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March 28, 2011

Raspberry Cocoa Nib Coffee Cake


Thanks to everyone who entered the Daily Gourmet/NewTree giveaway! The five winners are: Michelle, Jessica, Jessicah89, Debbie, and Kristin! Congrats to you all!

We had company last week: my brother-in-law had the honor of being our first houseguest to use our (finally)properly fitted out second bedroom. (Previous guests enjoyed the luxury of our living room couch while the second bedroom served as our glorified storage closet). The organization of our place has reached a kind of halfway inertia, like the interminable midpoint of a marathon. All our public spaces are perfectly presentable - on most days, at least, while we take advantage of the doors to all our private bedrooms to hide the multitude of home-decorating failures: bare walls, still-unpacked boxes, miscellany and ephemera as yet unsorted. Another roadblock to my dream of a fully-organized home: we need more bookshelves. Currently about 60% of my book collection is homeless, meaning my floor is a constantly-morphing library as I pile and un-pile books over each other. (This is only a pseudo-complaint, though, as I really love my books too much to ever begrudge my lost square footage).


However, there's nothing like a visiting guest to kickstart the home-organizing process. Or to provide a reason to bake a little welcome treat to leave on the counter. One of my first favorite recipes when I started baking was this coffee cake made with cream cheese and swirled with raspberry jam. It evolved over the years into its current incarnation, with sour cream and a topping of hazelnut streusel. I sprinkle my streusel over the top of the coffee cake, but you can also swirl it into the cake batter if you like a contrasty layer in your coffee cake. I also threw in some cocoa nibs I had to add another dimension of flavor. The result is your classic golden, pillowy coffee cake, moist with a ribbon of jam, and a crunchy, buttery-nutty top. Just the thing to make someone feel right at home.



Raspberry Cocoa Nib Coffee Cake with Hazelnut Streusel


1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup ground toasted hazelnuts

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) butter, chilled



1 1/4 cups (150 g) flour

3/8 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup (200 g) sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoona vanilla extract

3/8 cup (90 g) sour cream

1/2 cup raspberry jam

2 tablespoons cocoa nibs


For the streusel: Combine the flour, hazelnuts, sugar, and salt together in bowl of food processor.

Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the flour mixture.

Process until mixture resembles small peas. Do not let it combine fully into one ball of dough.

Refrigerate streusel until ready to use.


For the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl and set aside.

Combine butter and sugar together in a stand mixer and beat together until light and fluffy.

Add in flour mixture and beat until mixture just begins to come together into a dough.

Combine eggs, vanilla, and sour cream together in a small bowl. With the mixer running on low speed, pour the egg mixture slowly into the bowl. Mix until the batter is smooth and fully combined, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Pour the batter into prepared pan and spread out evenly. Use a spoon to place 8-10 dollops of raspberry jam over the top. Sprinkle the cocoa nibs over the top of the batter as well. Using a knife, swirl jam and nibs into the batter to marble.

Sprinkle streusel over the top of the swirled batter.

Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, until top is brown and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool before serving.


March 24, 2011

Daily Gourmet/NewTree Chocolate Deal


I was recently contacted by Daily Gourmet, a new site that offers limited-time offers on artisanal products from around the country. They found me because they were currently running an offer on Amella Caramels, which I had reviewed favorably during my last visit to the San Francisco Chocolate Salon.

Their current offer is for NewTree Chocolates, a brand I am also familar with from my days working in a chocolate shop. Started by a Belgian biochemical engineer, NewTree's chocolates combine fine chocolate with a mixture of antioxidants and botanicals; for example, the Lavender "Tranquility" bar contains lavender and lime blossom extract, while the Cherry "Eternity" bar holds bits of cherry and contains grape seed extract, a polyphenol.

Daily Gourmet is offering a five bar sampler of the following new flavors:
- Apricot "Cocoon"
- Lavender "Tranquility"
- Cherry "Eternity"
- Dark Cocoa "Pleasure"
- Ginger "Sexy"
for $26, with free shipping, which is a 34% savings.

THey are also giving an extra $5 off to 5 Dessert First readers.

How to participate: Leave a comment saying that you have signed up for (You can't see the deals until you sign up). I'll pick five readers at random and send you a code that will give you an additional $5 off. Sound good?
This offer is good through Sunday, March 27 only. So I will close this giveaway at the end of Friday tomorrow and send out the codes. Thanks and good luck!

March 16, 2011

TCHO and Chocolate Mint Filled Cupcakes


Pardon the slightly disjointed nature of this post; it was meant to be report on my TCHO factory experience that evolved into a St. Patrick's Day recipe that now includes a mention of Japan.


Apologies, but I couldn't not mention that I fell in love with Japan long before I visited it for the first time, and I love it more with every subsequent visit. Their refined aesthetic that is visible is everything from their bridge design to their bento packaging; their concepts of wabi-sabi and mono no aware that appeals to my introvert's, observer personality; the spare beauty of the countryside (captured in one of my favorite movies ever, Totoro), gives Japan a special place in my heart. It was hard to think about regular life, much less blogging, when seeing the awful images of devastation everywhere.

