Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cake Stand Giveaway Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered my cake stand giveaway! The randomly selected winner is Susan of You Go Girl! Congrats, Susan -- I hope you enjoy your prize =D. For the rest of you, I already have another giveaway in the works, so keep checking back this month!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Without Artifice (Velvet Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting)

UPDATE: I've since come up with a better red velvet cake recipe that I'm satisfied with (after 7 tries) that I posted HERE.

I was completely surprised by the enthusiastic response to my last post, especially the food styling sketches I shared. Thanks, you guys! Sketching won't be to everyone's taste, but I do really find it helps me stay organized when I'd otherwise leave all preparation to the last second 8). I also have to confess I started sketching more as a way to kill time during my 1 1/2 hour public transit commute to school than out of pure devotion to photography. You never do know what circumstances will end up improving your skills! Now, as promised, I'm back with not only a freshly baked treat but a "behind-the-scenes" look at my (really quite simple) photo set-up. But first let me say a few things about these velvet cupcakes.

Velvet Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
Let's talk food coloring...I'm simply not a fan and try to avoid it most of the time. Yet I'm also a girl who demands her right to like pretty, colorful things from time to time. Is that worth a bottle or more of food coloring for a single recipe? Not for me...which is why this isn't my first time making "redless" velvet cupcakes. You're obviously welcome to your own views on the matter, though ^_^. Which is why you'll find directions for adding food coloring, should you desire it, in the headnotes to the recipe below.

Now it's on to flavor and texture...I'm by no means a true American Southerner or even a connoisseur of red velvets. But I do have an image of the "perfect" red velvet cupcake based on what I liked and didn't in the dozen or so I've sampled thus far. First and foremost, it needs to be moist and tender. It shouldn't taste like chocolate cake, yet there must be enough cocoa to make each bite flavorful. I also couldn't do without some tanginess, which should be subtle in the cake and more prominent in the cream cheese frosting.

While the original recipe I followed (the one pictured above) fell short of my red velvet ideal, my significantly tweaked version published below was greatly improved on all counts. I'm not the type to call anything "The Best" but this is by far the most delicious out of the 5 recipes I've tried! What I am still on the hunt for, however, is a recipe for fluffy but not supersweet cream cheese frosting (meaning no more than 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar per 8 oz. of cream cheese/butter). Can ya please help a girl out? 8)

Set-up for Velvet Cupcakes Shot

Now as requested, this photo and those below are of the set-up I used to take the top photo in this post. I use a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XS camera most often with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens. Both are on the lower end of the price range for dSLR equipment. Though I love my XS, I'd recommend starting with a slightly higher-end model if you plan to use it often. Regardless of the camera, I guarantee the 50mm lens is a great buy and much cheaper than most lenses of such high quality. FYI, my camera isn't pictured above since I had to use it to take the photo 8D.

What you can see are 2 white foam boards (available at most craft or art supply stores) and a round 40-inch 5-in-1 flexible reflector (mine is this one from Amazon) to bounce light back onto the food. In this shot I used the silver side of the reflector, but you could easily replace it with another foam board that's left white or covered in aluminum foil. When I actually took my food photos, I picked up the reflector and angled it downward to reflect the maximum amount of light onto the cupcake.

Set-up for Velvet Cupcakes Shot

I included the above photo to give you a clearer view of my window. It's quite tall (almost 5 feet) and almost twice as wide and faces west. If you look closely, you may see the seams of large pieces of white parchment paper that I've taped together then up across the entire window to soften the often-harsh natural light. You could use vellum paper (available at art supply stores) or a sheer white curtain for the same effect. I use one of the above materials to diffuse the light for practically all my food photos. Finally, I want to draw your attention to the styrofoam pieces below the window and next to the heating vent. Sometimes when the food or props look tilted in a photo despite adjusting my shooting angle, I use small pieces of styrofoam or balled up foil underneath to level things out.

Set-up for Velvet Cupcakes Shot

Finally, I included this shot to show you my tripod. Seriously I have the shakiest hands known to man, which have gotten worse due to some sleep problems I've been having. So believe me when I say that I NEED my tripod to get clear shots. Fortunately, even the cheap ones can greatly improve your photography. I have this one from Amazon. What you see above, though, is not only the tripod but also this 38-inch horizontal tripod arm extender. It's neither as crucial nor as affordable as my tripod, but I've found it really helpful for getting overhead shots or just squeezing into tight corners in my small apartment.

