Friday, July 30, 2010

"Two Pies" Turned Into A Berry Tart

Mixed Nut Crust for Berry Tart

My mom lives a mere 40 minutes from me, so we have dinner every 2 weeks or so. Like many gene-sharing people, we often have difficulty communicating. Throw in an extra language, and it's double the trouble. Mom called me the night before our dinner to ask that I bring "2 pies." I couldn't understand why 4 people needed so much dessert. Between her repeated proclamations that it was "only 2 pies!" And moments away from a fight I realized she was saying "vegetable side dish" in Chinese, which just happened to sound like "pie." As tension dissolved into laughter, we settled on a compromise of 1 vegetable dish and 1 pie.

Now, "what to bring?" was the question left on my mind.
Fresh, succulent summer fruit and cream came the immediate answer (yes, I talk to myself ^_^). Hardly what pops up when most people think of "comfort food." But waist-deep in the middle of a sticky D.C. summer, that's exactly what this magical and refreshing duo is for me. And since we'd already swapped veggies for pastry, I figured no one would pick the nit between tart and pie. Fortunately for my figure, the "cream" in the latest evolution of this pairing turns out to be rich yet low-in-fat Greek yogurt and light sour cream. What's more, 3 varieties of nuts bring complex texture and flavor to the crust, but also heart-healthy unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber. What's not to love? And let me assure you that 1 measly tart was more than enough for 4 diners, including seconds. 8p

Berry Tart with Mixed Nut Crust

Fresh Berry Tart with Toasted Nut Crust [Printable Recipe]
Slightly adapted from Vegetarian Times
Serves 8

XIAOLU'S NOTES: I loved this combination of nuts, but feel free to substitute other nuts for 1 or all of the types in the recipe. Buy 1 orange for this recipe and you'll have more than enough zest and juice. If you don't have Greek yogurt, you can make a substitute from a cup of regular yogurt by draining it over a strainer lined with cheesecloth/paper towel/coffee filter for several hours. Make sure to measure the 1/2 cup for the recipe after you drain the yogurt. I always "make" my own brown sugar using white sugar and molasses, about 1 1/2 T molasses per cup of white sugar. That's one less ingredient in my overcrowded [as in, constantly on the verge of avalanche] pantry, and no problems with hardened old brown sugar.

1/4 cup each almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 T cold unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg yolk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat 9-inch tart pan with cooking spray or a flavorless vegetable oil. Spread nuts on baking sheet, and toast in oven 12 to 15 minutes, or until browned.

Pulse nuts, flour, sugar, and salt in food processor until nuts are ground to powder. Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolk, and pulse until moist clumps form.

Press dough into bottom and sides of prepared pan, about 1/4-inch thick, and pierce with fork. [If the dough is too soft to press, freeze it at 5 minute intervals until it's easier to handle. I pressed the dough with a floured juice glass.] Freeze crust for 30 minutes.

Adjust oven temperature to 400°F. Bake crust 12 to 14 minutes, or until golden. Let cool.

1/2 cup light or regular sour cream
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 to 3 T light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp grated orange zest
1 1/2 to 2 cups blueberries
1 cup raspberries
1 T orange juice

Whisk together sour cream, yogurt, brown sugar, vanilla, and orange zest in small bowl. Toss berries with orange juice in separate bowl.

Spread sour cream mixture in crust with spatula. Spoon berries over top a little at a time, until sour cream mixture is evenly covered.

Refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes before serving.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Procrastinators Anonymous (Coconut Cupcakes with Pineapple Curd)

Coconut Pineapple Cupcakes
I can't believe I'm saying this again, but I missed yesterday's Cupcake Hero deadline! (Check out the round-up here) It makes no sense, but sometimes I'm a naughty procrastinator even about things that make me happy (cupcakes being high on the list ^_^). I think I'm ready to make a change. Anyone got any tricks for kicking this habit?

Meanwhile, I'm pleased to report tardy cupcakes taste just as yummy as on-time ones. This month's theme was coconut. Pineapple and coconut share a tropical vibe, right? So I subtly flavored my babycakes with coconut milk, then injected them with a luscious pineapple curd.

Coconut is supposed to be the star here. I know. But the pineapple filling simply stole the show. It's a great alternative to its tangy lemon cousin (and leftovers are delicious on toast or in a fruit parfait). Next time, I'll pipe the frosting around the edge only and pile on even more curd in the middle (mm mm mm).

Coconut Pineapple Cupcakes [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from Simply Recipes and The Craving Chronicles
Makes 20 cupcakes

XIAOLU'S NOTES: The pineapple curd recipe makes about twice what you need to fill the cupcakes. But it's so good you should have no trouble gobbling the rest up within 2 weeks. Halve the recipe if you want just enough for the cupcakes.

