Showing posts with label vodka. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vodka. Show all posts

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rediscovering "Booze Cake" (Black Russian Bundt Cake with Homemade Kahlua)

Phew, I've done it -- I've jumped back onto the blog-wagon! maybe it's a bit premature to celebrate when it's my first recipe post in weeks. But I'm the kind of writer who considers the first page the hardest. So let's just say I have good reason to expect smoother sailing from here on out 8).

Part of the delay lay in the history behind this unassuming cake. It was, in fact, the first cake I fell in love with. We met freshman year of college, when my roommate brought her mom's famous "booze cake" back to our dorm. Dense and unbelievably moist, every bite of it brought a warm kick of coffee liqueur against a milder backdrop of chocolate. It was pure heaven. But alas, this was before I started baking, blogging, or even drinking alcohol [legally at least *cough* haha], so I didn't think to ask for the recipe.

Seven (yes, seven) years and countless Google searches for "booze cake" later, I asked my friend on a whim if her mom still had the recipe. Within a few days, there it was! Just sitting in my inbox (like magic)! I suppose that was my rather drawn-out lesson that I should just try to ask when I really want something ^_^.

My work wasn't done yet, though. It turned out that the (ultimately not that) elusive "booze cake," better known online as "Black Russian Cake," required not only a lot of the "good stuff" (i.e., coffee liqueur and vodka), but also cake mix and instant pudding mix. It's a personal commitment of mine to make my desserts from scratch whenever possible. Thus, with the virtual guidance of like-minded bakers, I successfully reverse-engineered a from-scratch version of my First (Cake) Love. I hope you'll find it as unforgettable as I did!

Black Russian Chocolate Kahlua Cake (From Scratch!) [Printable Recipe]
Cake adapted from Rum Cake from Always Order Dessert

XIAOLU'S NOTES: I actually made a 1/2 batch of this recipe using an 8-inch wide Bundt pan. Aside from halving all the ingredients, the only change I made was to reduce the baking time to 35 to 45 minutes, or just until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out mostly clean (a few moist crumbs are fine).

1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup dry milk powder
6 Tbsp Dutch-process (dark) cocoa powder
Scant 1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup PLUS 2 Tbsp canola OR vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk [NOT skim]
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup vodka
1/3 cup coffee-flavored liqueur (such as Kahlua OR Homemade Recipe below)

3 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp water
6 Tbsp granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
6 Tbsp coffee-flavored liqueur (such as Kahlua OR Homemade Recipe below)
***you can use up to 1/2 cup liqueur if you like your booze cakes to be well-soaked
Sifted powdered sugar, to garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 10 to 15-cup Bundt pan and dust with cocoa powder; set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, dry milk powder, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and white sugar. Add the butter, oil, milk, and vanilla to the dry ingredients and beat with an electric mixer on medium the batter is smooth and uniform. Add the eggs, and continue beating until well incorporated (no more than 1 minute). Finally, add the vodka and coffee liqueur, then mix until evenly combined.

Pour into the prepared Bundt pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 25 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack. Let cool for 30 more minutes.

While the cake cools, wash and thoroughly dry the Bundt pan then prepare the syrup. In a large saucepan with high sides, combine the butter, water, granulated sugar, and salt. Cook over medium heat until the butter completely melts and the sugar dissolves. Let reduce slightly, keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t boil over. Remove from the heat and stir in the coffee liqueur (it may bubble).

Quickly place the clean pan over the cool cake and invert the cake back into the pan. While the syrup is still warm, poke holes across the top of the cake with a toothpick or fork and brush/pour the syrup evenly over the cake. Let soak for at least 4 hours (ideally, overnight), then invert the cake back onto a serving platter, sift powdered sugar on top (if desired), and dig in! Keeps covered for about 1 week at room temperature.

Homemade Coffee Liqueur
Adapted from Liv Life
Makes about 5 1/2 cups

2 cups water
3 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp molasses
3/4 cup instant coffee OR espresso powder
1 split vanilla bean OR 2 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups good quality vodka

Stir water, sugar, molasses, and coffee powder together in a medium to large saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure the sugar and instant coffee powder dissolve completely. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, being careful to stir as it’s cooling to avoid crystallization of the sugar. Add vanilla and vodka. If you notice any grains of undissolved sugar, you can strain them out using a fine-mesh strainer. Bottle and cap tightly, then store in a cool, dry place. If using the vanilla bean, allow the liqueur to develop for 3 to 5 weeks, then strain out the bean, re-bottle, and enjoy straight or in recipes calling for coffee liqueurs such as Kahlua. If using vanilla extract, let the liqueur rest for at least 1 full day to allow the flavors to meld before drinking.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Guest Post: Summer Greens Salad with Grapes, Goat Cheese, and Walnuts

A few months back, I had the honor of sharing a guest post for Joy of Joylicious blog on her birthday. She is one talented lady, so I was delighted and not a bit surprised when many of you were as excited to discover her as I was to introduce her. There's been plenty of fabulous stuff going on since then over at Joylicious, ranging from a website redesign to irresistible new recipes like these honey yogurt berry popsicles. But being the sweetheart she is, Joy still took the time to make us a lovely picnic-worthy summer salad. And here to tell you all about it, I present to you my good friend, Joy!

Joylicious Guest Post 2
I met Xiaolu this year through the wonderful World of blogging. I was initially attracted to her jaw-dropping photos on 6 Bittersweets and with time have discovered that her inner beauty was just as beautiful as her talent. She was sweet enough to bake me cupcakes on my birthday and even mailed me the adorable pompoms she used to decorate them with. See why I love this girl? You’re the sweetest Xiaolu, thank you for having me guest post on your blog today.