I hope this is interesting/helpful to some of you. As I've said before, I'm always happy to take your questions or suggestions about content you'd be interested in for future posts.

Velvet Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting [Printable Recipe]
Loosely adapted from Cakeman Raven, Joy the Baker, and Martha Stewart
Makes 12 to 14 cupcakes

XIAOLU’S NOTES: It’s my personal decision to avoid this large an amount of food coloring, but you should feel free to make these red if you’d like. To do that, add 1 tablespoon of liquid red food coloring to the batter with the liquid ingredients. Speaking of buttermilk, I love its favor but rarely have it on hand, so I often use the following substitution. For 1/2 cup of buttermilk substitute, use 1 1/2 teaspoons of white or cider vinegar and add enough milk to make 1/2 cup total. Stir well and let sit for at least 5 minutes before using. While delicious, the cinnamon frosting actually overshadowed the cupcake a bit for me and reminded me more of a carrot cake, so I'm leaving the spice optional in the recipe.

1 cup MINUS 1 Tbsp all purpose flour [stirred, spooned, and leveled to measure]
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp PLUS 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup PLUS 1 Tbsp sugar
6 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
2 Tbsp (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 large egg, room temperature
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp distilled white or apple cider vinegar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Cinnamon Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting (Recipe Below)
12 chocolate-covered raisins, to garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard muffin pan with 12 baking liners [with 2 standalone baking cups OR another pan and 2 baking liners ready just in case].

Sift the flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar into a large bowl; set aside. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the oil, butter, buttermilk, applesauce, egg, yolk, vinegar, and vanilla until well combined. Then add the wet ingredients to to the dry, and gently fold them together, mixing just until combined and the batter has no large lumps (tiny lumps are fine).

Distribute batter evenly among baking cups, filling each about 2/3 full. When finished, slam the whole pan firmly downward from 1 to 2 inches above the counter to remove any large air bubbles. Bake for 16 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer cupcakes to a wire rack to finish cooling. Once cupcakes have cooled completely, pipe or spread on frosting. Top with chocolate-covered raisins, if using, and enjoy with friends!

Cinnamon Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
5 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup (10 oz.) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Sift powdered sugar and cinnamon into a medium bowl; set aside.

Place butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat on medium-high speed until light and creamy, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the powdered sugar mixture at a time, mixing until evenly combined between each addition. Before adding the last portion of sugar, scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl to ensure even mixing. Finally add vanilla, then beat on high speed for 1 to 2 minutes until smooth and fluffy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pomegranate Almond Cream Cheese Danish

Fillings for Danish Pastry

Right before the New Year, Ryan from POM Wonderful contacted me to ask if I'd be interested in a free sample of their pomegranate juice. Um...did he really need to ask? Of course I'd love a sample! =) After years of oohing and ahing over the fantastic creations of my fellow bloggers, I was eager for the chance to make my own mark.

But in an ironic turn of events, the same creative posts that had inspired me were suddenly in the way. You see, the rest of y'all were so creative that every pomegranate idea I came up with had already been tried and blogged!! If you know me, though, you know I wouldn't give up that easily. Now it took days (and the noble sacrifice of several inspirational bottles of POM juice) to get there, but an untread path did finally open up.

The turning point was when I remembered that pomegranate juice was easily transformed into a deliciously tart jelly. I knew this because I'd made a bunch to give out as Christmas gifts years ago. Though thumbprint cookies and cupcakes were in the running, the idea of a hot-from-the oven homemade Danish pastry filled with zesty cream cheese and pomegranate jelly wouldn't let go of me. So here you have it-- my own small contribution to the grand library of pomegranate recipes. I'm actually pleasantly surprised that the flavors melded as well as I imagined. From the flaky buttery pastry to the sweet and tart fillings, the crunch of almond flakes to the finishing glaze, every bite contains something to savor.

Pomegranate Cream Cheese Almond Danish Pastry

Lastly, I wanted to share with you a little bit of my food styling and photography process. I'd actually promised my dear friend, Alicia of The Red Deer, that I'd take a photograph of my set-up. Sadly I ran out of time and light today but promise to get one from my next shoot! In the meantime, I thought I'd show you some sketches I made in preparation for today's shoot. Some people I know have amazing vision and can imagine a complicated scene all in their mind's eye. Let me tell ya, I am not one of those people. I also get flustered when in a rush (which happens most of the time I bake). So the solution that's worked for me is to sketch out a few general shots I'd like to get beforehand so I can think about colors and shapes and have props on hand as soon as the food is ready. I try to be spontaneous still, but this is really the more practical approach.