I wanted to pass along the word that food bloggers are already mobilizing to help out; local bay area chef Samin Nostrat is organizing a bake sale for Japan; check out her site to get involved. Or, for those of you not in the bay area, Sabrina of The Tomato Tart is holding a virtual bake sale. Do consider helping out and be a part of this wonderful, caring community of food bloggers. Thank you!

Now, back to the original subject of this post. A few weeks ago I got the chance to visit the TCHO chocolate factory at Pier 17 in San Francisco. TCHO is a bean-to-bar chocolate company; they work directly with farmers from Madagascar, Peru, and Ghana to grow cacao to their specifications. The roasted beans are shipped to San Francisco where they are turned into chocolate in the Pier 17 factory. With the closing of the Scharffen Berger factory in Berkeley, TCHO is the only place near San Francisco to get a glimpse of the chocolate making process. TCHO started offering tours of their factory at the end of last year; they are free and you simply sign up on their site and show up for an hour long tour that includes a brief overview of the chocolate making process and a chocolate tasting.

Larry Del Santo, the marketing manager, described TCHO to me as "geared towards the millenial generation." With its high tech background and fast-moving startup feel, TCHO does fit in perfectly with the future savvy, iPhone-loving Bay Area set. As a lover of food history, I was delighted to learn that the swirling, geometric patterns are based on the anti-counterfeit patterns used on money; quite apropos since cacao beans were once used as currency.


Photo courtesy of TCHO

Although they don't allow the public to take pictures of the factory, you can get a glimpse with this video on The Feast.


The retail counter at the factory, where you can also get a coffee or TCHO's own drinking chocolate.


I really liked the chocolate; it is pretty much straight melted chocolate, gloriously thick, clearly harkening back to the xocolatl of the ancient Aztecs rather than the insipid watery pretenders found today.


Photo courtesy of TCHO

 Willy Wonka's chocolate factory in reality: pipes gushing liquid chocolate. When asked how the pipes were cleaned, the tour guide replied that they were flushed with warm cocoa butter. These must be the only pipes you would want to lick!


Photo courtesy of TCHO

Chocolate buttons being born.


TCHO uses a "flavor wheel" to describe its various chocolate bars. There are six flavors on the wheel and currently four of them are offered: nutty, chocolatey, fruity, and citrus. TCHO takes pains to note there are no add-ins to their chocolate; all the flavor comes directly from the beans. Tasting all four of the bars is a quick and simple way to learn about some of the most basic flavor notes in chocolate. Unlike other artisan bars which may have a combination of notes, if you eat a "Nutty" bar you will clearly taste a nutty, toasted flavor. My favorites of the four were the Nutty and Fruity, which again contains no actual fruit but boasts a bright, clean berry flavor. The flavors are constantly being refined, which is why there is a "Fruity 2.0" and "Nutty 2.0". TCHO is still working on the earthy and floral bars - the R&D process includes the now-famous "beta bars" which are sent to volunteers to taste and critique, a clever strategy that not surprisingly has gone over like gangbusters in this town of foodies.


TCHO is also branching out into simple confectionery items such as these chocolate covered mango pieces. They have also started creating their own private label bars for Starbucks, which means in the very near future TCHO could be a household name.


TCHO also has a professional line of baking bars and drops that come in a variety of percentages. I was gifted with a couple bags of the 68% Baking Drops as I was leaving, so I'd been waiting for a chance to try them out. Since St. Patrick's Day was coming up, I wanted to do my spin on a chocolate mint cupcake. Something a little more elegant than the neon green frosted sugar bombs littering the bakeries. (Although I did think later that St. Patrick's Day isn't really a holiday associated with modest restraint, is it? Oh well.)

 I came up with a chocolate sour cream cupcake (sour cream or creme fraiche are my favorites for a super rich cake) with a peppermint cream filling (if you really want, you can tint this green). A chocolate buttercream morphed into a chocolate ganache frosting, and the end result is sort of a cross between peppermint pattie and a Hostess cupcake. The sugar ball trios on top are a very light pastel green - surprisingly, no shamrock green available! I put a lucky group of four on one for someone to enjoy on St. Patrick's Day. I also realized a little too late that luster dust on chocolate just makes it look grainy in photos-argh!

The TCHO baking drops performed beautifully and lent the cupcakes a robust, fudgey taste. Because I'm a geek, I'm really curious to do a comparison with some of the other baking chocolates on the market - look for this post in the near future! However, for now I can conclude that TCHO is a perfectly excellent addition to any baker's arsenal. Singlechoccupcake


Chocolate Cupcakes

(adapted from Cooks' Illustrated)

makes 12 cupcakes

8 tablespoons (4 oz) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup cocoa powder

3/4 cup (3 3/4 oz) flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

2 large eggs

3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1/2 cup (4 oz) sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with baking-cup liners.