Joylicious Guest Post 1
When I was a little girl, my family loved going on picnics. My fondest memories were of us laying a big blanket across the softest patch of earth we could find. Dad would carry the large cooler of food, Mom trotting along with miscellaneous bags of “stuff”, and I’d follow clumsily behind lugging a Sprite bottle half the size of my body (at the time.) We’d sit there enjoying chive dumplings dipped in chili oil, drunken chicken with ginger and scallions, boiled peanuts, marinated beancurd – what? You thought I was going to say, sandwiches and potato salad?

Laying there for hours, we’d talk about our hopes and dreams, laugh about memories of our families back home. We’d play card games that mostly involved math because dad said my math skills were subpar at best. But it was still fun, promise =). And we’d always end our picnics with my favorite part.

Joylicious Guest Post 3
The food would be packed up, trash thrown away, and when there was nothing else left except for the blanket on the ground I’d lay in the middle of it. Mom and dad would grab opposite ends of the blanket and with a slick flick of their wrists they’d fling me up to the sky. I’d fly up so-high that I’d be only inches away from the clouds. Closing my eyes, embracing my weightless moments in the air, laughing so hard my stomach would hurt as tears streamed down my face. Though I’m no longer small enough to be thrown into oblivion, I still very much love my picnics.

With Summers being blistering hot, the only thing that I feel good eating are salads. They’re light, easy to prepare and most certainly healthy. This recipe would be perfect for picnics – Summer Greens with Tart Cherries, Goat Cheese and Walnuts. Dress the salad when you’re ready to eat to ensure the best results.

Joylicious Guest Post 4
Summer Greens Salad with Red Grapes, Goat Cheese, and Walnuts [Printable Recipe]

Serves 4; prep time: 15 minutes

5 cups of mixed greens, washed

1/2 cup red grapes, washed

1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion

1/4 cup walnuts

4 oz. goat cheese

2 Tbsp high-quality olive oil

Fleur de sel salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

In a large bowl mix greens, grapes, onion, and walnuts together. Drizzle generously with olive oil and top with salt and pepper. Top with goat cheese slices (1 oz. per serving) and serve immediately.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Guest Post: Zucchini and White Beans with Creme Fraiche Pesto

Hi there! Just wanted y'all to know that I've made it safely to Singapore after a looooong flight. Funny that I really thought I was ready for this. After all, I've taken at least 4 round trips to mainland China before, which is also across the world. But I've just relearned that no matter how many times you have to sit in a cramped seat for 15+ hours, you never quite adapt to it. 8) But all whining aside, I had a great first day. Already stuffed myself with laksa and other yummies, and can't wait to report back all about it in a few weeks!

In the meantime...boy are you in for a special treat today! I've invited over one of my absolute favorite food bloggers and just one of the funniest and also sweetest human beings I've been lucky to know: Joanne Bruno of Eats Well with Others. In fact I pinky-swear promise you that no matter what kind of bad day you may be having, a quick hop over to her blog will have you laughing out loud in no time. And while she's cheering you up, she's also putting some incredibly creative, flavorful, and often healthy dishes out to tempt you. Like this Spring Pesto Panzanella or this Person Saffron-Spiced Pasta with Split Peas. Oh and did I mention that Joanne just ROCKED the boards and got her M.D.?! Well that's it for my introduction for the girl that really needs none. Take it away, Joanne!

Sometimes, I open my fridge and cry.

I have a tendency to get far too emotionally attached to my condiments.

And cheeses.

And herbs.

And any other item that I always seem to have too much and yet not enough of.


...for example


...exactly one and a half tablespoons of creme fraiche.

How does that sit in your fridge for a week without you spooning it from the container and into your mouth in a fit of insatiable hunger? (I know you thought you were being quite virtuous about it...but really. Why resist the inevitable?)


So now, due to this fit of altruism, here you are with the weight of one and a half tablespoons sitting on your shoulders. And no idea what to do with yourself.

(Now you understand what all this crying is about.)

Until all of a sudden the gods of the New York Times dining section take pity on you. "Pesto. Mix it into pesto," they say.

Not one to kick a gift horse in the mouth, you do exactly as they order, stirring it into some sauteed zucchini and white beans, and then serving it over polenta.

Go ahead. Breathe a sigh of relief. Dinner is deliciously served.

Zucchini and White Beans with Creme Fraiche Pesto [Printable Recipe]

Adapted from the New York Times Cookbook

Serves 4

1/2 cup basil

1 1/2 Tbsp pistachios

1 clove garlic

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 Tbsp creme fraiche

2 Tbsp parmesan cheese

1 1/2 lb. zucchini, chopped

1 (15 oz.) can white beans

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine the basil, pistachios, garlic, a scant tablespoon olive oil, and a pinch of salt in a blender or food processor and puree, scraping down the sides once or twice with a spatula, until a coarse mixture develops. Add the creme fraiche and puree until the mixture is a smooth paste the color of a fresh pea. Add the parmesan and pulse until combined. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Refrigerate.

2. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the zucchini and stir to coat with oil. Season generously with salt and pepper and saute until the zucchini brightens and turns soft on the edges but is still fairly firm. Drain the white beans and add them to the pan. Add the pesto and stir to coat. Adjust the seasonings if necessary.

3. Serve over polenta, with pasta, or stir into risotto.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Guest Post: Ultimate Root Beer Float with Homemade Sassafras Ice Cream

Since I'll be in Singapore for almost a month, I've invited some dear friends to "blog-sit" for me 8D. Each of these women has their own unique stories and food specialties. Once you see what they have to share, I'm certain you'll become avid fans just like me.