Now I'd love to hear if you guys have any food styling or photography tips of your own to share? Or you're welcome to ask any questions. I'm still a beginner, but the learning experience is so much more fun when others join in =).

Sketches for Pomegranate Jelly Cheese Danish Photos

I'm also sending this over to Susan at Wild Yeast for her weekly Yeastspotting event.

Pomegranate Almond Cheese Danish Pastries [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from Joe Pastry, Gourmet, The Pie and Pastry Bible, and Simply Recipes
Makes 18 danishes

XIAOLU'S NOTES: You can replace these fillings with a number of other things. Just aim for 2 to 3 teaspoons of 1 or 2 types of filling in each danish. Try other preserves, almond cream, poppyseed filling, pastry cream, or even something savory like sun-dried tomatoes! Also feel free to explore all the fun shapes out there.

Danish Pastry Dough (Recipe below)
Cream Cheese Filling (Recipe below)
1/4 cup Pomegranate Jelly (Recipe below)
1 large egg
2 Tbsp water
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp water
2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Remove dough from the refrigerator; divide in half. Rewrap and chill one half as you work with the other. Let dough sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Flour your counter, then roll the dough into a 12 x 9-inch rectangle (1/4-inch thick). Transfer to a cookie sheet, cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to relax the gluten. Meanwhile, repeat the above for the other half of the dough.

Put 1st dough back on the counter, flour the top, and roll into a 12-inch square (1/8-inch thick). Brush off excess flour. Use a ruler and sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into nine 4-inch squares. Cover squares, then repeat the above for the remaining dough.

Keep all squares covered except the one being worked on. To shape each pastry, bring 2 opposite corners of a square together to fold it in half into a triangle. Starting 3/4-inch inwards from each end of the base of the triangle, cut through both layers as if to make a smaller triangle BUT stop cutting 3/4-inch before the 2 cuts would meet. Now unfold the triangle back into a square. Turn the dough over, brush off any excess flour, then reinvert the dough. Combine egg and 2 tablespoons water and beat together lightly to form an egg wash. Brush the border of the pastry with egg wash. Lift each of the 2 unattached corners of the dough and slip one under the other, crossing them over and pulling them out to line up with the remaining edges below. Repeat the above for remaining squares. (Shaping the pastries is really simpler than it sounds. Refer to the photo below to help visualize the process.)

Photo courtesy of Amber * via Flickr

Pipe 1/2 teaspoon of pomegranate jelly (if too solid, heat in microwave at 10-second intervals until pipeable) and 1 teaspoon of cream cheese filling into the center of each twist. Sprinkle each with 3 to 4 sliced almonds. Arrange pastries on baking sheets, leaving at least 1 1/2 inches between them. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to rise for about 2 hours (until almost doubled and very light to the touch).

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F at least 20 minutes before baking. Five minutes before baking, place a pan with 1 inch of boiling water on the lowest shelf of the oven. Press down on the twists of each pastry to help maintain the shape during baking. Place pastries in the oven, then immediately reduce the temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

While pastries are baking, prepare the sugar glaze. Combine powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon water, and lemon juice in a small bowl. The glaze should be about as thick as egg white; adjust with more water or powdered sugar as needed.

Transfer baked pastries to a cooling rack immediately and brush with glaze. Cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Enjoy your danish right away, store at room temperature for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 3 months. To reheat, bake in an oven preheated to 300 degrees F for 5 minutes (8 minutes if frozen).

Danish Pastry Dough
3/4 cup warm milk, divided
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups (10 oz.) PLUS 1 Tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 large egg, room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cool room temperature

Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm milk and let stand for 10 minutes, or until foamy. Combine yeast mixture with remaining milk plus ingredients from sugar down to the egg (EXCEPT 1 tablespoon of the flour) in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using the dough hook, mix about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and uniform (it should be soft and somewhat sticky). Turn it out into a lightly oiled bowl, rotate the dough to coat it in oil, then cover loosely and let it ferment for 30 minutes at room temperature then 2 to 8 hours in the refrigerator.

