Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday Favorites and a Few Free Cookbooks!

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving! I hope all my US readers had a wonderful holiday surrounded by LOTS of good food and loved ones. I definitely did and am so THANKFUL for the people in my life right now. Since P's schedule (off work at midnight on Thanksgiving and back to work at 4 am on Black Friday) ruled out our usual tradition of driving to see his family, I did my best to create a little feast for us as well as my mom here: P's favorite tomato vodka pasta, scallion cheddar biscuits, steamed broccoli with hollandaise sauce, dijon mustard lemon roasted potatoes, Mom's celery mushroom wheat gluten stirfry, and tiramisu served in individual glasses.

In support of the holiday spirit (and to prevent my apartment from exploding from the pressure of too many unused cookbooks), I've decided to give away 4 cookbooks that are gorgeous and have gotten great reviews, but that I simply don't see myself using to full advantage anytime soon. To keep things simple, I'm giving these away on a first come, first serve basis, and I'll pay for shipping within the continental US. Simply comment with the title you want to enter. Limit 2 cookbooks per person, but feel free to name an alternative in case your 1st choices are taken.

1. Fresh in Summer by Alastair Hendy (Photography by David Loftus)
1 Fresh in Summer
2. The Essence of Chocolate by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg
2 Essence of Chocolate
3. Holiday Cupcakes by Annie Rigg (Photography by Kate Whitaker)
3 Holiday Cupcakes
4. Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters by Marilynn and Sheila Brass
4 Heirloom Baking
Food Photography Favorites

Apple Pecan Whole Wheat Scones from Naturally Ella
1 NaturallyElla Apple Pecan Whole Wheat Scones
Blue Poppy Cake by The Fondant Flinger
2 FondantFlinger-Blue Gumpaste Poppy Flower Painted White Inside Fondant Cake Idea
Savory Autumn Leaf Pies from Martha Stewart
3 Martha Stewart-Savory Autumn Cutout Leaf Vege Hand Pies Empanada Idea
Buttermilk Pancakes with Blueberries and Spiced Maple Butter from The Food Dept
4 FoodDept-Buttermilk Pancakes Blueberry Spiced Maple Butter
Purple Artichokes Photographs from At Down Under
5 AtDownUnder-Purple Artichokes Ingred
Ruffled Wedding Cake by Wow Factor Cakes
6 WowFactorCakes-Bronze Tan Upside-down Ruffled Button Flower Fondant Wedding Cake Idea

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pumpkin Nut Streusel Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling

Pumpkin Spice Muffin with Cream Cheese Filling and Pecan Streusel
With all the treats I bake, I have to admit my standards are getting higher and higher. And considering the 7 pounds I've put on since starting this job, maybe that's really not a downside =p. Either way, where this is going is that I knew these muffins were winners when even I found myself going back for seconds (and barely resisting a third!). The blogosphere is awash in pumpkin muffins these days, but there's a great reason for that! Pumpkin's not only quintessentially fall in color and flavor, it's also packed with nutrients and keeps your baked goods incr-edibly moist! A hint of rum in my cream cheese filling and the crunch of pecan streusel set my pumpkin muffins apart from the pack. Give these a shot, and I guarantee you'll be going back for more...=p.

Pumpkin Nut Spice Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from Annie's Eats
Makes 11 muffins

XIAOLU'S NOTES: Filling needs to chill for at least 1 1/2 hours, so plan accordingly. Cooled muffins can be sealed in an airtight freezer bag and frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw then reheat in an oven at 350 degrees F.

3 oz. cream cheese, softened [low-fat is fine]
1.5 oz. (Scant 1/3 cup) powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp unsulphured molasses
1/3 tsp pure vanilla extract
Rounded 1/2 tsp dark rum (optional)

3 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp flour
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cold and cut into 6 pieces
2 Tbsp walnuts OR pecans, lightly toasted and finely chopped (optional)

Muffin Batter
1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz.) all purpose flour
1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground cloves [1/3 to 1/2 tsp if freshly ground]
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Large pinch of ground cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
Scant 1/4 tsp baking powder

2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup PLUS 2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 Tbsp unsulphured molasses
1 cup pumpkin puree
6 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

To make the filling, combine all filling ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well until blended and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a log about 1 inch in diameter. Smooth the plastic wrap tightly around the log, and place on a plate wide enough to hold the entire log straight and flat. Transfer to the freezer and chill until at least slightly firm, at least 1 1/2 hours.

To make the topping, combine the sugar, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl; whisk to blend. Add in the butter pieces and work into the dry ingredients with a fork or your fingertips until the mixture is coarse and crumbly. Add in chopped walnuts and mix to distribute evenly. Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to use.

