Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge -

Yeah! Finally, I'm posting this month's challenge. I actually completed this one quite a few weeks ago, because I couldn't get the thought of cake with caramlized butter frosting out of my head... it was driving me crazy! I just wanted to have a bite of this delicious sounding cake.

This month's recipe comes from the amazingly talented baker Shuna Fisher Lydon (to view her webpage click here: And this month's hosts are: Dolores (of Culinary Curiosity), Alex (of Blondie and Brownie), Jenny (of Foray Into Food), and for the alternative bakers Natalie (of Gluten-A-Go-Go). Thanks guys, you are doing a great job :)
And now, on to the recipe:

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting
-10 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
-1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
-1/2 tsp kosher salt
-1/3 cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
-2 each eggs, at room temperature
-A splash of vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup milk, at room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 350F

2. Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

4. Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

5. Sift flour and baking powder.

6. Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

7. Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

8. Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

-2 cups sugar
-1/2 cup water
-1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)

1. In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

2. When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

3. Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

-12 tbsp unsalted butter
-1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
-4-6 tbsp heavy cream
-2 tsp vanilla extract
-2-4 tbsp caramel syrup
- Kosher or sea salt to taste

1. Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

2. Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

3. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

(recipes above courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon)

Using my new foodbuzz spatula to whip up the butter cream :)

(The below recipes were optional, I didn't really want to make caramels... and I had a lot lying around in my pantry, so I just molded pre-made caramels into weird pole-shaped things and used them to decorate... pretty lame I know :P)

Ooooo layering the cake :)

Yields eighty-one 1-inch caramels
-1 cup golden syrup
-2 cups sugar
-3/8 tsp fine sea salt
-2 cups heavy cream
-1 1/2 tsp pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
-3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

Equipment: A 9-inch square baking pan, candy thermometer

1. Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

2. When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

4. Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.


Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.

(recipe from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert)

I know my cake looks a little bit hodge-podge. I decided to decorate my cake with these strange caramel "poles" for some reason... it sounded like a good idea in my head, but when it came down to actually decorating it, it kind of turned out... well... like a mess. I also wanted to dust the top with some crumble praline cookies, in a sort of checkered patterns, but to no avail. Sometimes I wonder what exactly is going on inside my crazy mind. So in the end, although it looked like a crumble-topped, lame-looking cake it was still delicious. I will definitely make the buttercream again... the caramelized butter was oooooh soo tasty.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Earl Grey Tea Bread

So, with finals drawing nearer what better way to de-stress than to make some bread?? Bread and .... hmmm, tea! I always like to "chill out" (or is it warm up?) with a nice cup of tea. My favorite by far is earl grey, with jasmine tea coming in a very tight second. If I'm in the mood sometimes I enjoy a nice cup of chai or matcha with a splash of milk, but I generally enjoy my tea straight... no sugar, no milk, no nothing. So in wanting to relax with bread and tea, I decided to be silly and mix the two! I used an old "sweet-bread" recipe that I had used before to make
Melon Pan
but when combining the milk and butter in a saucepan (in Step 1), I added in the contents of 2 Earl Grey Tea Bags. As the milk warms up, the tea begins to infuse... at first it doesn't seem like the tea will have any effect on the taste, but as the bread goes through it's proofing process twice, the tea continues to permeate the dough, creating a lovely Earl Grey color, aroma and taste.

Also in variation from the Melon Pan recipe, I did not form the dough into individual rolls. Instead I used a special flower-shaped canape tin (see here) to form my bread. I placed enough dough into the greased+floured tin to fill it 2/3rds of the way (leaving room for expansion) and baked it for 40 minutes. I had some dough left over to make a very, very miniature loaf... good for appetizers at a party or something. I would serve is with some sweet butter or your favorite jam...

What a cute flower-shaped loaf... awww...

Here's the loaf, in it's uncut glory

Anyways... I should probably get back to studying don't you think??

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Soba Time

I decided on a minimalist meal for lunch today. Its not that I was feeling lazy and not wanting to cook up anything spectacular, it's just that for some reason (probably from watching too much Gintama) I was craving the simple Japanese dish of Kake Soba (hot soba noodles, in soup with scallions). After cooking the soba noodles to an aldente state, I made my soba soup using a pre-made soba dipping sauce. I did not really use a standardized recipe, but simply eye-balled all the ingredients (I'm slowly becoming more like Rachel Ray) and seasoned it to my personal taste. I added some water and soy sauce to the pre-made dipping sauce, mixed in some granulated sugar and minced ginger, and brought the whole mixture to a boil. Once the soup boiled, I added in the chopped scallions and turned off the heat (I didn't want the scallions to start wilting on me). I placed servings of soba noodles in each of the bowls, and topped the noodles with some sliced nori, julienned green onions (julienned carrots would have been a nice addition) and sesame seeds. I slowly poured the hot soup over the cooked noodles, and lunch was ready to be served.