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup canned coconut milk [shake well before opening & measuring]
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pineapple Curd Filling (Recipe below)
Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting (Recipe below)
1/2 to 1 cup coconut flakes, for garnish [you can use sweetened or not]

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 standard muffin tins with 20 paper liners. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

In another larger bowl, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and cream till light and fluffy again, scraping down the sides halfway through to ensure even mixing. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 30 seconds each to ensure mixing. Be sure to scrape down the sides after each egg to ensure even mixing.

Add half of flour mixture; mix on low speed just until blended. Add 1 cup coconut milk; mix just until blended. Add remaining flour mixture and mix on low speed [or by hand] just until blended; do not overbeat.

Fill liners about 1/2 to 3/4 full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, rotating the pan after the first 15 to ensure even baking. Check with a toothpick to see if the cupcakes are done. If the toothpick comes out of the cupcake clean, they're ready. Allow the cupcakes to cool for 1-2 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Transfer pineapple curd to a piping bag fitted with a long pointed tip OR a squeeze bottle. Insert tip into each cupcake and squeeze out a small amount of filling. [One sign when the cupcake is full and to stop is when the filling oozes from the top.] Finally, spread cream cheese frosting on top of the cupcakes, sprinkle with coconut flakes, and enjoy!

Pineapple Curd
Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups

NOTES: The mixture may seem like it’s not thickening as you whisk over heat, but don’t stop – it thickens very quickly right at the end. For a smoother curd, push through a fine mesh strainer before storing. Press plastic wrap against the top of the curd to prevent a film from forming in the fridge.

2 large eggs plus 2 yolks [or 6 yolks for a richer curd]
2 1/4 cups pineapple juice [I used canned]
3/4 cup sugar
5 Tablespoons cornstarch

Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat for about 5-10 minutes, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and cool. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
a pinch of salt
1 1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Cream the butter, cream cheese, and salt together, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

Slowly add the powdered sugar; taste as you go adding more sugar until you have reached the desired sweetness and consistency.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Sweet Ending (Strawberry N' Cream Cupcakes)

Strawberries for Cupcakes

It's still hard to believe the end finally arrived, but last Tuesday was my last day as a paralegal (ever!). My fellow departing paras and I were planning a celebratory happy hour. But I also wanted to thank the other coworkers who'd befriended and guided me through the past 3 years. They'd given me something to look forward to every day at the firm, and that was no small thing :). At the least, they deserved a parting with a personal touch.

Armed with a pile of cards the weekend before, I began preparing thank you notes to each of them. And along with those, cupcakes inspired by the quintessential summer dessert, strawberry shortcake. Recalling last year's strawberry cake, I couldn't help but make a number of tweaks to bring out this cupcake's full potential. For me, a sprinkling of mint and Kirsch added just the right amount of depth to the filling, but it's completely optional.

Strawberry N' Cream Cupcakes

In the end, I was really happy I chose to say goodbye in person, and everyone seemed to enjoy my parting gift =D. My eyes misted over quite a few times throughout the day. Despite all the times when I wasn't sure I'd make it from one day to the next, I knew I'd genuinely miss this place and the personal connections I'd made. Which brings me to a question I'd like to ask of you all. I really want to stay in touch with my work friends, including older attorneys, but have never been much good at it. Do you have any tips from your own job/life transition experiences?

Strawberry N' Cream Cupcakes
[Printable Recipe]
Makes 24 cupcakes

XIAOLU'S NOTES: These cupcakes are what I'd call "delicate beauties" that need to be devoured quickly lest they wilt in the heat. They'll keep, if chilled, for a couple days after assembly. You can also make the components and chill them until ready to serve. You'll have a good amount of filling and frosting left over, but fortunately they're good on their own, too!

Vanilla Cupcakes (Recipe below)
Whipped Cream Frosting (Recipe below)
2 quarts strawberries, hulled [reserve the 12 smallest & prettiest and slice the rest]
1/2 cup sugar, or more to taste
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp fresh mint, finely minced (optional)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp Kirsch (optional but highly recommended)

Toss strawberries several times in a bowl with sugar, lemon juice, mint, vanilla, and Kirsch (if using) until very syrupy and set aside. Make whipped cream frosting (see below).

Use a paring knife to cut a shallow cone in the middle top of the cupcake. Spoon some strawberries with syrup over top, allowing it to absorb into cupcakes. Top each with a dollop of cream frosting and a strawberry half. Enjoy!

Vanilla Cupcakes
Adapted from Amy Sedaris

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the tops of 2 standard muffin tins, then line with 24 paper liners. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a different larger bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and mix until combined into the batter. Then add the vanilla and mix again. Finally alternately beat in dry ingredients and milk. Fill liners until they are about 2/3 full (I like to use my large cookie scoop for this). Bake for 16 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely.