Place the last tablespoon of flour on a large piece of plastic wrap then put the butter on top (1 stick on top of the other). Wrap plastic around the contents loosely and hit the butter with a rolling pin to make it flatter and softer. Next, as quickly as possible, knead the butter and flour together through the plastic wrap by using your knuckles (Avoid using other warmer parts of your hands that may melt the butter.). Form the butter mixture into a 5-inch square (3/4-inch thick at most) and chill it for 15 to 30 minutes, or until it is firmer but still malleable.

Roll the dough on a well-floured surface into a 10-inch square and lay the butter block diagonally in the center of the square. Lightly moisten the edges of the dough with water, then securely fold the corners tightly over the butter like an envelope, enclosing the butter completely. Brush off any excess flour and pinch edges of the dough together to seal them. Rewrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes only.

With the rolling pin flatten the dough gently with uniform impressions and roll it from the center away from you to within 1/2 inch of the edge. Turn the strip 180 degrees and roll the dough again from the center away from you to within 1/2 inch of the end. Continue to roll the dough in this manner until it forms a 16 x 7-inch rectangle. (It is important not to roll over the ends in this first rolling to help the later formation of even layers of butter and dough.) Brush off any excess flour, fold the top quarter of the rectangle down to the center of the strip, and fold the bottom quarter of the rectangle up to the center, leaving about 1/2 inch between the 2 ends. Fold the top half of the dough over the bottom to close the dough like a book. This is the first "turn." Rewrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 20 to 40 minutes between each turn.

Do 2 more turns for a total of 3 turns, making sure to position the short side of the dough facing you and closed side to your left before each turn. You may also want to occasionally flip the dough over and to use a pastry scraper to even the edges. Rewrap the finished dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using. (Dough can also be kept refrigerated for 2 to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)

Cream Cheese Filling
4 oz. (1/2 cup) cream cheese
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp egg yolk
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest
Scant 1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp all purpose flour

In a bowl, combine all ingredients and beat until well combined. Chill the filling, covered, for at least 1 hour and up to a day.

Pomegranate Jelly
Makes 3 to 3 1/2 cups

XIAOLU'S NOTES: I used bottled pomegranate juice, but follow these directions to make your own.

2 1/4 cups pomegranate juice [bottled OR fresh]
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 package powdered pectin
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 to 4 eight-ounce canning jars OR other sized jars with equivalent total volume

Prepare canning jars. Submerge clean, empty canning jars in boiling water for several minutes. Boil a few cups of water in a separate kettle and pour over lids in a small bowl to sterilize. Add pomegranate juice and lemon juice to a saucepan with at least 3 quart capacity. Add pectin, stir well, and cook over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Reach a full rolling boil (one that can't be stirred down), add sugar, and stir well. Boil hard for exactly 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand for a minute and skim off foam.

Fill jars to 1/2-inch of the top. Wipe rims with a clean towel. Screw on 2-piece lids.

Finish canning IF you plan to keep the jelly unrefrigerated. Place the filled jars, not touching, on a rack in a tall pot of boiling water. Water should cover tops of the jars by at least an inch. Boil for 5 minutes, then remove from the water. Let jars cool. Check seals, the lids should be sucked down (you'll hear a popping noise as the jelly cools). Once the jars reach room temperature, put them in the refrigerator for a few hours to complete the gelling. Each jar of jelly will last about 3 weeks once opened.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Latest Music Obsession: Anoushka Shankar & Karsh Kale "Slither"

This is the first instrumental song I've featured here and comes from the fabulous 2007 collaboration between Anoushka Shankar and Karsh Kale that, to quote one reviewer, "blends Indian classical, electronica and folk" styles of music. I was introduced to the fabulous title track of "Breathing Underwater" at the time of the album's release, but finally discovered the entire album only last week. It's a real adventure for the ears and like nothing I've heard before, but the track above is the one that immediately infiltrated my mind and has refused to bulge ever since. Hope you guys enjoy this as much as I have! And it's not too late to enter my cake stand giveaway if you haven't already!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Showin' Some Love (Recipe Shout-Out and Giveaway)

Ispahan Cupcakes

In honor of the upcoming day of love, I wanted to show some appreciation to all my beloved readers.'s a big wet noisy kiss from me to you all =p! Just kidding (kinda...) but I actually would like to recognize especially the readers who've been inspired to bake from and blog about my recipes. To do this, I'm starting a series of "Recipe Shout-Out" posts à la Almost Bourdain. Thanks to everyone who's trusted me enough to try my ideas and recipes, whether you blogged about it or not!