To make the muffin batter, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease top of standard muffin pan, then line with 11 paper liners OR skip the liners and grease the cups. Sift dry ingredients flour through baking powder into a medium bowl and whisk to blend; set aside. In a separate large mixing bowl, combine ingredients eggs through vanilla. Mix on medium-low speed or by hand until blended. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add in the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated.

To assemble the muffins, fill the muffin cups just under full with batter, then sprinkle a small amount of the topping mixture over each. Next, remove the frozen log of cream cheese filling from the freezer, slice into 11 equal pieces, then quickly place a slice of the cream cheese mixture into each muffin cup.

Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, then bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the upper muffin part (avoid the cream cheese). Let muffins cool in pans for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack. Let cool COMPLETELY before serving (the cream cheese filling will be very hot!).

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Saturday Favorites

I have a long weekend due to Veterans Day this week! Especially since I work for a veteran-owned company right now, the courage and sacrifice of those in service is never far from our minds. Just want to take a moment to thank all of those who dedicate their lives and risk their safety to keep us secure. We are so grateful for them, and I'm glad to have the chance to give back through several charities our company's working with this holiday season =). 

The extra long weekend is a godsend as it's giving me a chance to grab some much-needed sleep (hopefully to avoid catching that cold that's going around these days...), catch the new Bond movie with P (really excited about Skyfall!!), and check out all the new music and food posts I've gotten so behind on. My blog reader is probably at least twice as huge as you'd imagine, but there's just so much inspirational stuff out there that I always look forward to taking it all in and showing you all my favorites. Hope you fall in love with these like I have!

Upside-down Clementine Cakes from Drizzle and Drip
1 DrizzleandDrip-Upside-down Clementine Orange Ingred Cupcakes Glaze Idea
Sea-colored Wedding Cake with Gold Branches by Cake Opera Co.
2 CakeOperaCo-Sea Colors Gumpaste Flower Gold Branches Fondant Square Round Wedding Cake
Apple Pie from Paulina Kolondra
3 PaulinaKolondra-Apple Pie, Buckle Cake Slice Chair Idea
Roasted Vegetable Salad with Poached Eggs from Everyday Food
4 EverydayFood-Roasted Vege Salad Beet Potato Poached Egg Fall Idea
Feather Cake by The Caketress
5 TheCaketress-Gumpaste Flower Feather Fall Fondant Wedding Cake Idea
Royal Icing Bird Cookies by Nelle Cakes
6 NelleCakes-Lace Piped RI Birds Heart Cutout Decorated Cookies Idea

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Hope you all had a fun (and safe) Halloween! Between Hurricane Sandy and coming down with a cold, I didn't go all out this year like I did last time. But I did manage to add a gorily festive touch to these fluffy Coconut Cupcakes with Chocolate Filling and Frosting by splattering them with red-colored simple syrup. I usually need to put my personal stamp on recipes, but this super versatile white/yellow cake recipe from Beyond Buttercream is perfect as is. I followed her directions for a coconut variation, and it was a thing of beauty. For a cupcake version, fill liners 1/2 to 2/3 full (this batter rises a lot) and bake at 350 degrees F for 19 to 22 minutes or just until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out mostly clean (moist crumbs are okay; wet batter means it needs to bake longer). Since my chocolate frosting has my personal spin, I will post the recipe below. Enjoy!

Bloody Cupcakes
I know I've been out of the blogging loop and haven't been visiting your sites as much as I'd like to, so I'd love to hear about your Halloween or just about how you've been in general in the comments below!

Dark, Rich Chocolate Buttercream Frosting [Printable Recipe]
Makes enough to frost at least 2 dozen cupcakes

2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
4 to 5 cups powdered sugar
Large pinch salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
5 to 8 Tbsp milk, half and half, OR heavy cream
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract

Sift the cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and salt into a large bowl. In another large mixing bowl, cream the butter using an electric mixer. Alternate adding the sifted mixture (1 cup at a time) with adding the cream, mixing well between each addition. Once all the powdered mixture and 5 tablespoons of the milk have been incorporated into the frosting, turn the speed up to high and continue beating until a light, fluffy texture is achieved, at least 2 minutes. [Since the frosting will significantly lighten in color as it's beaten, you will need to scrape the sides of the mixing bowl carefully to ensure the darker portions are mixed in to make a uniformly colored frosting. Add more cream or powdered sugar if you want to thin or thicken the frosting. Use finished frosting right away to frost cooled cupcakes or cakes. If not using right away, frosting can be covered and stored at cool room temperature for at least 2 days. However, you may need to re-beat the frosting briefly if it's been siting a long time.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Celebration Cake (Yellow Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Ganache)