Combine butter and chocolate in medium heatproof bowl. Set bowl over saucepan containing barely simmering water; heat mixture until butter and chocolate start to melt. Add cocoa and whisk until smooth and fully combined. Set aside to cool until just warm to touch.

Whisk flour, baking soda and baking powder in small bowl to combine.

Whisk eggs in second medium bowl to combine. Add sugar, vanilla and salt and whisk until fully incorporated.

Add cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until combined.

Sift about one-third of flour mixture over chocolate mixture and whisk until combined; whisk in sour cream until combined; then sift in remaining flour mixture and whisk batter until it is homogenous and thick.

Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Bake until skewer inserted into center of cupcakes comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool.


Mint Cream

1 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Combine cream and peppermint extract in a stand mixer bowl. Whip until soft peaks form; do not overwhip.


Chocolate Ganache

8 ounces (210 g) bittersweet chocolate

6 tablespoons (84 g) unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons corn syrup

Combine all chocolate and butter in a metal bowl set over a saucepan filled with simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted and combined.

Add in vanilla and corn syrup and stir to combine. (The corn syrup is to help the ganache keep its shine; if you are serving the cupcakes immediately, you can omit the corn syrup.)


To assemble the cupcakes: Cut the centers out of each cupcake. Fill centers with mint cream and replace the tops.

Let the ganache cool slightly so it thickens, but don't let it cool too much or it won't spread smoothly. Spoon the ganache over the tops of each cupcake, covering evenly. Let ganache set slightly before serving.


March 08, 2011

Sugar and Spice Brioche Buns: Everything Nice



To see the winners of last week's Blackboard Eats contest, see the bottom of this post!

We're spoilt for choice of bread in San Francisco, where there's enough artisan bread bakeries around that not having freshly baked bread with dinner almost seems enough reason to turn in your foodie membership card. I must confess that I'm not the hugest bread person, probably because there's stiff competition for Most Ardent Bread Lover in this town, and my carbohydrate of choice tends to be rice, since it was a fixture of the dinner table while I was growing up.

I will make an exception for brioche, though. I like that it inhabits some undefined but utterly delicious middle ground between bread and cake. I like it even though it's so rich because you are literally shoving as much butter as possible into the dough before it loses all structural integrity, people still tend to enjoy it by putting even more rich items on, like...more butter, or eggs, or pâté. I also like brioche because it's so very easy to make. There may be many breads that intimidate me, but brioche? You make it once and you realize, that's all there is to it? And that's the dangerous part because you'll want to make it again and again.


There's many very fine brioche recipes out there, both simple and gussied up. My longstanding favorite happens to be based off of this one by Alice Medrich. But when I got a copy of pastry chef Joanne Chang's Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe and saw her Sugar and Spice Brioche Buns, I figured there were worse lots in life than a surfeit of brioche recipes.

 What I like about the Flour cookbook is the clean and very modern typography, which makes the book a joy to browse, and Chang's talent for writing charming, engaging headnotes that make every recipe sound like a must-try. How many different ways can you find to say, "These cookies are delicious!"?  But she manages to avoid that trap and weaves anecdotes from her childhood and her stints at Payard and other restaurants with tales of the daily routine at her Boston bakery to provide an entertaining glimpse into her life, enticing the reader to try these milestone recipes from her career. The majority of the recipes are accessible standards of the all-American bakery, with a refined presentation from Chang's background in French pastry.

Her basic brioche recipe is straightforward; it does not rely on a separate sponge (or poolish) but rather an overnight rest in the refrigerator to allow the fermentation process to occur. Because brioche dough is so rich with eggs and butter, it slows down the development of the yeast. Having a separate sponge free of fats ensures that enough fermentation happens, but I generally have no problem with brioche doughs developing overnight, with a final rise after shaping. If it's cold in the kitchen (like mine this last rainy, blustery weekend), I'll turn on the oven and place the shaped dough near it to help it rise faster. Other people have placed the dough directly in the oven, or in the warming drawer, but be careful to keep the temperature below 140 degrees F, or else you'll kill the yeast and have prematurely dead bread.


The classic French form for brioche is either a loaf or brioche à tête, but the Flour recipe has you cutting the dough into little squares and piling them into muffin cups. I finally figured out that the end result was supposed to resemble the traditional cloverleaf dinner rolls, making this recipe a nice amalgam of French and American. I wish illumination had come before I baked the brioche though, so I could have arranged the squares a little more neatly; the recipe was not entirely clear.

Recall what I said earlier about brioche being best enjoyed with other non-diet-food items: These buns are brushed with melted butter right out of the oven and then rolled in a mixture of sugar and spices. The never-fail combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves make these buns taste very similar to the cinnamon-sugar doughnuts from the doughnut shops of my childhood.  The knobbly, pull-apart construction of these buns also tricks you into thinking you can eat just part of it, or maybe half and a bit more, until you give up and just cram the whole thing in your mouth and think, well, I'll just eat dinner a little later. Dangerous - but brioche is one yeasted bread that's got a permanent spot in my kitchen.