If you (1) posted about a 6 Bittersweets-inspired recipe and I missed it; (2) made a recipe, took a photo, but don't have a blog; or (3) post about a recipe of mine in the future, please email me your name, photo, and blog post URL (if applicable) and I'll be sure to include it in my next round-up. To share even more love with even more readers, I will announce a food-related giveaway with each shout-out post.

Today I'm giving away the beautiful handmade 10 x 3 1/2-inch wedding cake stand pictured above, which I used for my Raspberry Rose Lychee Cupcakes photo (also above). This giveaway is open to all readers in the US or Canada. To enter, do as many of the following as you want and leave a separate comment for each thing you do! Please also make sure to leave a way for me to contact you if you win. The giveaway will close on February 24 at midnight, and the winner will be announced shortly thereafter. THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED.
  • Leave a comment telling me what treat you would use this cake stand to display.
  • Subscribe to this blog via reader or email, then leave a comment telling me.
  • Link to this giveaway on Facebook, then leave a comment telling me.
  • Tweet about this giveaway, then leave a comment telling me.
  • Blog about this giveaway, then leave a comment telling me.
Now that we got that good stuff outta the way, it's on to the round-up! I hope you enjoy a wonderful Valentine's Day next week with your friends and/or significant others.


Inspired by S'Mores Cupcakes

Handle the Heat - 'Smores Cupcakes

Inspired by Raspberry Rose Lychee Cupcakes

Darjeeling Dreams - Ispahan Cupcakes

Inspired by Browned Butter Pizzookies

Greedy Gourmand - Browned Butter Pizzookie

Sütimizéria - Pizzookie

Inspired by Cookies N' Cream Owl Cupcakes

icreate...with love - Owl Cupcakes

Inspired by Chocolate Nutella Alfajores

WindsorEats - Nutella Cookie Sandwiches

Inspired by Ricotta Hotcakes

Une-deux senses - Bill Granger's Ricotta Hotcakes

Inspired by Blackberry Kuchen

The Craving Chronicles - Lemon Blackberry Kuchen

Inspired by
Blueberry Swirl Mini Cheesecakes

Handle the Heat - Mini Vanilla Bean Cheesecakes with Cranberry Topping

Made with Love and Sugar - Cuppacheesecake

Inspired by Salted Caramel Chocolate Layer Cake

Sweet Athena - Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

Inspired by Tiramisu Cupcakes

Sütimizéria - Tiramisu Cupcakes

Inspired by Coconut Cupcakes with Pineapple Curd

Gina Marie's Kitchen - Coconut Cupcakes with Pineapple Filling

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Latest Music Obsession: The Decemberists "This Is Why We Fight"

The Decemberists

The Decemberists are without a doubt one of my favorite bands. It feels like merely a few months ago when the first chords of "Leslie Anne Levine" washed over me and stole my heart. Lying there in my new college dorm, I thought to myself, "It can't get any better than this." Now, 8 years, 5 albums, and countless concerts later, Colin Meloy and his merry gang have proved me wrong by continually outdoing themselves.

Today, I'd like to share with you (1) "This Is Why We Fight" (above), my favorite song off their new album, The King Is Dead, and (2) a sweet cover (below) I found of an older favorite, "The Engine Driver." I do so hope you love them as much as I do =).

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Guest Post: Frozen Brazo de Mercedes Cake

Trissa of Trissalicious was one of the first bloggers to reach out to me as a new kid on the (bloggin') block. I just had the honor of guest posting on her site. And to my delight, she also agreed to prepare a post for mine. As you'll soon experience, Trissa has a wonderfully warm style of writing that's guaranteed to make you smile (and often laugh). Plus her beautiful photos always make me drool. Another thing I love about Trissa is that she's both sweet and spunky. When she learned of my Donna Hay obsession, for example, she immediately offered to mail me the latest issue from Australia. Yet this same lady successfully faked a proposal to get into a famous and completely booked restaurant! How's that for gutsy? Oh and did I mention she's a master of macarons? Some other standout recipes on her blog include the mango natilla custard cake, strawberry watermelon cake, and bechamel prawn-stuffed mussels. But (and I hope I don't seem biased when I tell you) the cake she shares below just jumped to the top of my to-try list! Please give your warmest welcome to my dear friend, Trissa.