When it comes to yellow cake, fluffy and moist are where it's at in my book. But sometimes I just can't deal with all the crumbs that break off the second I apply frosting. Especially in planning my first ever multiple-tiered cake, I knew I'd need a yellow cake endowed with a touch more strength and structure than my current go-to. I get enough baking anxiety without adding collapsing cake tiers to the not-so-little list of horrors! Luckily my favorite white cake recipe had a yellow cake (egg yolk) variation built right in! A double batch was just right for the 2 tall tiers pictured above (5 x 4 inches and 8 x 5 inches), and the cake came out nicely firm without sacrificing moistness or flavor.

SMS Cake
Yellow Cake with Milk Chocolate Ganache and Covered in Fondant

Surrounding each cake layer was a generous coating of milk chocolate ganache (I used Trader Joe's Pound Plus bars, which are just $5 for 17.6 oz. and taste seriously amazing). I recommend a milk chocolate-to-heavy cream ratio of 2.8 or 2.9 to 1 so that the ganache will set up firmly and provide a sturdy, smooth (and decadent) base for your fondant covering. And I calculated the total amount of ganache needed using this awesome tool called The Ganacherator. Now if you've read anything about fondant, you'll have heard that a cake covered in fondant will only look as good (read: smooth and straight) as the buttercream or ganache underneath. This is absolutely true, and ganache is much easier to learn with as it will set really firm at room temperature (unlike buttercream). Making celebration cakes is really an art-form and I've got a long long ways to go (as evidenced by the elephant skin, not-quite-straight sides, and drooping of the corners in the above cake). But for anyone interested in going down the rabbit hole, I've shared some of my favorite video tutorials below of ganaching, covering, and smoothing the fondant to get a clean professional look to your fondant cakes. I hope this helps the other beginners out there, and I'd love to get feedback on improving my fondant work from any cake experts out there! Cheers!

Making Ganache for Decorating Cakes by Inspired by Michelle
Covering a Cake in Ganache with Smooth and Straight Sides by Inspired by Michelle
Rolling out Fondant, Covering, and Smoothing a Ganached Cake by Planet Cake
Smoothing Cake Covered in Fondant to Get Sharp Edges by Inspired by Michelle

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Favorites

Hope everyone's been well! Here are my favorite songs/photos from the last...well it's been like a month, hasn't it? *Sheepish grin* well I've been baking plenty but it's been the basic flavors that aren't so exciting for orders or old favorites for work. I'll be doing a pretty big cake for improving my own skills this week, so I hope to have that to share with y'all soon. Have a great week!

French Macaron and Cotton Candy Wedding Cake by Ms. B's Cakery
1 MsBsCakery-Cotton Candy Silver Dragees Macarons Wedding Party Cake Idea
 Bean Chili with Walnuts and Chocolate from Green Kitchen Stories
2 Green Kitchen Stories - Chili_sin_carne
 Hand-Carved Ganache Chocolate Wedding Cake by Sweet Ruby Cakes
3 SweetRubyCakes-Hand-Carved Choco Ganache Party, Wedding Cake Fave
Egg Drop Soup from eCurry
4 Ecurry-Egg Drop Soup
Okra Gumbo Stew with Blue Crabs and Shrimp from Food & Wine Magazine 
5 FoodandWine-Okra Gumbo Stew Blue Crabs Shrimp
Cherry Almond Cupcakes Photograph by William Lingwood
6 William Lingwood-Cherry Almond Mini Cupcake, Muffins Cookie Tin Propwish
Heirloom Tomatoes for Tomato and Burrato from The Jewels of New York
1 JewelsofNY-Heirloom Cherry Plum Tomatoes Ingred
Gumpaste Dahlia Flower Tutorial from Lulu's Sweet Secrets
2 LulusSweetSecrets-Gumpaste Dahlia Almond Peach Raspberry Creme Fraiche Flower Cake Idea
Cake with Gold Leaves and Branch by Connie Cupcake
4 ConnieCupcake-Gold L</p></div><div style=
Peaches and Cream Crepes from The Blender
6 TheBlenderWilliamsSonoma-Peaches Cream Crepes Powd Sugar Sifter Idea
S'mores Eclairs from Bakers Royale
7 BakersRoyale-S'mores Eclair Choux Pastry Choco Glazed Zinc Surface Idea
Homemade Cheese and Mango Photographs by Anna Williams for The Voracity
5 Anna Williams-The Voracity-Homemade Ricotta Cheese Mango Ingred
Asian Risotto Balls with Sticky Mango Chili Sauce from Cook Republic
8 CookRepublic-Asian Risotto Fried Rice Fritters Balls Mango Chili Sauce Idea

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday Favorites!