Whipped Cream Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature [reduced-fat is fine]
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream

Place cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment [or use a large mixing bowl and hand-held mixer]. Whisk at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Reduce speed to low and add heavy cream in slow, steady stream; then increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture holds stiff peaks, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes more, scraping bowl as needed (you should have about 4 1/2 cups).

Friday, July 9, 2010

Catching Up On A Few Birthdays

My first post to this blog was in October of '07, not far short of 3 years ago. So "where have all the blog-iversaries been?" would be perfectly reasonable for you to ask 8). Well ya see, workaholic that I was, I left this young blog alone and unloved for the better part of 2 years until I met a stunning strawberry cake that simply for my own birthday last year. Since that was the real start of my blogging and to keep things simple, I decided then to celebrate 6 Bittersweets' birthday at the same time as mine.

What could I make this year to outdo a cake decked out with whipped cream and the season's ripest berries, not to mention one that had saved my fledgling site from the black hole that (I imagine) swallows up abandoned blogs? How about my favorite dessert re-born in a tropical mango paradise? Yes, please! Now beauty and foodgasms can't always come cheap (at least not when you've invited mascarpone, cream, and exotic fruit to the party). But if you've ever believed a word out of my mouth, believe this: this cake is worth every penny.

Mangomisu with Raspberry Sauce

Sweet and tart, juicy and fragrant, cool and creamy...all the flavors and textures meld perfectly to make every bite a revelation. Other than slicing the mangoes, assembly is fast too. Plus you won't even lose your summer cool, as there's no baking involved. Our 1st blog birthday (and my 25th) was joyous indeed, thanks to this remarkable treat as well as to every one of you lovely readers out there. So much has changed in just a year, and I wouldn't have made it this far without your encouragement. Truly, you all inspire me.

Alright, everyone, you can come out of hiding now. I'm done with all the sappiness ^__^. Now please go make this cake. Like right now. Bring it to a party or throw a party so you'll have an excuse to make it. Whatever it takes to get this deliciousness in your mouth ASAP. And while you're doing that, I'll be here planning all sorts of exciting things to share with you in the coming year :).

Mangomisu Cake [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from delicious. magazine
Serves 8 to 10

XIAOLU'S NOTES: Be sure to let the cake chill completely before attempting to unmold it. I did this too early, so the edges got messy. I ended up putting a cake ring back around the cake, freezing it, and smoothing the edges at the end. As a substitute to Grand Marnier, I boiled down the juice of 2 more oranges to about half the original volume and added 2 tablespoons of dark rum at the end. Since I used the soft type of ladyfingers, I brushed syrup on the ladyfingers instead of dipping them. I include directions for both types below.

500 g [16 to 18 oz.] mascarpone cheese
600 ml [2 1/2 cups] heavy cream
3/4 cup powdered sugar [or more to taste]
2 medium egg yolks
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped [or 2 tsp vanilla extract]
1/2 cup Grand Marnier [see note above]
Juice of 2 medium oranges
300g [about 2 packages] savoiardi (ladyfinger sponge biscuits)
[see note above]
3 large mangoes, peeled and sliced lengthwise 1 cm [1/3-inch] thick
[I used 6 small mangoes and the amount was perfect]
Raspberry Sauce [recipe below]

Line the base of a 22cm [9-inch] springform cake pan with plastic wrap or baking paper. Place the mascarpone, heavy cream, powdered sugar, egg yolks and vanilla seeds in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on high speed until very thick and well combined.

Combine the Grand Marnier and orange juice in a separate bowl. Dip half the ladyfingers into the juice mixture and layer in the base of the cake pan [or layer then brush the ladyfingers with juice mixture if using the soft variety of ladyfingers]. Spread with one-third of the mascarpone mixture, and top with one-third of the mango slices. Repeat the process, then top with the remaining mascarpone mixture, reserving the remaining mango slices to serve. [I decorated the top with mango slices right away with no problem.] Cover the cake and chill for 2 hours or until firm.

To serve, carefully remove the sides and base of the cake pan and transfer the mangomisu to a platter. Decorate with curls of the reserved mango, then slice and serve with raspberry sauce.

Raspberry sauce
1/4 cup (55g) sugar [or more to taste]
2 T water
2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
Juice of 1 lemon [I also added 1/2 tsp lemon zest]

Place the sugar and water in a small pan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cool slightly, then add the berries and lemon juice [and zest, if using]. Whiz in a food processor until smooth or mash well with a spoon, then pass through a strainer, making sure to push as much liquid through as possible. Chill until ready to serve. (You can make the sauce in advance and store it, covered, in the fridge for 3-4 days).