To get more information on soba noodles, and a few great recipes check out Just Hungry. This site has a ton of great information specifically relating to Japanese cuisine.

Happy Birthday Jacques!

Sorry I haven't been posting for a while. Schools been crazy, but that's okay because I'm nearing the end of the term. Anywho, I just realized that I didn't get around to posting anything about my precious pups birthday. He turned on November 2nd... aww isn't he precious? Look at that face, not knowing that it's his special day...

I wanted to treat Jacques to a little something special, his own personal cake. He loves soft and chewy baked goodies and he will gobble up peanut-flavored treats with a vengeance, so I decided that his cake would be peanuty and moist... mmm I think I might have to steal a slice.

That night we sung him Happy Birthday, sliced him a lovely piece of cake and then came him a bijillion hugs to celebrate his awesomeness! He's so cute, cuddly and loving :)

There he is, sniffing out the final product... I guess he's unsure of what this big blob of tasty smelling squishy-stuff is.

But then he gives in and takes the big bite! He actually has this strange ritual of taking the food somewhere where there's carpet and eating it there. Strange... so he kind of took his cake and ran away from us, but we followed him (like stalkers) and watched him eat his cake (kind of creepy)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Isn't it nice when someone awards you for something you love to do?! Thanks to Steph from Obsessed With Baking for giving me this nice award ...

And I would like to pass this one on to:

1. Crazy Asian Gal
2. Camille of Rtemis
3. Janet Is Hungry
4. Lucy of Sweets Savories etc. <-- I noticed you've already got this award, but your blog is so much fun to read I think you deserve it again :)

All of these blogs are amazing to read, so if you have the chance go and check them out!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Eating Natto!

Some of you may be asking, "What is Natto?! Does such a word even exist?" The answer is, "It's fermented soybean, and yes it does!" :P

I was wondering around downtown Vancouver with a friend of mine when we stumbled upon a lovely little Japanese Grocery Store on Robson Street. It's kind of hard to miss, since it has two giant boxes of Pocky plastered to the entrance way (seriously... want to see the picture? click here). So I wandered inside, because I am a true foodie... and all foodies know that you can't just walk by a grocery store and not go inside! And so, it was in this Japanese store that I stumbled upon the triple-pack styrofoam boxes that encase the wonderous food known as natto...

I took the package home and wasn't quite sure how to eat it. I had heard about this interesting Japanese food from a couple Japanese friends (some saying it was good, other's saying that it was the devil's puke) but it was only after reading Gintama, and seeing one of the characters (Sa-chan) always holding a bowl of natto, that I dared to try the smelly beans.

If you want to see how natto is traditionally eaten, I recommend you do what I did... watch it on youtube... or for more reliable sources check out wikipedia :P

Inside the styrofoam package is the fermented soy beans, along with a packet of mustard and a packet of soy sauce.

Start by unveiling the beans. The slime coating is sticky... be careful not to get it all over your placemat, shirt and/or friends.

Add in the mustard and soy sauce packets. Then stir the mixture vigorously with your chopsticks about 15 times.
Note the gooey-ness... be glad you cannot smell the stinky-ness.

Eaten by itself, natto is a force to be reckoned with. It has a very pungent smell; but if you can get past that, you will probably enjoy the bean's taste. Adding the natto to rice helps to mellow out the flavor, while also increasing the ability to pick up the slimey buggers with your chopsticks.

I'm not sure what it is with me and food that has a slightly "off" aroma. I do like durian, and stinky tofu... and I actually really liked the natto. The only thing I didn't like about the natto was that it got all over my face; I'm not even joking. The little strings of sticky stuff were hanging off my chin by the end of the meal; so, after eating, I had to go to the washroom and wash my face... and while I was there, brush my teeth (lest someone be unfortunate enough to get a whiff of my "natto breath").

So my verdict for natto: I like it! But I'll have to remember to only snack on it when I have access to a clean washroom and toothpaste :P

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Grape Muffins! What!

I'm always a sucker for a cheap buy at the grocery store... no I do not go out and purchase the dented cans, or the clearance section foods (because we all know that those things are sketchy, way past their expiry date, and just plain unsafe); but I do always looking out for the latest coupons on the web, in the flyers, placed on store shelves. The only thing that I find sneaky about the coupons that you pick up in-store, is that they always hike up the price of the item that the coupon is good for. For example, I found some 50cents-off coupons for cereals in the cereal section but alas the price of the Mini-Wheats was a whopping $6.99 (when I normally purchase them at $4.99). So even with the coupon I'm not saving money :( Tricksters... I have learned how to use in-store coupons wisely though; the key is to be patient. Grab all the coupons that you are interested in, but don't go and purchase the items at that store, or on that day. Since the in-store coupons are usually good for the next 4-6months, I put all of my collected coupons in an envelope in my purse, so that they're always there for me to access when I go out shopping. And when the store decides that they're going to have a "sale" on a product whose coupon I picked up a few months back, *ba-bing* EXTRA SAVINGS!!