Finally, thanks for all who participated in the Blackboard Eats contest and gave me a bunch of restaurants to add to my list of places to try. The two winners of a one-year membership to Blackboard Eats, chosen entirely at random, are Annie and Christyna! Congrats and enjoy!


Basic Brioche
adapted from Joanne Chang's  Flour

2 1/4 cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups (340 grams) bread flour
1 1/2 packages (3 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (82 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup (120 grams) cold water
5 eggs
1 cup plus 6 tablespoons (2 3/4 sticks/310 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into about 12 pieces

In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the all-purpose flour, bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water, and eggs. 
Beat on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until all of the ingredients have come together. 
Once the dough has come together, beat on low speed for another 3 to 4 minutes. The dough will be very stiff and seem quite dry.
On low speed, add the butter one piece at a time, mixing after each addition until it disappears into the dough.  It's important to wait until each piece is fully mixed in before adding other, or you'll have a greasy mess.
Continue mixing on low speed for about 10 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.  It is important for all of the butter to be mixed thoroughly into the dough.  If necessary, stop the mixer occasionally and break up the dough with your hands to help mix in the butter.
Once the butter is completely incorporated, turn up the speed to medium and beat for another 15 minutes, or until the dough becomes sticky, soft, and somewhat shiny.  It will take some time to come together.  It will look shaggy and questionable at the start and then eventually will turn smooth and silky.  
Increase speed to medium-high and beat for about 1 minute.  You should hear the dough make a slap-slap-slap sound as it hits the sides of the bowl.  Test the dough by pulling at it: it should stretch a bit and have a little give.  If it seems wet and loose and more like a batter than a dough, add a few tablespoons of flour and mix until it comes together.  If it breaks off into pieces when you pull at it, continue to mix on medium speed for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until it develops more strength and stretches when you grab it.  It is ready when you can gather it all together and pick it up in one piece.
Place the dough in a large oiled bowl or plastic container and cover it with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface of the dough.  Let the dough proof in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or up to overnight.  At this point, you can freeze the dough in an airtight container for up to 1 week.


Sugar and Spice Brioche Buns

adapted from Joanne Chang's Flour

1/2 recipe Brioche Dough

1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pinch of ground cloves

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup (56 grams) unsalted butter, melted


Line 10 cups of a 12 cup standard muffin tin with paper liners or generously butter and flour them.

On a floured work surface, press dough into a 10 inch x 5 inch rectangle. 

Using a bench scraper or knife, cut dough into 10 equal 1 inch x 5 inch strips. Cut each strip into 5 pieces. You should now have 50 squares of dough.

Place 5 squares in each prepared muffin cup. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot for about 1 1/2 hours, until the dough has risen and feels puffy and soft.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F and place rack in center of oven.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until golden brown. Let buns cool for 5 to 10 minutes on a wire rack until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, combine sugar, spices, and salt in a small bowl.

Brush tops of buns with the melted butter. Roll the buns in the sugar mixture to coat evenly.

Buns are best served within 4 hours of baking. They can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 day, then rewarmed in a 300 degree oven for 5 minutes.

February 28, 2011

Blackboard Eats Membership Giveaway

It seems there are new daily deal sites appearing on the internet every day - to the point that it seems almost embarassing to be paying for anything full price. One of my favorite guilty pleasures every morning is to peruse all the sample sale sites as I'm eating my cereal...because, of course, buying a $1500 LV purse for $800 is such an amazing deal.

Actually, if I could afford $800 purses with impunity, I probably wouldn't need to wait for them to go on sale. And I'd rather direct my discretionary income towards food. (Although if that purse goes down to $ me!)

I was excited to learn about Blackboard Eats, a site that delivers weekly deals on restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City. There's also an "Everywhere" edition that promotes of-the-moment foodstuffs, like Blue Bottle Coffee.

The deal is generally 30% off your meal or a prix fixe menu. As a bonus, the featured restaurants have been researched by Blackboard Eats' editors and the site includes their reviews and menu picks.


I used one of their most recent SF passcodes to visit Contigo, a charmingly unpretentious Spanish tapas kitchen in Noe Valley. Contigo has earned a soft spot in the hearts of many foodies, as many of them (including me) followed chef Brett Emerson's documentation of the journey to open Contigo on his wonderful blog In Praise of Sardines.


above left: Chef Emerson at work in the beautiful open kitchen. right: yes, there are sardines on the menu. Namely, wood oven roasted sardines and avocado on toast with pickled onions and smoked sea salt. Oh. Yes.

We all rejoiced when Contigo opened. And also because the tapas are so fantastically tasty. I had the seven course tasting menu, which included the sardines above as well as:


above left: the irresistibly named Truffle Hunter's Lunch - olive oil fried farm egg with jamon serrano and perigord black truffle. right: did someone say Dungeness crab season? perfectly light and creamy Dungeness crab croquetta with saffron aioli.

Dessert was a no-brainer, as well:


Barcelona style hot chocolate - thick enough for one of those fried-to-order churros to get stuck in. You'll drain that cup with not one iota of guilt, it's so good.