It's only Monday and already been a long day leading into a long week, but I thought I'd force myself to take a quick break to share these gorgeous cakes and other food photos that I've been stockpiling. I've just got to power through the rest of this month, then I promise some exciting new treats and recipes will be shared! For starters, I'll be making a much belated birthday cake for 3 amazing years of 6 Bittersweets. My mind's been set on white chocolate cake with raspberry ripple for a while, and I'm gonna have some fun with the decorations. Suggestions are welcome in that area. In the meantime, enjoy these soothing sights for sore eyes and hungry bellies =D.

1 Stylemepretty-Gold RI Leaf Stenciling Dotted Lines Wedding Cake Ribbon Flowers Idea
Savory Sandwich Layer Cake from Mrs A in the Cove
2 MrsAintheCove-Chicken Avocado Sun-dried Tomato Cream Ch Savory Sandw Layer Cake Idea
Mini Black-bottom Cheesecakes with Cherries Photograph from Janne Peters
3 Janne Peters-Mini Cheesecake Cupcakes Black-bottom Choco Cherry Ingred Idea
Gold and Bronze Wedding Cake by Sweet Sensations
5 SweetSensations-Bronze Gold Ribbon Band Gumpaste Flower Fondant Wedding Cake
Plum Galette Photograph from A Little Sussy
6 ALittleSussy-Plum Galette Tart Wood Board
Blue Wedding Cake with Fuschia Flowers by Sweet Disposition
7 SweetDisposition-Blue Fondant Wedding Cake Fuschia Gumpaste Flower Heart Topper Banner Idea
Mango Sorbet from Spoon by The Kitchen Finesse
8 StuderTV-Mango Sorbet, Ice Cream Cone

Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday Favorites

Hi guys -- I'm still here! Sorry to be MIA again lately, but it's a bit of an understatement to say that my life has been kuh-ray-zeeeee lately! It's gonna be at least another few days before I can return with my first recipe in who knows how long, but I thought I'd go ahead and share the food photography and music favorites I've nonetheless been saving up in my spare moments here and there. Below you can also find a quick phone snapshot of a strawberry and vanilla cake I baked this week for a Hello Kitty fan's 7th birthday this week! I didn't have the chance to meet Kara directly, but I sure hope she liked her strawberry-loving kitty ^-^.

How've you all been? I've really missed our interactions and can't wait til things calm down to get back on track.

Hello Kitty Strawberry Cake for Kara
Ampersand Mosaic Wedding Cake by Blissfully Sweet Cakes
1 BlissfullySweet-Ampersand Cutout Fondant Decoration Mosaic Wedding Cake Idea
Basil for Snickerdoodle Cookies from Desserts for Breakfast
2 Stephsus-Basil Herb Close-up Ingred Idea
Nautical Wedding Cake by City View Bakehouse
3 CityViewBakehouse-Nautical Zigzag Gold Rope Gumpaste Flower Anchor Fondant Wedding Cake Idea
4 IndianSimmer-Cherries Ingred
Ombre Buttercream Wedding Cake with Bird Toppers by Sugar High Inc.
5 SugarHighInc-Bird Topper Ombre Buttercream Wedding Cake Idea
Roasted Peach Sherbet Cones from Always with Butter
6 AlwayswithButter-Roasted Peach Ice Cream Cones Scoop Propwish Idea

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sweet Baptism Treats for Baby Warren!

Photo of Cake Close-up by John Manansala
Moon, Stars, Angel, and Lamb Baptism Cake for Baby W's Christening
Inspired by This Cake by PhoebeCakes
Photography by John Manansala
Hi there! Hope you all have been keeping cool if your area's as hot as our's (up to 108 degrees F at one point this weekend!). My new smartphone keeps buzzing me with heat advisory alerts. Even without any heat from baking, AC on full blast, everything dark, and 3 fans on, we were sweating like crazy. Please (oh please) do tell me that the summer heat's simply peaked early. Because if it turns out summer hasn't even brought out its big guns yet, I may not last the season =p. *Starts hummin' tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies...

The actual point of this post isn't actually to whine about a little temperature hike but to share some treats I made for an actual baby =p: my very first fondant cake as well as pistachio French macaron pops and decorated cookies to celebrate the christening of my friend P's little boy! I'm absolutely delighted for his entire family and can't wait to see how quickly Baby W grows in the coming year.