Being invited to someone's house for dinner always poses a problem for me. I often wonder, what's the best thing to bring? Given a choice between bringing the standard wine, flowers or food, I'll inevitably resort to bringing food. Then there's the dilemma of what dish to bring. Do I bring an entree or dessert? And God forbid if I bring the same dish that the host is cooking!

Frozen Brazo de Mercedes 1

Being asked to guest blog is just as nerve wracking. Especially when the one asking has such a beautifully written and photographed blog like Xiaolu from 6 Bittersweets. If you haven't already met Xiaolu, let me tell you a little bit more about her. She's a great baker, cook and all-around super foodie. I admire her because she turned her back on a successful career at a law firm to pursue a career in nutrition, for which she is currently studying for. It takes guts and personality to do something like that - and both traits shine through when you read her blog. Plus she makes the most beautiful cakes...

I pondered for weeks over what would be suitable for her blog. I knew she was fond of desserts so definitely something sweet most likely...but what? Should I make something tried and tested or experiment on something new? Would she like it? Would she have already made something similar? The list went on and on...but of course Xiaolu, ever the gracious host, gave me the kind encouragement, inspiration and free hand to let me do as I pleased.

Frozen Brazo de Mercedes 3

So I decided to make a dessert I had never made before but had heard rave reviews from friends and family. It's a twist on a very popular Filipino dessert called Brazo de Mercedes, which literally translates to "The arm of a lady named Mercedes". The reason being the original dessert is shaped like a jelly roll which was supposed to resemble the shape of a woman's arm. The outer layer is a fluffy meringue and inside is a custard made from the left over egg yolks and milk. I had heard that a popular variation on this cake was to freeze it, so instead of a jelly roll, you instead had a frozen layered cake where the bottom layer is made from graham crackers, followed by a thick layer of vanilla ice cream, then the custard and finally the meringue.

Now, I'm not much of a sweet tooth and the idea of ice cream, custard, and meringue sounded a little bit too sugary for my liking - but I did manage to wolf down two large slices, which went down especially well given the heat of the Sydney summer. Everyone else that I offered it to enjoyed it and also asked for seconds so yes, it was a great success. Good enough for Xiaolu's blog?

I'm certainly hoping so! :)

DEFINITELY good enough! Trissa, can I please just have the whole cake to myself? =p

Frozen Brazo de Mercedes

Frozen Brazo de Mercedes [Printable Recipe]
Serves 10 to 12

Meringue Layer
8 egg whites [save yolks for custard layer]
1/2 cup (110 grams) sugar
pinch of cream of tartar or egg white powder

Preheat the oven to 275 F (135 C) for non-convection ovens OR 250 F (120 C) for convection ovens. Grease and line a 15 x 10-inch pan and then grease the baking paper once more. Using a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until semi-stiff peaks and then gradually start adding the sugar until you have stiff peaks but make sure that you don't over beat the egg whites, otherwise it will go grainy. Spread the egg whites on to the baking tray and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and then place the baking tray on top of a rack and allow to cool. Set aside.

Custard Layer
8 egg yolks
10.58 oz. (300 grams) sweetened condensed milk
3 tablespoons (around 50 grams) of butter

Place the egg yolks and condensed milk in a stainless steel bowl and place the bowl a top a pot of simmering water, making sure that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Mix the egg yolks and the condensed milk until thick using a whisk until the mixture has thickened like a custard. Remove from the heat and then add the butter, making sure to fully incorporate. Allow to cool in the refrigerator and set aside until needed.

Graham Crust
8.8 oz (250 grams) graham crackers OR digestive-style biscuits, crushed using a food processor
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons (around 50 grams) of butter

Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C) for non-convection ovens OR 320 F (180 C) for convection ovens .

Heat the butter in the microwave until melted, then add the sugar and the graham crackers. Mix thoroughly and then spread over two 8 1/2 x 6-inch pans. Bake for 10 minutes and then remove. Allow to cool before assembly.