The Contigo offer is over, although you definitely should still visit Contigo! Every week new restaurants are featured on Blackboard Eats.

To get in on the deals, you can either buy a passcode for an individual deal for $1, or you can get an annual membership for $20, which allows you access to as many passcodes as you want. I'm pleased to offer two memberships to Blackboard Eats, to the city of your choice, to Dessert First readers!

To enter, leave a comment naming your favorite new restaurant you tried last year. I'll pick two winners at random. Please note that the cities currently covered by Blackboard Eats are San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City, and the memberships are not transferable, so enter only if you're able to use the membership!

Contest runs through Friday, March 4 and I'll announce the winners on Monday, March 7. Good luck!

February 24, 2011

National Food Blogger Bake Sale - SF 2011 Edition!


It's been almost a year since the first San Francisco Food Bloggers Bake Sale, and the time has come to plan for the 2011 bake sale!

Last year, food bloggers across the country banded together to hold bake sales in their hometowns in support of Share Our Strength, a national organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger. The San Francisco bake sale was a fabulous success, raising $1650 in one day. On May 14 this year, bake sales will be again held by food bloggers everywhere, with all proceeds donated to Share Our Strength.

I'm excited to be joined this year by some other local baking bloggers, who are volunteering their time and talents to make this the most well organized bake sale ever. Irvin, Shauna, and Annelies, all participants in last year's bake sale, are now enthusiastic co-organizers. Because of that, we have set up a separate page for the San Francisco Food Blogger Bake Sale where you can sign up to participate or check for updates.

We have a new, bigger location for the bake sale this year: 18 Reasons, a local community center focused on art and food. They host a variety of classes and events celebrating food throughout the year. We're thrilled to be able to hold our bake sale in their beautiful space.

What are the San Francisco Food Blogger Bake Sale details?

When: Saturday, May 14

Where: 18 Reasons, 3674 18th Street, San Francisco, CA

How can you help?

If you live in the Bay Area and you want to participate in the bake sale, please go to the SF Bake Sale website and sign up to volunteer! It doesn't matter if you have a food blog or not, only a desire to bake! We need volunteers to help bake up goods to sell, and I would love a chance to meet all you local foodies! Bring a plate of cookies or a cake, whatever you feel like contributing!

If you aren't able to bake up something, please come by and help support us! Purchase something yummy and make a donation to Share our Strength!

If you don't live near San Francisco but would still like to participate, check Gaby's page (the national organizer) to see if there's another bake sale going on near where you live.

Here is some additional information on Share Our Strength and The Great American Bake Sale.

See my recap of last year's bake sale to see a bit of all the excitement.

I hope to see you all at the new bake sale homepage, and to see you May 14 at the bake sale!

February 23, 2011

Financiers with Finesse (And a Curd with Some Zest)


So one of things you learn when you work in a commercial kitchen and you make the same recipe over and over, is the importance of consistency. From whether you sifted your ingredients, to how quickly (or slowly) you combine everything, to the ambient temperature of the kitchen when you put a batter together, can all all have incremental yet cumulatively critical effects on the final result.

Take this financier. On the surface, a fairly straightforward tea cake made of browned butter, egg whites, almond meal, and confectioner's sugar, yet in making several batches I discovered how a colder-than-usual winter day or overexuberant mixing can lead to less than perfect financiers.

The main goal of making financier batter is to fully incorporate the browned butter with the rest of the ingredients. A couple of things that might prevent this from happening: if the ingredients are too cold, then ingredients won't incorporate as fully (think of trying to cream cold butter and sugar); or adding butter too quickly to the batter so that again, it combine fully and instead becomes a mixture of melted butter floating on top of clumps of dry ingredients.

Before we arrived at these insights, we found financiers that, when baked off, that would look and feel a little too greasy in our hands. Too much unincorporated butter. Since these weren't acceptable to sell, we embarked on a investigation until we found the flaws in the method that needed finessing, and tweaked the recipe until it delivered what we wanted.


This experience is a fine illustration of how baking is a living process. Even "proven" recipes can sometimes turn out wonky, and then it's a matter of close observation and analysis until you figure out the reason. Of course for experienced pastry chefs it's much easier to determine what went wrong, but it's never too soon to sharpen your own deductive skills. I had never made financiers with butter and egg whites warmed to a specific temperature before. And I don't think it's necessary to pull out the thermometer every time you bake something. But now, if make financiers again, I'll know that I want my ingredients warm, not cold or hot. And if they come out dry or oily, I'll have an idea of what to troubleshoot instead of throwing up my hands in frustration.

These financiers, made at home, are based on the recipe from my cookie cookbook, with a bit of vanilla added and topped with a hazelnut streusel for some crunchy contrast. They came out pretty well, if I do say so myself.

The home financier-making also prompted me to use up some yuzu juice gifted to me. Although yuzu is slowly setting down roots in the US, showing up in farmers' markets and backyard gardens, it's still a bit of an exotic find. Japanese or Asian markets will usually carry bottled yuzu juice, but often the preservatives added give it salty flavor - ok if you're making a ponzu sauce, not so great if you're trying to bake a cake, or some buttercream.

