Lemon and Mixed Berry Striped Cake

Last month I started cooking out of the Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh cookbook “Sweet” and it has been both fun and rewarding. If you missed it, check out my blog post.  Last week I was alerted that the US/Canadian version of the “Sweet” cookbook had some errors with oven temperatures and baking times. If you have a copy of the book, you can email sweet@tenspeed.com to inquire how to obtain a corrected copy when it comes out. In the meantime, there is a link to a document that you can print out to get the corrections.

My family celebrated Christmas on the Eve and my niece and I made the lemon and mixed berry striped cake for dessert. I call it the vertical cake. In my opinion, it is the most stunning dessert in the entire cookbook. A friend of mine had already made it for me for my birthday in November and now it was my turn.

There are three parts to the recipe. There is the cake, the buttercream, and the fruit purée that is used for the drizzle on top as well as in the buttercream. With my new mixer, prepping has gotten a lot easier with better results.

I was impressed how light and airy the cake batter was. The batter is spread out as a sheet cake so it’s much easier than a layer cake. The cake is “trained,” meaning it is rolled up while it is still warm.  I suspect that if you didn’t do that, the cake would crack.  When it has cooled down it is rolled back out and cut into three even pieces and spread with buttercream. Starting with one piece, it is rolled and each additional piece is added.

The large cylindrical cake is turned on its side where the remaining frosting covers the cake thoroughly. Finally, the mixed berry purée is drizzled on top.

The cake doesn’t actually look all that impressive until you cut into it. It’s like magic and it tastes like magic too. No corrections needed on this recipe!


Working My Way Through Sweet

It’s been an extremely busy Fall for me where I decided on a short hiatus from blogging. I began feeling like it was more of a chore than it was enjoyable. Last week, I took a week off of work believing I needed to recharge. What would reenergize me besides a vacation? I wanted to be productive as well. I bought Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh’s cookbook “Sweet” when it came out in the States on October 3 and have yet to make anything from it. I was so excited about the cookbook launch that I even attended two events for it. I had been anticipating the new cookbook for many months seeing pictures on Instagram of photo shoots and test kitchens. I was intrigued with the beautiful desserts and the exotic flavors and spices that went in many of them. It’s stuff I wanted to eat.

I challenged myself to make a new recipe from Sweet each day for 7 days and here are the results:

Day 1

I made a version of the Custard Yo-Yos with roasted rhubarb icing at my friend’s house. As I shopped for ingredients, I realized that rhubarb was not in season. Something that I remembered distinctly from the interview that I attended with Ottolenghi and Goh at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco was that you can substitute different fruit and choose according to the season. I contemplated what could be a good replacement for rhubarb. Rhubarb is sour when cooked so I thought cranberry would be a good alternative. There was no shortage of cranberry being that it was Thanksgiving week.

The cookies came out looking pretty good. With a shortbread consistency, I thought two cookies glued together with the icing was a bit much. The cookies were tasty and so was the icing. I would prefer to frost one cookie instead of having them as a sandwich.

Day 2

I really wanted to make the saffron, orange and honey madeleines, but I didn’t have a madeleine pan. I figured I could also interchange the pan and used a decorative mini cake pan that I borrowed from a friend. I had to guess the bake time since my cakes were quite a bit larger. I did pretty well as I got a good bake on them. I enjoyed the flavors of saffron, vanilla, and honey that came through in each bite.

Day 3

I made kaffir lime leaf posset with fresh raspberries instead of papaya. There was no baking involved here, but you had to cook the cream and chill it overnight. This was perfect for me to bring to Thanksgiving Dinner since there would be plenty of other things to be preparing for. It’s also a day to splurge on calories so no one would mind an extra dessert. I loved the tart flavor of the kaffir lime with the cream. I also made enough to share with a few friends and they provided high praises.

Day 4

On Thanksgiving, we were also celebrating my niece’s birthday and she likes cupcakes, so I decided to make lemon and raspberry cupcakes. The recipe calls for lemon curd, which I prepared a day ahead. Fresh raspberries are mixed into the batter which gave it a beautiful color. I was most impressed with the frosting. It took one minute of mixing lemon curd and mascarpone to create this beautiful marriage. This frosting is life changing as I will use this recipe forever.

Day 5

The strawberry and vanilla mini-cake recipe recommends using a popover pan which I actually own. I was excited about being able to use it for something other than popovers. Unfortunately after baking them, the tops broke off. It reminded me of the Seinfeld episode about Elaine’s idea to open up a bakery that only sold the muffin tops, the best part of the muffin. The icing on these cakes were a bit too sweet for my taste. The cake which uses some corn meal was delicious and I would definitely make this again without the icing.

Day 6

Yesterday, I attempted the saffron and pistachio brittle. For this recipe, you need to heat the ingredients at the right temperature and then pour it in a pan to cool. It was still quite gooey even after letting it sit for twice the amount of time asked so I put it in the refrigerator for another 45 minutes. This gave it the right crunch. The brittle is very malleable so it has the tendency to soften up again. So nutty, this makes a great snack and can also be a nice thing to package up for holiday gifts.

Day 7

I thought of how nice it would be to have Sunday doughnuts today. I stayed up late last night preparing the dough and the custard for doughnuts with saffron custard cream. This definitely took the most time to make as there is a lot of waiting time for the dough to rise. It was cool to see the science involved in every aspect of this recipe. The doughnuts are dusted into a cardamom sugar mix that brings another flavor dimension.