To get this party started, I've invited over the incredibly talented Stella of Brave Tart. Though I've long pined over Stella's picture-perfect macaron creations, it was only recently when I joined Twitter and started making macarons that I got to know her better. I wouldn't have survived my early macaron-baking attempts without Stella and other tweeps providing real-time feedback and tips. Then as I became more comfortable playing with macaron flavors, Stella was again my most enthusiastic partner-in-crime, eagerly discussing possible flavorings from dried milk powder to citric acid.

But lest you think her skill is limited to French macarons, let me assure you that this is one creative and multi-talented lady. A CIA-graduate no less, Stella currently works as a one-woman pastry department for
Table 310, a hot new restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky. If the treats on her blog are any indication, a trip to Table 310 would be well worth it for the desserts alone. We're lucky today, though, because Stella's all set to share her formula for the Ultimate Root Beer Float directly with us, no road-trip required. Please give her your warmest welcome!

1 floatwithstraw
I stepped into the world of food blogging less than a year ago, so I must bashfully admit that I've only recently gotten to know Xiaolu via Twitter. Xiaolu's playful sense of style and clever flavor pairings (hello, cardamom-spiced cashew macarons with halwa buttercream) immediately endeared her to me. Something about the energy on 6 Bittersweets invigorates me, especially her knack for using familiar flavors in new ways. When she asked if I would write a guest post while she vacationed in Singapore, I squashed my raging jealousy over her visit to such an epic culinary destination and responded with a resounding, "heck yeah!"

And in the midst of this sweltering heat wave, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about: the ultimate root beer float. Cold, fizzy and slurp-able, it embodies everything a summertime dessert should. Root beer has an especially refreshing feeling: a slightly cooling menthol quality, a bright note of citrus, and a depth of flavor colas can't touch. But how could I take a simple dessert of root beer + vanilla ice cream to the next level? I would need a few secret ingredients...

2 pouringrootbeer
First, brown sugar ice cream. With "Ultimate Root Beer" in mind, I wanted to up the ante from a plain vanilla bean base by giving the ice cream a little extra character. Raw brown sugar would provide a mellow back hint of molasses, which would meld with the root beer's caramel notes.

Second? Sassafras. Here in the South, old codgers use it to make an herbal tea used as a remedy for whatever ails you. I wanted it because of its historic flavor. Sassafras was the original root in root beer. Modern root beers don't contain sassafras though, because of an interesting chemical quirk. Safrole, the essential oil found in sassafras root that gives it its characteristic flavor, stands one molecule removed from the amphetamine MDMA. A.k.a., Ecstasy. Soooo, the FDA gets antsy when anyone starts buying lots of sassafras. So antsy they put your name on a list and monitor your future purchases. So due to the legal hoopla involved, modern root beer manufacturers eschew safrole and use other substances (both artificial and natural) to recreate its flavor. How amazing would a root beer float taste if I could reunited it with sassafras?

The final secret ingredient: ROOT, an artisanal liquor from a boutique in Philadelphia called Art in the Age. They've gone to painstaking efforts to recreate prohibition era bootleg Root Beer using a traditional recipe. They make it with birch bark standing in for sassafras and brew it with a complicated blend of wintergreen, orange peel and smoked black tea, among other fabulous natural and organic ingredients.

3 dropofrootbeer
When their powers combine, you'll have the ability to survive whatever summer throws at you. For me, the flavor of root beer has an intensely nostalgic effect. The epic rootiness of this float makes it virtually culinary time travel. It tastes like you remember root beer tasting, while simultaneously tasting like nothing you've ever had.

The recipe comes together without any trouble, it's acquiring all the ingredients that will take the most effort. Getting a hold of sassafras shouldn't prove too difficult. Here in Kentucky it turns up every year at the farmers' market, and many people find it growing wild on their property. So check your local farmers' market, co-op, health food store, or pretty much anywhere you might buy granola or patchouli sticks. If you find someone selling the essential oil, it is not intended for human consumption, do not use it. The ROOT may prove more difficult, but visit their website for a store locator and see if they have an outpost near you. The ice cream tastes fabulous even without it, so no stress.

Don't worry that using sassafras at home might have, shall we say, illicit side effects. The essential oil itself has no Ecstasy-like properties. Safrole occurs naturally in many spices like cinnamon and black pepper. Your friends will undoubtedly greet the sassafras ice cream with rave reactions, but not so much they start breaking out glow sticks.

Sassafras Ice Cream [Printable Recipe]
12 oz. cream
12 oz. milk
3, 4-inch sticks of Sassafras root
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
8 large egg yolks
10 ounces brown sugar, raw if possible
1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 oz. ROOT
the zest of 1 small orange

In a medium pot, bring the milk and cream to a boil together with the sassafras and vanilla bean. When the mixture begins to simmer, shut off the heat and cover with a lid. Steep at least one hour and up to three.

After you’ve finished steeping, whisk the yolks with the sugars and salt in a medium bowl.

Bring the milk/cream mixture back to a simmer. Once the mixture is nice and hot, shut off the heat and remove the sassafras. Use a spatula to scrape off all of the heavily flavored cream that cling to the sticks of sassfras; likewise scrape out the vanilla cream from inside the vanilla pod.

Now, whisk some of the hot mixture into the egg yolks, a ladle-full at a time, until the egg mixture is quite warm. Then whisk it back into the pot of cream.

Stir over medium heat until the mixture thickens (“coating the back of a spoon” being the popular description of done-ness). Immediately strain into a large bowl. Stir in the ROOT and orange zest.