I recently met with Tomoko Sato, the founder and president of Yuzu Passion, dedicated to the production and distribution of yuzu. All the yuzu products in their line are made with yuzu from a small village on the island of Kito, Japan. Tomoko established a relationship with this yuzu farm, which grows and processes its yuzu by traditional methods. The resulting yuzu juice has a crystalline, mouth-puckery tartness. It's more astringent (think grapefruit) than lemon, although I think yuzu has by far the lovelier fragrance. Tomoko was nice enough to give me a bottle of Yuzu Passion's yuzu juice to try out.

You can use yuzu like any other citrus; if you're a fan of those Japanese super lemon candies, yuzu would be right up your alley. From a sweet perspective, yuzu is a great foil for the richness of chocolate, butter, and cream. Hence my rendition of Pierre Herme's lemon cream with yuzu juice, which makes a great counterpoint to the nutty, buttery financiers.

I folded in some whipped cream to make it more of a mousseline so it I could pipe it out for a prettier presentation, but if you want more yuzu intensity feel free to leave it out.


Come back tomorrow to Dessert First, when I'll have an announcement about this year's Food Blogger Bake Sale!

Vanilla Financiers with Hazelnut Streusel

about 20 financiers
1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup blanched almonds, finely ground
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites, 40 degrees C (104 degrees F)
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Hazelnut Streusel

1/3 cup flour

1/4 cup ground toasted hazelnuts

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup packed, moist dark brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) butter, chilled

For the financiers: Cut butter into pieces and place in a skillet or saucepan. Melt over medium heat on stove, swirling occasionally, until it starts to turn brown and smells nutty. Do not let the butter get too dark or it will burn. Strain butter into a clean bowl.
Sift sugar, ground almonds, flour, and salt together in a medium bowl. 
Add half of egg whites and whisk to combine. Add in rest of egg whites and whisk until fully incorporated.
Check butter is at 60 degrees F (140 degrees F). Add butter slowly in four additions, whisking to combine before adding the next addition. It should be a thick, smooth batter.

Add vanilla and whisk to combine.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate batter overnight.

For the streusel: Combine the flour, hazelnuts, sugars, and salt together in bowl of food processor.

Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the flour mixture.

Process until mixture resembles small peas. Do not let it combine fully into one ball of dough.

Refrigerate streusel until ready to use.

When you are ready to bake:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a mini muffin tin or financier tins with cooking spray.

Divide the batter among the prepared tins, filling almost to the top.

Sprinkle tops of financiers with streusel.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, rotating tins halfway through. The financiers should be golden brown and just firm to the touch.
Let cool on wire rack for a few minutes before unmolding.

Yuzu Cream

adapted from Pierre Hermé's Desserts

makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup yuzu juice (you can substitute Meyer lemons)

5 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces, softened but not melting

1/2 cup whipping cream (optional)

Create a water bath by placing a saucepan of water over heat to simmer and placing a metal bowl unto the pan so its bottom does not touch the water. Whisk the sugar, eggs and yuzu juice together.

Cook the mixture over the simmering water, whisking constantly, until the cream reaches 180 degrees and thickens. Keep whisking while the mixture is heating up to prevent the eggs from cooking.

Once the cream is thickened - you should be able to make tracks in the mixture with your whisk - take the cream off the heat and strain it into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Let the cream rest for a bit until it cools to about 140 degrees.

Add in the butter pieces a few at the time and combine on high speed. Once all of the butter has been added, let the mixture combine for a few minutes longer to ensure the mixture is perfectly smooth.

Once the cream is finished pour it into a container and let it chill in the refrigerator for about half an hour before using.

To make a mousseline, whip the whipping cream in a stand mixer to soft peaks. Gently fold into the yuzu cream.

February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!


Happy Valentine's Day to all! If you're just here for cake, at the end of this post you'll find a recipe for an absolutely addictive gianduja mousse cake. A rendition of flourless chocolate cake made even more irresistable by the addition of fresh toasted hazelnut paste to the batter. This is defnitely a one-slice-is-all-you-need dessert; the cake, which is surprisingly light and delicate out of the oven, firms into a more decadent, trufflelike texture in the refrigerator. Either way, it's a perfect combination of two of my favorite flavors.

If you're here for some Hong Kong photos, scroll on!


I was going to make this a super double post because I didn't get to post what I made for Chinese New Year, but since it's Valentine's Day, I figured it more fitting to share a few photos from my third, and last wedding reception. I'm very, very glad to be done and I don't have to worry about fitting in that dress anymore! At the same time, I'm very blessed to have so many chance to celebrate with friends and family from, literally, around the world. By the time Hong Kong rolled around, the festivities entirely arranged by my mom, (you know, in Chinese weddings the couple is virtually incidental; we were just props to be moved around to the appropriate locations), there was no longer any crazy pressure for the "perfect" day to occur. We just let the day roll over us and had fun. Hence, some of the sillier comments below.


