones (which are lighter, more cake-like than the American counterpart), particularly after having an amazing afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason in London a couple of years ago.  I came home from that trip to London and wrote about making Battenberg cake and jammy dodgers and I realized I never posted about Fortnum's scones, which I've made a few times as well.  
I started making them after Fortnum published their scone recipe in their cookbook published in 2017.  I had to get my hands on some '00' flour first.  This superfine flour is common in Italian cooking, for making things like pasta; I'm happy to note that it's a lot easier to find this flour now and I can pick up a bag at my local Whole Foods.

I am admittedly quite shaky (i.e., bad) at making things like scones, biscuits, and pie dough.  But, somehow, I keep trying.  So my Fortnum scones don't come out quite as lofty, or uniform, or nearly as beautiful as the real deal.  However, they still taste wonderful!  These scones are delicate in a way - light and soft in texture, and sweet.  They are less buttery and heavy than American scones and more cake-like; they almost melt in your mouth.  After eating the latest batch this past weekend, I realize why I've been craving them! 
When I make British scones, I always get the urge to make a small batch of lemon curd to go with it.  I did just that this past weekend.  It felt so nice to sit down, split open a freshly-baked scone, and slather it with a little homemade lemon curd.  As much as I was enjoying the combination, I couldn't help but think how much I like these scones all by themselves, just enjoying the taste and texture of them.  Needless to say, I was really happy I paid attention to this particular craving and wanted to put down the recipe here.


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