Photo of Macaron Pops by John Manansala
Pistachio Macaron Pops for Baby W's Christening
Photography by John Manansala
The inside of the cake consisted of 3 moist coconut cake layers, freshly chopped mango and mango curd filling, and silky coconut Swiss meringue buttercream. But to tell the truth, most of my attention fell to its outside. Covering my first-ever fondant cake was both exciting and a bit terrifying! I'm quite happy with how everything turned out, but I did have some issues with cracking and definitely have a lot to learn about handling fondant. Now that I've worked with it myself, I'm doubly impressed with all the smooth-sided, straight-edged cakes I see online! Even though I've watched just about every Youtube video that exists on covering cakes with fondant, I think it's one of those things that you have to learn by doing to a large extent. With my first wedding coming up soon, I've already ordered more fondant to practice with.

Hope you enjoy seeing my first fondant effort and other baptism treats and would welcome any tips or favorite fondant brand/recipe recommendations you might have to share!

Photo of Macaron Pops and Decorated Cookies by John Manansala
Angel, Cross, and Sweet Lamb Decorated Cookies for Baby W's Christening
Photography by John Manansala

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sushi Earrings Giveaway Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered the sushi earrings giveaway! The randomly selected winner is Nami of Just One Cookbook (comment #12)! Congrats and please look out for my email about the details of your prize =D!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Guest Post: Introducing SPACIOUS

Especially in light of the recent hardship to hit the DC area, I'm proud to share with something incredible that's come from our region. SPACIOUS is an inspired collaboration between Joey Katona (a former-coworker friend of mine) and the lovely and vibrant, Cary Umhau, who's my honored guest today. Their organization is all about unexpected meetings that turn out fabulous, so I had a lot of fun making some uniquely sweet and tangy red velvet pomegranate cupcakes for its custom flavor. Please give some love to the newest addition to the 6 Bittersweets Menu and to Cary as she shares the story of SPACIOUS as well as our cupcake collaboration!

Cary Umhau (SPACIOUS Founder and Creative Director)
Photography by Julie Wan
Xiaolu has a gift for putting together unusual flavors in her cupcakes, and that’s why I asked her to create a custom flavor for my social venture, SPACIOUS, after we’d ordered and enjoyed her wares at a couple of our events.

I thought it’d be fun to write about how I see her creativity as a damn tasty metaphor for what we do. I’m excited to be a guest-blogger here at 6 Bittersweets.

SPACIOUS is the brainchild of two people who – on the surface – couldn’t be more different. Joey Katona and I run it together, and although I’d dreamed about it for years, it came together only after Joey and I became close. We have a friendship that began online and grew in person. We found that in spite of a 28-year age gap, different faiths, genders, lifestyles and cultural backgrounds, we share many points of resonance and love doing things together. In a world where people generally stick to their own demographic, our unorthodox friendship enlarges both of us, and we see a rich opportunity to bring together different worlds to create a better one through what we’re doing together.

Joey Katona (SPACIOUS Co-Founder and Cultural Catalyst) with 6 Bittersweets mini cupcakes at the
"Bring or Be Your Own Kid" adult recess event this spring
We create custom events that are fun and facilitated for deeper connections so that people can meet others they might not meet while doing something they might not do. Examples of our events have been BYOK (“Bring or Be Your Own Kid,” an adult recess with pie-throwing), Everyday Improv, a Blank Canvas Day where we created art as we did in childhood, field trips to the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore and to a racism exhibit at Smithsonian Natural History, and a walkabout in Central Park with a location-specific app created by Bluebrain, an ingenious brother duo, to name a few.

I also consult so that businesses and organizations can have more fun, creativity, generosity and connectedness in their programming and staff dynamics.

There’s such a trend these days of sticking to those people we already agree with, of only socializing with people like ourselves. Yet so much happens when we hear new perspectives, consider others’ experiences, and contemplate the fact that there’s more to a person than the external cues would tell us.

So although chocolate loves vanilla frosting, and carrot cake generally sticks with cream cheese frosting, and lemon seeks meringue, our SPACIOUS flavor is red velvet with a surprise pomegranate filling, topped with Swiss buttercream.

And Xiaolu created it, knowing that Joey and I are as different as can be, but that we love hanging out together and with others with the knowledge that people who might not seem like they’d enjoy each other really will find resonance, given the right facilitation and atmosphere. And then great things will happen as barriers fall and people connect.

Subscribe to our site for weekly updates. Come join us at an event. Or order some of these cupcakes!