All dressed up and ready to go in our room at the Island Shangri-La. See how we're pros at posing by now? By the way, the makeup and hair artist my mother found turned out to be some sort of hardcore wedding drill sergeant. She was horrified that I only had two dress changes (many brides have six to seven), and insisted that my hair and makeup be redone each time I changed outfits during dinner. My mother had to come in the dressing room and tell the artist to hurry up because they couldn't serve the next course without me. Yes, I was the bride who made guests wait for their food because I was getting my face done. Believe me, I would have rather been eating.

Yup, they love posing couples dramatically over there too.

They also like cheesy poses like this. We tried our best to oblige.


For some reason everybody wanted to get a photo with the wedding cake: there are about ten similar photos of us standing with various family members. I'm not sure I got to eat a slice, or maybe the night was a such a blur I forgot what it tasted like. Eating didn't really seem to be a priority on the schedule for the wedding couple, I'm afraid to say. I was told it was tasty, though.


In the banquet room. We're all applauding Mike because he actually memorized some lines in Cantonese and spoke them to the entire assembly. Composed entirely of Chinese people. That took major guts, and we were all so proud of him!

Doing the obligatory rounds of all the tables for wedding toasts. Don't get too excited, that's tea, not cognac, in our glasses. In fact, I don't think I had a drop of wine all night until after the entire banquet was over! Sorry, apparently the photographer didn't take any photos of the food. Chinese wedding banquets have pretty traditional courses so I guess everyone knows what to expect and no one really needs photos to remember them by. I was too busy being hustled back and forth from the changing room to get more than a few bites. The Shangri La is classy, though: they know the bride and groom don't get to eat much so they packed up all the courses for us to take home and eat the next day!

"Wait, didn't we just go through this six months ago? Punch drunk and barely able to stand after eight hours?"

Wait, you have to say goodbye to all the guests as they're leaving - kind of a reverse receiving line at the end of the night. Also, the photographer had to take photos of us saying goodbye to everyone, I guess as proof that they attended and that we actually interacted with them. There's a lot of obligatory photos in Chinese weddings.

Six months, gone by so fast. Six more months, only as far off as spring. It'll be a year before we know it! Thanks to my mom and dad for throwing us a lovely celebration in Hong Kong, thanks to Mike's parents for the celebration in his hometown, and thanks to all of you for sharing in this part of my life. Moving on to more adventures in 2011!

Gianduja Mousse Cake

adapted from Carole Bloom's Intensely Chocolate


16 ounces hazelnuts

9 ounces bittersweet (70%-72%) chocolate

7 ounces dark milk chocolate (38% - 42%)

6 large eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup heavy cream


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 15 minutes until the skins are split and they are golden brown.

Pour out hazelnuts onto a clean kitchen towel. Wrap the towel around the hazelnuts and rub briskly to remove most of the skins. It is difficult to remove the skins completely but you should be able to get most of of them off.

Place hazelnuts in a food processor. Process until nuts are in small pieces. Add 1/3 cup canola oil and process until mixture is a smooth paste (there will still be very fine bits of nuts, which is ok).

Spray the inside of a 9 1/2" springform pan with nonstick spray. Line bottom of pan with a parchment circle and spray circle.

Combine both chocolates in a metal bowl and set over a saucepan of simmering water. Melt the chocolates, stirring occasionally.

Remove chocolate from heat when melted. Stir in 1 3/4 cups of the hazelnut paste and mix until fully combined.

Place eggs in bowl of stand mixer and whip with whip attachment until frothy. Add sugar and whip until mixture is very thick and pale yellow, about 5 minutes.

Add a little of the egg mixture to the chocolate mixture and stir to lighten. Add the rest of the egg mixture and blend together completely.

In a clean stand mixer bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form. Fold gently into the batter until fully incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared springform pan and smooth out top.

Wrap a piece of aluminum foil around the bottom of the pan, making it sure it comes halfway up all around.

Place pan in a larger cake pan or roasting pan big enough to contain it. Fill the larger pan with boiling water until it comes halfway up the sides - the foil is to prevent water from seeping into the cake so make sure it is not submerged.

Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Turn off oven and let cake stand in oven for 30 more minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool on cooling rack. Remove foil and ring, and dust with powdered sugar before serving.

February 02, 2011

Snapshots from Hong Kong


Hello dear readers! Apologies for the long absence - and thank you for all of your kind notes! My trip to Hong Kong was very cold - record cold temperatures, I believe, and filled with family and lots of food. Hot food, preferably, to keep warm. It was difficult not to make this a 100 photo-long post, but I hope the following ones give you a taste of my visit overseas.


One of my guilty pleasures whenever I visit Hong Kong: Calbee chips! Calbee is my favorite chip brand - how can you say no to unagi and yakitori flavors?


The heavily fragrant smoke is a dead giveaway a roast chestnut vendor is nearby. If you see the coats on all the passerby in the background, you can imagine how cold it really was!