Cool in an ice bath, refrigerate for 24 hours, and churn in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Use with your favorite root beer (and a shot of ROOT if you like) to make the ultimate root beer float.

Hurray summer!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Coconut Mung Bean Kaffir Lime Popsicles for MLLA Anniversary!

Mung Beans
I've long been a fan of my friend Susan and her gorgeous blog, The Well-Seasoned Cook, especially her elegant photography and her blog event, My Legume Love Affair (MLLA), which has done a great deal to popularize nutritious and delicious beans/legumes. MLLA recently had its 3rd anniversary, and I was honored to accept Susan's invitation to help celebrate this momentous occasion as well as help kick-start what's sure to be a fabulous 4th year! Inspired by Chinese mung bean popsicles as well as our Southeast Asian neighbors, I'm sharing these flavorful Coconut Mung Bean and Kaffir Lime Popsicles over on Susan's site. I'd love if you'd stop on by to check out my full guest post. But if you're in a hurry and just wanna grab the printable recipe, you'll find it right here.

Coconut Mung Bean Kaffir Lime Popsicles

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sew Sweet! Spools of Thread Cake Pops (Guest Post for Pure Joy Events)

Cake Pops for a Sewing Themed Party
Last week I shared the happy news with you that I'd gotten to contribute treats to the beautiful and imaginative Vintage Sewing Party that Christine of Pure Joy Events threw for her daughter's 7th birthday...and then I promised you a lesson in making your very own edible spools! Well today I'm delighted to unveil my tutorial for these fanciful cake pops as a guest post over on the Pure Joy Events blog. We'd love for you to come join the fun and why not stick around a little longer to browse through the other inspiring party ideas and tutorials available there? If you're in a rush and just want to grab the printable tutorial, you'll find it here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Lotta Chocolate Part 5: Bruléed Mocha Crepe Cake with Chocolate Liqueur Sauce

First of all, this is completely unrelated to food, but my friend R just took me to see the musical, Wicked, as a belated birthday gift, and it was AMAZING! I'd always found the idea of approaching the Wizard of Oz story from a different perspective intriguing. But I'm pretty sure I'd never have taken the initiative to see it where it not for my friend. Wicked was funny, exciting, and heart-warming throughout its 2 1/2 hours. And when it ended I could swear only 15 minutes had passed (I'd been so engrossed). If this show comes near you or vice versa, I strongly recommend getting tickets!

Now let's return to our regularly scheduled programming... Today's post is the 5th and last in my A Lotta Chocolate series. When we started down this road I promised you chocolate treats that would be less conventional, though no less delicious. A French toast, macaron, chestnut cake roll, and couscous salad later, it's my hope that you consider that promise fulfilled. For our last outing I decided to also make good on another promise. One that I made to myself when I started this site: to make my own crepe cake one day! (Is it just me or is this series getting a bit French food-centric? 8p)

Bruleed Chocolate Mocha Crepe Cake
Well folks, I made it! And not just any crepe cake, but a bruléed mocha crepe cake with homemade chocolate liqueur sauce! There's no getting around the fact that all these delicate crepes take time to cook and layer up. Yet you'd be hard-pressed to find any cake that slices as prettily or embraces chocolate as thoroughly as this one. Not only is dark mocha ganache spread between 15+ crepe layers, each slice of this cake is served with a generous pouring of chocolate liqueur sauce.

A rich and decadent chocolate treat worthy of closing out a chocolate series? Check! Thanks for joining me on this ride -- I sure hope you had as much fun as I did! If you missed any of the previous stops, you can still check them out right here: Chocolate Chunk Challah Bread French Toast, Snickers Macarons, Chocolate Cake Roll with Chestnut Cream, and Cherry Pistachio Orange Cocoa Couscous.

Bruléed Mocha Crepe Cake [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from Homelife and The Essence of Chocolate
Serves 8

XIAOLU'S NOTES: The chocolate liqueur recipe obviously makes much more than you need for the crepe cake, but it's so easy to make and so delicious in cocktails or sipped with whipped cream that I'd just go ahead and make the whole batch :).

For crepes
5 large eggs, lightly whisked
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
3 Tbsp white sugar [preferably fine/caster]
2 tsp vanilla bean paste OR pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp melted butter, plus more to grease

For filling and topping
8 oz. dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup light cream
1/3 cup espresso
6 to 8 Tbsp white sugar [preferably fine/caster], divided

For sauce
4 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
3 Tbsp light cream or half and half
3 Tbsp espresso
3 Tbsp chocolate liqueur (Recipe below)
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp honey (optional)

Blend all the crepe ingredients just until smooth. Set aside for 30 minutes to rest.

Heat an 8-inch non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Brush with melted butter. Pour in enough batter to coat the base of the pan (swirl the pan to coat it evenly with batter immediately). Cook for 1 minute or until lightly golden and just set. Use a spatula to turn and cook for a further 30 seconds or until golden. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining batter, reheating and greasing pan between batches.

To make filling, place chocolate, cream, coffee, and 4 tablespoons of sugar in a heatproof bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water. Use a spatula or heatproof spoon to stir for 5 minutes or until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Taste a tiny bit and add up to 2 more tablespoons of sugar if desired. If more sugar was added, heat the mixture until new sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat; cover with plastic wrap. Place in the fridge, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until mixture cools and thickens.

Line a 6 to 7-inch springform pan with plastic wrap. Place a crêpe in the pan. Spread with a little filling. Continue layering with crêpes and filling, finishing with a crêpe. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until chilled and set (at least 3 hours and up to 1 day).