4 1/4 cups (1 liter) vanilla ice cream, softened at room temperature for about 10 minutes

To assemble, place a layer of ice cream, around half an inch (1.3 cm or so) thick, over the graham crust. Place the mixture in the freezer and allow to set for around 30 minutes. Then add the custard layer and then return this to the freezer and allow to set for another 30 minutes. Finally, cut the meringue (you will have more than you need, so ensure that you can cut it large enough to fit the tray) to fit the two trays and place on top of the custard layer. Return the dessert to the freezer and allow to set for around three hours.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Orange Passionfruit Curd Mini Tarts (Guest Post on Trissalicious)

Orange Passionfruit Curd Tartlets

Happy Year of the Rabbit! Though it isn't Chinese or even Asian at all, I do have something lovely to share with you today. Trissa of the always beautiful and mouth-watering blog, Trissalicious, has generously invited me to guest post. Please stop by her site to read all about my Orange Passionfruit Tartlets. A fun meeting of tangy and sweet fruits, creamy curd, and crunchy poppy seeds, these are tarts fancy enough for guests or as a special treat for yourself ^_^. You can also go straight to the recipe below. Thanks, Trissa, for sharing your amazing space with me.

Orange Passionfruit Curd Tartlet Closeup
Orange Passionfruit Curd Mini Tarts [Printable Recipe]
Makes six 4-inch mini tarts

XIAOLU'S NOTES: You can use any combination of citrus fruits that you want for the topping, really. I chose navel orange, blood orange, and cara cara oranges. Practically all components of this recipe can be prepared in advance, leaving only minor assembly to be done the day you want to serve the tarts.

Poppy Seed Mini Tart Shells (Recipe Below)
Passionfruit Curd (Recipe Below)
3 assorted citrus fruits, ends and peel sliced off and sectioned

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) at least 15 minutes before baking. Smoothly fill the prebaked tart shells with passionfruit curd and bake for 7 to 10 minutes. The filling shouldn't change color and should barely jiggle when the pan is moved. Transfer tarts to a rack to cool.

Once the tarts have completely cooled, transfer to the refrigerator and chill until set (at least 2 hours). Once set, arrange several citrus segments decoratively atop each tart. Then remove tarts from their pans and enjoy!

Poppy Seed Mini Tart Shells
1 1/3 cups (6.5 oz.) bleached all purpose flour
2 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/3 tsp salt
1 Tbsp poppy seeds
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 Tbsp ice water
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

Sift the flour, sugar, and salt into a large bowl, then add poppy seeds and stir until evenly distributed. Cut the butter into small pieces. Mix the butter into the flour by using a pastry scraper to cut in the butter and fully incorporate it into the flour mixture. You can also use your fingers, but if you do you must do it quickly. Once the dough has the texture of fine sand, freeze the bowl for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from freezer, then create a well in the center. Whisk the water, vinegar, and egg white together in a small bowl, then add to the center of the well (you can do this in batches depending on the size of your well). Slowly incorporate the flour into the center. Once most of the flour has been incorporated you can start using your hands. Knead the dough and form a round ball of dough. At this point, transfer a small handful of the dough to a marble, non-stick silicone, or parchment paper surface and, using the heel of your hand, smear it out completely onto the surface. This process makes sure that the butter is fully incorporated, and helps bring the dough together. Re-form the smeared piece of dough and move it to a far corner of the surface. Repeat with the rest of the dough, then press all the portions of dough into a single disc and wrap twice in plastic wrap. Let rest in the fridge for at least 45 minutes and up to several days.

Remove dough from the refrigerator and let warm to a cool room temperature. Roll dough out to 1/8 to 1/16-inch thickness. Cut out 5 1/2-inch circles of dough and press each of these into a mini tart pan. Prick the bottoms of the dough all over with a fork. Cover and freeze for at least 10 minutes and up to a day before baking.

Preheat your oven to 400 F. Cover tart pans with foil OR parchment paper and weigh down using dry beans or pie weights. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven, and remove the beans and parchment. Press down lightly with a spoon on any areas of the crusts that have puffed up while baking. Return to the oven for 5 minutes more or until lightly golden. Remove from oven.

Passionfruit Curd
Makes about 2 cups

2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 1/2 tsp cornstarch, sifted
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup passionfruit puree OR juice from about 6 fruits, divided
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 1 small orange)
1 1/2 tsp finely grated orange zest
1 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

In a heavy non-reactive saucepan, beat the eggs, yolks, cornstarch, and sugar until well blended. Stir in 7 tablespoons (reserve 1 tablespoon for later) passionfruit puree, orange juice, the zests, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the sides of the pan, until mixture comes to a boil. Let boil 1 to 2 minutes. Mixture will change from translucent to opaque.

Once curd has boiled 1 to 2 minutes, remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla until smooth. Press curd through a strainer suspended over a medium bowl to remove any potential lumps. Add remaining tablespoon of passionfruit puree to the bowl and stir thoroughly; allow to cool. Curd can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.