So, why am I randomly talking about coupons? Well, because I was walking through Save-On Foods today when I happened upon a sale on Europe's Best Frozen Grapes (I love frozen fruit!). The bag of grapes was priced at $2.99, when the usual price is $6.99... and wouldn't you know it, I had a coupon for $1-off any bag of Europe's Best Frozen Fruit! Woot! A whole bag of frozen grapes for only $2!!

And when I brought the grapes home, I decided to be healthy and reward myself with my favorite healthy muffins... Grape Bran Muffins!

Healthy Grape Bran Muffins
Yields 9 Muffins

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cups wheat bran

1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp maple syrup (you could use honey if you wish)
2/3 cups buttermilk
1 egg white, beaten
1 tbsp butter, melted

2/3 cups Europe's Best Di-Vine frozen grapes, thawed

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

2. Grease muffin pans or line a pan with paper cups.
3. In a large bowl, combine all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, wheat bran, salt and baking soda. Add maple syrup, buttermilk, egg and butter; stir just to moisten.

4. Stir in the thawed grapes until just combines.
5. Pour batter into prepared muffin pans, until each muffin cup is 3/4 full.
6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

I really enjoyed these muffins. My family isn't all that in to eating bran and flax and all that fun fiber stuff, so it was a little tough convincing them that these muffins were just as good as banana muffins. My youngest sister, who really loves blueberries, actually liked the muffins (probably because she thought that the grapes were simply gigantic blueberries)... but hey, whatever gets them eating more fiber! You gotta get that 25g a day to stay regular :P

So, what have we learned today? Hoard in-store coupons and always keep them at the ready, and also... fiber is our friend :)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Rice Fritters

For dinner today, the family decided to be lazy and have frozen pasta with pre-made Olivieri Four Cheese Sauce. Well, I suppose I shouldn't call them lazy, because they do usually whip up dinner from scratch and they do work very hard so once in a while it is nice to make a quick, easy and satisfying meal. Besides, it gives us more time to bond during the meal without being utterly exhausted after having created a masterful feast. But, being a foodie, I simply would not be satisfied until at least one dish was made by my own two hands and not manufactured. I always find it hard to pick the perfect pairing of appetizer to accompany the main dish... especially when it's pasta. The food that came to mind when I thought pasta-accompaniment was garlic bread. Booo! That would definitely not be a challenging enough dish to prepare... all that involves is sliced french-bread, roasted garlic, parsley and paremsan cheese... no fun, no fun at all. So, my only option was to surf the web for italian appetizers and that's when I discovered the rice fritter!!

Rice Fritters (Makes 12 golf-ball sized fritters)

- 3 cups leftover rice (arborio rice works well, or you can use any moist rice that holds together)
- Twelve 1/2-inch cubes of your favorite cheese
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup panko crumbs
- 3 tbsp parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 tsp dried parsley
- A pinch of salt and pepper, to taste

1. Work with the room-temperature leftover rice and divide your rice into 12 equal portions.
2. Shape each portion into a flattened circle and place a create a well in the center
3. Place a cheese cube in the well, and then roll up the rice ball until the cheese is hidden in the middle.

Note: If the rice is sticking to your hands, use seran-wrap to help you mold the rice. Place the rice in the center of a seran-wrap square and then bring all the edges of the seran together, twist and squeeze the rice into a neat (non-messy) ball.
4. Perform steps 2 and 3 for all of the rice-ball portions.
5. In a small bowl, combine the panko, parmesan, salt & pepper, and parsley. In a separate small bowl, crack in the egg and lightly beat.
6. Dip each rice-ball into the beaten egg, into the panko-mix and then place on a tin-foil lined baking sheet.
7. Place the baking sheet in the fridge for 15minutes to help the egg and panko crust to set.
8. Remove sheet from fridge and bake the rice fritters at 350F for 15-20minutes, or until nicely goldened and crisp.

My sisters first reaction to the strange side-dish was "what are those round things?" When I told that they were rice fritters they were a bit skeptical and hesitant to try them. But then I announced that there was cheese inside and all was good. They dove in and were ready to taste the cheesey goodness... not sure what it is with kids and cheese :P The rice fritters were good plain, but they were even better when they were dipped in a marinara sauce. Any ol' generic marinara sauce will do, it's just that the tomato and the cheese combined is simply divine! Try it for yourself and see...