To make chocolate mocha sauce, combine chocolate, cream, coffee, liqueur, sugar, and honey in a heatproof bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water. Stir for 5 minutes or until sauce is smooth.

Turn the cake out onto a clean serving platter. Sprinkle the top of the cake evenly with the remaining 2 tablespoons of white sugar. Then melt the sugar evenly with a kitchen torch to form a crisp caramel topping. Allow to sit at least 5 minutes before serving. Use a sharp knife to cut into wedges. Place on serving plates and drizzle with hot sauce.

Chocolate Liqueur
Makes 3 1/2 cups

5 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1 cup vodka
3/4 cup heavy cream, for optional topping
Cocoa nibs or chocolate shavings, for optional garnish

In a bowl, dissolve cocoa powder in boiling water. In a saucepan, bring sugar and 3/4 cup of water to a simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add sugar syrup to cocoa syrup. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a jar with a lid. Add the vodka, cover and refrigerate overnight. (It will keep up to 1 month, but will lose potency over time.).

If serving on its own, stir well and strain again through a fine-mesh sieve into a glass until 2/3 full. Top with lightly-sweetened whipped cream, or float heavy cream on top (by holding a spoon with the bowl down and the edge almost touching the liqueur in the glass then pouring cream slowly over the back of the spoon until a layer (1/8 to 1/4-inch deep) floats on top of the liqueur). Garnish with cocoa nibs or chocolate shavings.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nut-Free Sunflower Seed Coconut Macarons with Pumpkin Filling (Guest Post for Food Wanderings)

Nut-Free Sunflower Seed Coconut Macarons
I've had some of the most fun of my life experimenting in the kitchen, so I was delighted when Shulie of Food Wanderings invited me to join a series of macaron guest posts on her blog. But this wasn't just about playing around and these weren't to be just any macarons. You see, Shulie's son is allergic to all tree nuts, including almonds. Being the loving mother she is of course, Shulie wanted to share the incredible deliciousness that is French macarons with her son and enlisted a number of bloggers for this mission. After some trial and error, what came out of my kitchen were these tasty Sunflower Seed Coconut Macarons with Pumpkin Filling. Please join me over at Food Wanderings to read my guest post and to check out all the incredible nut-free macaron posts there! If you want to head straight to the printable recipe, please click here. Thanks for letting me contribute to your delightful blog, Shulie!

Nut-Free Sunflower Seed Coconut Macarons

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Lotta Chocolate Part 4: Cherry Pistachio Orange Cocoa Couscous Salad

UPDATE: In case anyone's interested in trying the fantastic dried fruit or other products from Payson Fruit Growers, including the dried cherries I used for this salad, they're offering $3 off any order of $15 or more. The coupon code is 3off15 and will be valid for the next couple of months. Enjoy!

Does anyone still remember my chocolate series? I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't. What else could I expect when I'm the one who put it on the back-burner for over a month in favor of other festivities? Well fret not because we're getting this show back on the road for 2 more posts in this series. And I promise it's gonna end with a bang!

At the beginning of this series I promised to show you some "less common ways" for using chocolate. And there was no doubt in my mind already that at least one savory recipe would need to be included to truly fulfill that promise. A great idea I immediately came across was to add a little of the dark stuff to your chili. I did this with a pumpkin black bean chili I made last fall, and all I have to say about it is try it! You'll love the depth of flavor it adds.

Chocolate Pistachio Dried Cherry Couscous Salad
But who wants to stew chili in the dead of summer? I chose instead to try this couscous salad with an exciting blend of fruits, nuts, herbs, and -- you guessed it -- chocolate! Between the orange zest, toasted pistachios, chopped mint, dried cherries, and cocoa, this salad had a lot going on...but in a good way. Fragrant and fresh, each ingredient held its own in every bite of this salad. Together they became nothing short of a beautiful harmony.

And I love the role that chocolate played in this composition. Rather than the bold starlet it's accustomed to being in desserts, chocolate stepped back to play subtle but steady support in this dish. Almost acting as a spice here, the addition of cocoa powder produced a warm nutty backdrop that worked superbly to balance the brightness of orange and mint.

I was lucky to get my hands on some great quality tart dried cherries for this salad. Payson Fruit Growers sent them to me for free to review, and I've honestly been very impressed. Their dried cherries are fresh, juicy, and not a bit too sweet -- great for cooking, baking, or just for eating out of hand. I also got some tart cherry juice concentrate from them that I'll tell you more about soon. But for now, let me just encourage you to play with chocolate in this or another savory dish =D.

Cherry Pistachio Orange Cocoa Couscous Salad [Printable Recipe]
Slightly adapted from Batter Licker
Serves 2 to 4, but easily doubled or tripled

1 1/2 cups water
1 Tbsp PLUS 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tsp freshly grated OR frozen orange zest
Pinch of salt, plus more to taste
1 cup dry couscous
1/2 cup shelled pistachios, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened dried cherries, chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp natural cocoa powder
1/8 tsp chili powder (optional)
2 Tbsp fresh mint, chopped
1/2 Tbsp honey

Combine water, 1 teaspoon of oil, zest, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir couscous in, cover the pot, and remove from the heat. Let stand covered for about 5 minutes, then remove the lid and fluff couscous lightly with a fork.

Stir in chopped pistachios, cherries, cocoa powder, chili powder, mint, and remaining tablespoon of oil. Add salt to taste. Taste and stir in honey if you'd prefer a sweeter taste.