Yes, the sign says to beware of the doggie! He seemed to be enjoying his afternoon nap when we strolled by.


A home soy milk machine - automating the making of fresh soy milk in your own kitchen!


In a Starbucks display case - you don't find these in the Starbucks over here!


An "xpress" teppanyaki joint catering to the lunchtime office worker crowd - why isn't there something like this back where I work in SF?


Ok, this is probably the cutest iteration of Hello Kitty I've seen in a while - bouquet form!


We took the ferry over to Macau for a couple days. Here's a streetside vendor of eggettes, the Cantonese version of waffles. Although they come in a huge range of flavors now, I still prefer the original eggy flavor.

Macau's version of the egg custard tart, here with the addition of osmanthus flowers.


At the A-Ma Temple, I thought these spent firecrackers looked a little like fall leaves.


Ok, on to what I know you're really waiting for - the sweet stuff.

Lots of bunny-themed merchandise on sale for the upcoming Year of the Rabbit, including these black tea and ginger mousse chocolates from Godiva.

What is more Asian than drinks with happy cartoon faces on them?

If you look carefully at this drink menu, you'll notice that along with a bunch of possible add-ins, you can also choose the level of sugar and the amount of ice in your drinks (0-100%)! The future of drink customization?


Apparently some of the fruit drinks in Hong Kong will make you lucky (see the fine print).


There are happy faces on the fruits and vegetables as well.


Yogurt is also a flourishing trend over there. I especially like the gourmet, upscale presentations. Not quite what "honey stars" are, sorry - should have checked before I left the shop.


Welcome treats from the Island Shangri-La: phoenix puffs and red bean mousse cakes.

More desserts from the Shangri-la bakery. Mangoalmondtea2

Almond tofu with mango - one of the many classic Chinese dessert soups.

This is another of my favorites: black sesame and almond soups, swirled together.


A chocolate and raspberry torte from the Hong Kong outpost of Maison du Chocolat.

Opera cakes popping up in even the small corner bakeries. I meant to try this one but didn't have time!


From Sift, a new patisserie near my parents' place: a maple and walnut cheesecake.


Chocolate and yuzu cupcake from Patisserie Tony Wong, one of the posher bakeries I visited while I was there.


I had a great time but it's even better to be back home! Recipe in the next post, I promise - hopefully in time for the upcoming Chinese New Year!

January 02, 2011

New Year, Another Trip to Hong Kong


I hope you all had a good New Year's celebration! I tried valiantly to convince myself I wasn't coming down with something, which worked until about 1 AM on January 1, when I collapsed into bed and slept my way through most of the first day of the new year. Tonight, I'm hoping that my cold will somehow magically vanish during a 13 hour flight to Hong Kong, although I haven't seen anything about the curative properties of trans-Pacific airplane flights documented anywhere (Don't worry, I'll actually be wearing a surgical mask and taking sleeping pills to avoid being the obnoxious person sniffling and infecting everyone else on the plane).

The good thing is that being sick now means I'll likely be NOT sick for the two weeks I'll be in Hong Kong. On the HK agenda: my third (and final) wedding banquet (having three wedding banquets over six months is a really fun way to stretch out your wedding celebration, but it also gives people plenty of opportunity to ask whether you've changed your mind about getting married!), family dinners galore, perhaps a trip to Disneyland HK, a side jaunt to Macau, and lots and lots of dim sum, egg custard tarts, and whatever new foodstuffs are en vogue in one of my favorite culinary-obsessed cities.

I'll post dispatches on Twitter and of course my customary write up when I return. In the meantime, the winner of the Tate's Bake Shop giveaway (as determined by this lovely random number generator) is Michele P! Thanks so much for participating. I actually have a few other items to give away so please keep an eye out in the following weeks!

Best wishes for a sweet 2011!


One of the last desserts I made for 2010 - Jean George's molten chocolate cakes.

Molten Chocolate Cakes

serves 8

18 tablespoons (255 g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

8 1/2 ounces (250 g) bittersweet chocolate (I used Scarffen Berger 72%)

5 large egg yolks

5 large eggs

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (125 g) sugar

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (50 g) flour


Butter (8) four ounce ramekins and flour lightly. Place on a baking sheet.

Combine butter and chocolate in a microwave proof bowl and melt in microwave, using 30-second bursts, stirring to ensure it melts smoothly.

Place egg yolks and eggs in bowl of stand mixer and whisk on medium speed until frothy.

Add in the sugar and whisk on medium high until mixture has tripled in volume.

Add butter and chocolate mixture to eggs and whisk until well combined.

Sift the flour over the mixture and fold in with a wooden spoon until combined.

Divide batter among prepared ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to serve, or up to 8 hours.

Take cakes out of the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Heat oven to 475 degrees F.

Bake cakes for 6-7 minutes, until sides and tops are set. The centers should still be soft but the surface should be jiggly, not fully liquid.

Invert ramekins onto dessert plates and let sit for about 10 seconds before unmolding and serving.