I feel proud of myself for completing my seven day challenge. Everything also looked and tasted great giving me a sense of accomplishment. I will continue to work my way through Sweet. With 120 recipes, I got a ways to go.

The Longevity Peach

It’s been a long weekend. Friday night after work, I went to the San Francisco Giants Game. (Woohoo! It was the first of a three game sweep of the LA Dodgers that takes the Giants to the Postseason.) Saturday was a 14-hour fun filled day of geocaching in Yolo County. This morning, I ran 9 miles, took a quick nap, got a mani/pedi, and the evening concluded with the birthday party of the century that I have been planning, my grandma’s birthday. That means I am tired and you get a quick and dirty blog.

photo by Debbie Yee

Tonight about eighty friends and family members celebrated my grandmother’s 99th birthday with a dinner banquet at East Ocean Seafood Restaurant in Alameda. This is really one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in the East Bay. When I am asked for a recommendation for Chinese food, I have suggested East Ocean many times. They have good quality food and service. They’re also good for dim sum. 

We had an excellent nine course meal not including the three desserts. We ended the meal with the longevity peach. This is a traditional dessert served at Chinese birthday celebrations because it represents immortality. It’s shaped like a peach and filled with sweet lotus seed paste. 99 years is a long life, but we are still counting.

photo by Murphy Lau

Foreign Cinema: Two Thumbs Up

It wasn’t a holiday. It wasn’t a special occasion. It was just a Friday and my friend and I were going to have dinner at Foreign Cinema in the Mission District of San Francisco. We didn’t have reservations so we had planned to eat at the bar. I arrived first and ordered a Manhattan with Bourbon on “a” rock, after all it was a Friday night.

I was restaurant gazing as I waited for my friend to arrive. It was my first time at Foreign Cinema. I never really had the desire to go there before because the restaurant is known for showing Foreign Films. I always thought that was a bit cheesy. If you are going out for a nice dinner, the last thing I would want to do is focus on a movie, especially a foreign one.

When my friend arrived, she checked with the host and got us a table in the balcony. So that is my first tip. You can always try to walk-in without a reservation.
My Manhattan was starting to hit me, so I was ready to eat. With the help of our waiter, we agree to start with half a dozen oysters and two appetizers.

We got a selection of oysters from Canada, Seattle, and the Bay Area. That’s how I ate them, going from North to South. I like small delicate oysters and all three were great with a splash of lemon and mignonette sauce.
The first appetizer was a duck liver mousse on grilled lavain with a green salad, balsamic vinegar and peaches. The combination of flavors and textures were perfect.
Our second appetizer was the grilled calamari with chick peas, potatoes, and a tomato-habanero sauce. This was cooked in a iron skillet and served with tortilla chips. I loved the spiciness in this dish.
We decided on sharing entrees as well. We went with a surf and turf combination. We ordered the sautéed Petrale sole cooked with tiny clams, radishes, yellow romano beans, and fingerling potatoes. I really enjoyed all the accoutrements that came with the dish more than the fish itself.
The “turf” part of our meal was the mixed lamb grill which came with a chop, sirloin, and a sausage. The meats were served with fava beans, baby carrots, quinoa, and a romesco sauce. This was outstanding and if I were to have only one item at Foreign Cinema, I would go straight to this dish especially having such a great variety.
The food was so amazing that we didn’t want to end our experience. We ordered the plum granita and boysenberry sorbet. This was a little bit sweet as well as tart. I enjoyed the fruit flavors and it was a nice palette cleanser.
We also got the butterscotch crème brûlée which came with a pepita macaroon. I could pass on the overly sweet macaroon, but leave my spoon so I could indulge in the amazing crème brûlée.

We are barely halfway done with the year, but this is definitely the best meal so far.

For A Limited Time: Three Red Fruit

It’s the end of May and if you go to any Bay Area Farmer’s Market, you will find strawberries, raspberries, and cherries at its best. It’s a very short time period that all three of these red fruit are in season. It may even be shorter this year because of the California drought. At a recent dinner party, I had the fortune to help make a French dessert called “Three Red Fruit” or “trois fruit rouge au vin rouge” and was even more fortunate to eat it.

About 2 cups of strawberries should be rinsed, de-stemmed, and cut in halves while another 2 cups of raspberries should be cleaned. It was my first time using a cherry pitter which was fun. I cleaned and pitted about 2 cups of bing cherries as well. Did you know the Bing cherry was named after a Chinese man by the name of Ah Bing that was influential in developing the fruit back in the 1800’s?
Place the pitted cherries, 1/2 cup of red wine, and a 1/4 of sugar in a ceramic pot over medium high heat. A ceramic pot is recommended because much of the ingredients being cooked down is acidic. After a few minutes of cooking, add the strawberries.
Stir the fruit lightly and after another few minutes pass, add the raspberries. Keep stirring occasionally while the fruit cooks for another few minutes. When the fruits break down and boils rapidly, remove from heat.
Ladle the “Three Red Fruit” into bowls and eat with a spoon while it is still warm. This is a simple dessert that is delicious. The fruits might be costly this year, but it is so worth it.