PREVIOUSLY: Chocolate Chunk Challah Bread French Toast, Snickers Macarons, and Chocolate Cake Roll with Chestnut Cream

Monday, June 27, 2011

6 Bittersweets Turns 2! (Raspberry Tres Leches Cake and Mango Mascarpone Macarons)

I can hardly believe it, but it's been 2 years to the day since I made my first food blog post. 174 posts later, my passion for cooking, blogging, and photography continues to grow with no bounds in sight. Equally important is that I've been able to connect with hundreds of incredible people (you!), without whose support this fledgling blog would have faded into oblivion long ago. In fact, you guys gave me an amazing 26th birthday gift last week of seeing my subscriber count surpass 1,500! Almost a week later I'm still pinching myself to confirm if it's real. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to all my readers old and new!

Raspberry Tres Leches Birthday Cake
I've never been one to make much ado over my birthday, but I do like to gather friends around for a fun and relaxing evening. Plus, any opportunity to bake a celebration cake is not to be missed...especially on the one day of the year when I have full control over the menu (mwahaha! ^_^). And what a menu it turned out to be! P and I prepared the main dishes and desserts, while friends contributed the rest. Not having set a theme for the meal, we got quite an eclectic mix of dishes but all so yummy that I wouldn't have done it any other way.

For the curious among you, here's what we ate: Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Candied Pecans (even better with mandarin oranges instead of strawberries), Baked Pizza Dip, Grilled Chicken Yakitori Skewers, Spicy Sriracha-Grilled Tofu, Otsu Sesame Noodle Salad with Grilled Eggplant, Mapo Tofu, and Dirty Rice from Bojangles (yes, very random). As scrumptious as all that was, my favorite part of the meal was its sweet ending.

As a kid I hated having a summer birthday because all my school friends would be on family vacations by the time I threw my party. Now that I'm all grown up, I've done quite the 180°, delighting in all the fresh fruits and veggies available this time of year. Nothing speaks summer! louder to me than fresh fruit and cream. As proof you can find my previous iterations of this divine combination here, here, and here.

Mango Mascarpone Macarons
To mix it up this year, I expanded on the "cream" portion with not only heavy cream but a trifecta of cream, sweetened condensed milk, and caramelized cinnamon evaporated milk in this irresistable Tres Leches Cake. The filling of sugared raspberries is a fresh twist on the Spanish classic, adding just the right amount of tartness to counter the sweet n' creamy sauce.

Knowing certain guests didn't fancy raspberries, I made a second dessert of Mango Mascarpone-Filled Macarons. This was my first time filling macarons with mascarpone and I must say I love it! Not only did it taste fantastic but it was fantastically easy to prepare: just whisk with mixer required! When you then add in a topping of juicy, ripe diced mangoes, how could it not be good? And as far as I'm concerned, it was ALL good: the food, the company, the beginning of my 27th year of life... Thank you, my lovely readers, for adding to the wonder of it all!

P.S. - I'm submitting these macarons to this month's MacTweets challenge: Fruit!

Tres Leches Cake with Raspberries
[Printable Recipe]
Adapted from Sunset
Makes 10 to 12 servings

XIAOLU'S NOTES: Evaporated goat milk (Meyenberg is a popular brand) is sold in many grocery stores. I couldn't find it in mine, however, so I substituted regular evaporated milk and the cake was still fabulous. Look in the baking aisle, near the condensed milk. The cake and tres leches sauce (prepare while cake bakes) can both be made a day ahead; reheat tres leches sauce before drizzling over cake. You can chill the completed cake for up to 3 days (garnish with raspberries just before serving).

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour [stirred, spooned, and leveled to measure]
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
6 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Tres Leches Sauce
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated goat milk (see Notes)
1/4 cup sugar
1 stick cinnamon (about 2 inches)
1/8 tsp baking soda MIXED WITH 2 tsp water
2/3 cup canned sweetened condensed milk
1 1/4 cups light cream
2 Tbsp rum [optional]

Filling and Frosting
2 cups fresh raspberries, divided
1 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 cups whipping cream
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 Tbsp powdered sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F; position rack in center of oven. Cut a large parchment circle about 13 inches in diameter and place it atop the base of a 9-inch springform cake pan (at least 2 inches deep). Place the pan's rim back on top of the base and lock it in, securing the edges of the parchment paper. Now butter and flour the bottom and sides of the pan, and set aside.

For cake: Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together; set aside. Select a large stainless steel bowl (at least 10-cup capacity) that can nest comfortably in a large pot. Fill pot halfway with water and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. In bowl, combine eggs and sugar. Set bowl over water; with a handheld mixer, beat eggs and sugar at high speed until pale and thick enough to fall from a spoon in a wide ribbon, about 10 minutes. [If you have a stand mixer but no handheld, combine eggs and sugar in your metal mixer bowl. Set bowl over water, and whisk continuously by hand until the mixture is very warm and foamy. Then remove the bowl from heat and attach it to your stand mixer. Mix until pale and thick enough to fall from a spoon in a wide ribbon, about 10 minutes.]

Remove bowl from heat. Add sifted flour mixture to egg mixture and immediately fold in gently but quickly. Add melted butter and fold in gently until no streaks remain. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake on center rack until cake is evenly browned, just begins to pull from pan sides, and springs back when lightly touched in the center, about 35 to 40 minutes. Set pan on a cooling rack and let cool 5 minutes. Run a thin knife between pan and rim. Remove rim and let cake cool completely.

For tres leches sauce: In a large pot (at least 6-qt. capacity) over high heat, combine goat milk, sugar, and cinnamon stick. Bring mixture to a boil. Stir in baking soda mixture (sauce will foam up) and reduce heat to medium. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce turns a caramel color and reduces to 3/4 cup, 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove sauce from heat; discard cinnamon stick, and stir in condensed milk, whipping cream, and rum. Use warm.

With a long, serrated knife, cut cake in half horizontally. Lift off cake top and set, cut side down, on a flat plate.

Transfer cake bottom off the pan base onto a cake stand or other serving platter. Poke cake bottom all over with a toothpick, being careful not to poke all the way through. Slowly spoon enough warm tres leches sauce (slightly less than 1 cup) over cake bottom to saturate well but not cause it to ooze. Let stand until cool, about 10 minutes.

For filling: Reserve 1/2 cup of raspberries to go on top of the cake, then put remaining fruit in a bowl and mix gently with granulated sugar. Set aside. In a chilled bowl, use a mixer to whip cream until it holds medium stiff peaks and is thick enough to spread. Add vanilla and powdered sugar; mix well.

Scoop about 1 2/3 cups whipped cream onto cake bottom and spread evenly, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge. Dot with sugared raspberries, pushing them down into cream. Carefully transfer the cake top, cut side down, onto the base and make sure they are aligned. Poke top all over with a toothpick as before, then slowly spoon slightly less than 1 cup of sauce evenly over cake top to saturate.

Now smoothly frost top and sides of cake with remaining whipped cream, then use a clean towel to wipe any stray frosting or sauce from around the base. Cover cake without touching (invert a large bowl over it) and chill at least 2 hours. Cover and chill reserved raspberries if held longer than 2 hours. Cover and chill remaining tres leches sauce.

Uncover cake and decorate with reserved raspberries. Serve with remaining tres leches sauce.

Mango Mascarpone Macarons [Printable Recipe]
Makes about 25 to 30 macarons

XIAOLU'S NOTES: Please do not try to convert this recipe to volume measurements if you don't have a scale (I use and love this one). This recipe is very sensitive and will not work if the measurements are not exact. Please also note that every oven is different and you'll figure out what works best for yours over time (see this post for great information on ovens and macarons). Since mine has major hot spots, I bake on 2 stacked pans for insulation if using parchment paper. If you're uncertain of your ability to pipe uniformly-sized macarons, like me, simply trace 1 1/4-inch circles on your parchment paper, flip the paper over, and pipe on the other side, using the outlines as your guide OR print (choose "fit to page") and slide this template under your parchment as a guide but don't forget to remove before baking! See my first macaron post for helpful videos of the whole macaron-making process!

125 g almonds [not roasted or salted]
170 g powdered sugar
1/4 tsp amchoor (Indian dried green mango) powder [optional]
Large pinch of salt
35 g granulated sugar
2 g egg white powder [optional, to stabilize batter in humid weather]
Splash of white or cider vinegar [to clean utensils/stabilize meringue]
90 to 95 g egg whites [about 3 large egg whites]
Orange food coloring (powder or gel) [optional]

5 oz. mascarpone cheese, cool room temperature
1 Tbsp heavy cream
2 Tbsp powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup finely diced ripe mangoes

Microwave fresh egg whites 10 to 15 seconds in the microwave on medium-low heat (I set my microwave to 40%).

Combine the almonds, powdered sugar, mango powder, and salt in a food processor, and pulse on and off until the nuts are finely ground (about 1 to 2 minutes). Sift the powder to remove any large chunks that remain. Put those chunks back into the food processor and pulse again for another 30 to 60 seconds. Sift again. You will probably have some slightly chunkier almond bits. Hopefully they're no more than a tablespoon or so, in which case you can throw them out.

Weigh out and mix your granulated sugar and egg white powder in a small bowl until uniform; set aside. Add splash of vinegar then a splash of water to the bowl that will be used for whipping the egg whites. Swirl liquid around the bowl, then use a clean paper towel to wipe the bowl dry. Use the same paper towel to wipe down your beaters. Now using a handheld or stand mixer, whip the egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy, then turn the speed up to medium to medium-high and gradually add the sugar mixture. Now add orange food coloring, if using, until the desired shade is reached (color will lighten once fully whipped). Continue whipping until you obtain a glossy meringue (it'll look like shaving cream, hold stiff peaks, and stay in place if you turn the bowl upside-down; but don't overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry).

Add all of the nut mixture to the meringue and fold together. Use both a folding motion that scrapes the bottom of the bowl (to incorporate the dry ingredients) and a gentle pressing motion, to deflate the meringue against the side of the bowl. Slow down after all the dry ingredients have been incorporated, and continue folding the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that looks somewhat glossy and flows from the spatula in a thick ribbon. Test the batter by spooning a small amount of the batter on a plate: if the top flattens on its own within about 20 seconds, it’s ready to pipe. If there is a small peak, give the batter 2 to 3 more folds and test again. The peak shouldn’t disappear immediately either or it’s already overmixed.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/3 to 1/2-inch wide plain tip (I like Ateco #805 or 806) with half of the batter. (When your bag is too full, the pressure causes the batter to rush out in a way that’s difficult to control, making for sloppy macarons.) Pipe tiny blobs of batter onto the 4 corners and center of 2 baking sheets, then line baking sheets with parchment paper OR line with silicone mats. Pipe small rounds (slightly larger than 1 inch wide) straight down and about 1 inch apart onto the baking sheets. Pick up each sheet with both hands and slam it firmly straight downward on the counter 2 to 3 times. This will to force out any large air bubbles. Immediately pop any bubbles that rise up but don't break with a toothpick. Do NOT do this once a few minutes have passed because you'll mess up the shell that's forming.

Preheat the oven to 285 to 300 degrees F. Let the macarons sit out for 25 to 90 minutes to harden their shells a bit (to prevent tops from cracking during baking). Test if they're ready by touching the top and side of one shell lightly. It should feel dry and not stick to your finger at all. Bake one pan at a time for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the macarons. After the first 10 minutes of baking, rotate the pan and place a large piece of foil loosely over the macarons to prevent browning (If I’m baking on 2 stacked pans, I also remove the bottom pan at this point to make sure the macarons will be completely cooked on the bottom and not sticky). Let cool completely before trying to move the shells.

Once cool, remove the shells from the silicone mat or parchment and flip them over. If you have trouble removing them, freeze the macarons for about 10 minutes, then quickly peel them off before they have a chance to warm up and get sticky again.

To prepare the filling, combine the mascarpone, powdered sugar, and heavy cream and mix well. To fill, spoon or pipe about 1 teaspoon of mascarpone mixture onto half the macaron shells, sprinkle with diced mangos, then top with a similarly-sized top shell. For the best flavor and texture, store in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before eating so flavors are allowed to mature, but they are best if eaten within 2 days. Bring to cool room temperature before eating.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cool It! (Spiked Watermelon Cooler)

Some of you have been asking for more fast, easy recipes on 6 Bittersweets -- and such you shall receive! Today watermelon cooler is very simple to make and inspired by a favorite childhood drink. Though the term "watermelon juice" will probably just make you furrow your brow in confusion, it's actually a drink widely available in restaurants throughout China. Made purely of blended and strained watermelon chunks, this juice has got to be one of the most refreshing things on a hot summer day.

The major (for serious) heat wave we've had in the D.C. area lately inspired to make this grown-up watermelon juice cooler. Don't tell anyone, but I actually intended this to be a frozen drink (and still included directions in case you prefer it slushy). But alas, I ran out of time and didn't get to fully freeze the melon. Perhaps it was for the best as this version is even closer to the beloved drink of my memories of China. Of course it didn't have vodka back then, but I think spiking this juice only made it better ^__^.

Watermelon Lemon Vodka Cooler
Spiked Watermelon Cooler/Slushie [Printable Recipe]
Serves 4 to 6

6 cups cubed seeded watermelon, 3/4-inch cubes
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
1 cup tonic water
1/2 cup vodka (optional)
6 Tbsp powdered sugar, or more to taste

If making into a slushie, place chunks side by side on a large baking sheet, so that they're not touching one another. Freeze at least 2 hours. Then puree melon cubes (frozen or not) with the remaining ingredients in a conventional blender or using a stick immersion blender. Taste and add more powdered sugar, if desired. For slushie, pour into glasses or small bottles and serve immediately. For non-frozen drink, pour into a pitcher and chill well before serving.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Boy-Approved Spiked Pasta (Spaghetti with Vodka Cream Sauce)

Tomato Vodka Cream Pasta Ingredients
My boyfriend P has a busy, active job and is often too busy to eat a big lunch, if any lunch at all. It's no surprise then that he comes home hungry at only 5 p.m. For those days especially, I have a list of go-to meals that can be whipped up in no time. And while P's sweet enough to try almost anything I cook, I reserve this list for only the dishes he gets excited about. Chief among them is this fabulous spaghetti alla vodka.

P's not much of a foodie. So it's easy to tell when he loves a dish. The giveaway is usually his request to "never stop making this!" Exactly what he said after his first taste of this creamy tomato pasta made moreish by the addition of a little alcohol. Don't worry if you don't like the taste of vodka (I don't either). Cooking mellows the flavor so you won't even know it's spiked ^_^.

Spaghetti with Tomato Vodka Cream Sauce
I'd actually seen many versions of this dish long before, yet was always scared off by their copious use of heavy cream. I know, I know...nothing provides the same luxurious mouthfeel or coats pasta as well. But why drown out all those vibrant flavors from the tomato sauce? This version from Cooking Light magazine uses the amount needed to provide those textural benefits and no more. Still an indulgence, but a much healthier one.

Do you also have a go-to list of quick, delicious meals for those really hectic days? I can't wait to hear what's on it.

Spaghetti with Vodka Cream Sauce [Printable Recipe]
Slightly adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 3 to 4

XIAOLU'S NOTES: I HIGHLY recommend using fire-roasted canned tomatoes for this recipe -- it adds that much more depth to the flavor! I hesitated to add this detail before when Muir Glen made the only widely available version since they're a bit pricey. Luckily, Hunt's has come out with a version that's even easier to find than Muir Glen's and about as cheap as non-roasted diced tomatoes. Enjoy!

1/2 pound dry thin spaghetti pasta OR any other pasta
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion OR 2 to 3 shallots
1/8 to 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper OR 1 dried red chili, split in half
1 garlic clove, minced
Vegetable bouillon cube OR paste in amount used to flavor 1 cup broth
1/2 cup vodka
1/3 to 1/2 tsp salt
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup whipping cream
3 Tbsp thinly sliced fresh basil
Shaved or grated parmesan cheese, to garnish
Additional fresh basil leaves (optional)

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and keep warm.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; sauté 4 minutes or until tender. Add pepper, garlic, and bouillon; sauté 1 minute. Add vodka (when cooking with alcohol, there is always the chance of it catching on fire, so be very careful); bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 3 minutes or until liquid is reduced by about half. Stir in 1/3 teaspoon salt and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and let cool slightly.

IF you have stick blender, you can now puree the sauce right in the pan (easy peasy!). OTHERWISE, place tomato mixture in a conventional blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); and secure the lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters), and process until smooth. Return tomato mixture to pan.

Mix in cream, then cook the sauce for 2 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in cooked pasta and basil. Taste the pasta and add more salt if needed. Serve immediately.