A Floral Frenzy

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I am rejoicing because my blog is officially back from its 6 month hiatus! I promise to post more frequently, and this time I will uphold that promise! Much has happened since my last post–from overextension to dormancy and isolation to a metaphorical and literal springtime during which I am finally able to create out of sheer desire and joy.

I am warning you now that this is going to be one of my longer blog posts because the process of making this cake was a rather tumultuous one that really tested my patience. There were actual tears and four sticks of wasted butter involved so if you dare, please read along! Otherwise, just look at the pictures (they’re kind of pretty right?) but do know that these pictures were almost lost forever and this blog post almost did not exist!

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There were several factors involved in the desire to create this cake. My sister announced a few weeks ago that she would be getting married on June 28 (in London!) and that she was interested in the possibility of having me create either a cake, cupcakes or some type of dessert for her wedding. She was particularly fond of this cake that I made recently for a friend. I searched through Pinterest for “wedding cakes” and “fresh flower cake” and found a beautiful assortment of cakes decorated with fresh flowers. It just so happened that two of my great friends, Sammy and Sarah whose artistry I respect and admire, are knowledgeable about flowers and are very familiar with flower arranging. Add to that the facts that we are fast approaching peony (my favorite flowers) season and Sammy’s birthday was coming up and thus a collaboration between Sarah and I was birthed. While I love piped buttercream flowers and the fact that they are edible, they don’t emanate the same beauty that living flowers do.

I decided to make the Coconut Layer Cake from the Baking Illustrated cookbook for the first time, trusting that this foolproof cookbook and my above average baking skills wouldn’t let me down. This recipe yields a light and fluffy cake because it utilizes cake flour and egg whites. It also has a very strong coconut flavor from coconut extract and an ingredient I recently (and thankfully) discovered, cream of coconut (which can be found in the liquor aisle because it is apparently used in alcoholic drinks).

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The cake came out of the oven nicely!

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Though it did not come out of the pan as nicely… I need to remember to butter and flour the heck out of my cake pans and actually wait until it cools slightly until I pry if out of the pan.

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But since I didn’t spread the batter evenly throughout the cake pan, I ended up with lopsided cakes that necessitated some shaving off to level them anyways, so I got to shave off the ugly part!

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And then it was time to make the frosting, which was a coconut flavored Swiss meringue buttercream.

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It involved the use of a bain marie/double boiler to heat up egg whites and sugar together. I was so determined to take shots of my hand whisking this mixture up that I splattered egg whites everywhere and ended up not whisking it enough. Oops.

Then I finished beating the egg whites and sugar mixture in my stand mixer, letting it cool before adding the four sticks of butter in slowly and then letting that go for a little bit. I was so excited to be almost finished! But then I came back to my mixer to find a chunky, separated mixture that resembled cottage cheese. It was NOT spreadable. The butter curdled. I think I did not let the meringue cool enough and so it melted the butter when I added it. According to this blog post I found, it could’ve been salvaged. But in my frustration and impatience, I decided to walk to the market down the street and start over instead. I literally had to run back home with my four sticks of butter because in the 3 minutes that I was inside the market, a chubby cloud decided to pour rain madly over the small patch of area that encompassed my house and the market. Soaking wet I was, but at least my butter was dry!

Jaded by the failed attempt at a Swiss meringue buttercream, I decided to make a simple buttercream frosting instead and improvised my way to a recipe.

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It still had four sticks of room temperature butter.

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And an unknown amount of sifted powdered sugar, coconut extract, vanilla extract, and cream of coconut. I creamed it in the mixer for a while until it was soft and spreadable.

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I spread the frosting on the cosmetically challenged layer, then added some toasted shredded coconut on top. The coconut was toasted in the oven for 10 minutes at 325 degrees F, then tossed and left in for another 5 minutes to achieve this ombre color gradient.

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Then I added the second layer on top and proceeded to ice the rest of the cake. It was around this time when I realized that because I was using a new frosting recipe, it would not yield enough to cover the entire cake, sides and all, which is what I had intended to do. But I improvised instead!

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I mean, the bare cake, rustic look is in right?

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And then it was finally time to place these delicate beauties onto our canvas!

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Thank you again, Sarah for so carefully cultivating these lovely peonies and so expertly placing them on this cake.

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The cake was finished and tasted delicious, the flowers looked beautiful and we were able to shoot some photos of this creation just as the sun was starting to disappear.

A few hours later, I decided to upload some of the day’s shots onto my computer in order to start my blogging process. While uploading some pictures onto my computer, I deleted about 1,000 pictures from March 2013 to December 2013 to clear some space on my memory card. It took a while, so I decided to leave my computer and cook dinner in the meantime. When I returned to my computer, I opened Lightroom so that I could edit some photos. I tried to upload the photos from my camera, but somehow could not find them anywhere. The photos I intended to delete were gone, along with all the photos I had taken that day. I was going over what had happened in my head because it didn’t quite register that my entire creation’s documentation could’ve been lost in some digital abyss. I turned to Google for possible troubleshooting options and downloaded a software to search my camera and computer for deleted files. Nothing was found. Throughout the span of 15 minutes that this all happened in, I was surprisingly cool, calm and collected thinking “maybe it’s just not meant to be shared.” And then suddenly I wasn’t. I ran out of ideas and shut myself in my room to let out hysterical tears that wouldn’t come out. Three minutes later I decided to keep searching for ways and trying. Someone on some forum mentioned extracting deleted photos from a memory card using a particular program. This was my last option. As I held my memory card in my hands, a huge rush of peace came over me–a peace that I knew was secure whether or not the photos were recovered. I simply prayed that God’s will be done with my lost photos. I hurriedly borrowed my roommates laptop (because mine didn’t have a memory card slot), downloaded the app…AND RESTORED ALL MY PHOTOS. Every single one was recovered! I screamed for a bit and rejoiced over the fact that throughout the entire day, so many things both little and large went wrong but that in the end, everything came together. And now here I am, able to share all of it with you!

The adventure of creating this cake now seems less significant than it did at the time. But through every mishap, I learned some valuable baking AND life lessons along the way. Sometimes plans don’t always go the way you think they should and things seem like a curdled mess and you don’t always understand how it happened, but these should not be invitations to give up! Improvise and persevere. Throughout this past season, I’ve learned to hold tightly to my peace and joy to refuse to be shaken when both tiny or large obstacles come at me. It has a made a world of difference.

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Here is one last shot of this beauty!

Cheers to the next baking adventure!

Lemon Meringue Cake

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Two weekends ago, I was in the Bay Area for a very short trip and as usual, I made sure to include some foodie adventures in the short amount of time I was there. I was able to spend a whole day in San Francisco since I was staying there with a good friend of mine. One of the places we went to was Tartine, the famous bakery in the Mission District. I have tried only a handful of items from their menu and I went this time intent on purchasing just one or two morning buns. Unfortunately, they were sold out of morning buns by the time we got there so I had to quickly decide what other sweet treat I wanted to get. I quickly opted for the Lemon Meringue Cake (pictured above) because I love cake and lemon flavored desserts. One bite…and I was MADLY in love with this cake. I sat on a bench outside, slowly chewing, tasting and trying to identify the flavors that were in the cake. I tasted sweetness, tartness from the lemon, a slight bitterness, vanilla and a myriad of other more subtle flavors. I was mind blown at how much I enjoyed that cake that I really could not think of anything but trying to recreate that cake once I got home, especially since I own the cookbook AND have seen the recipe for it before!

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Well I went ahead and recreated that delicious cake! I’ll go ahead and say what you’re probably thinking: this is not a pretty cake. It could’ve been much more eye appealing if I didn’t let my meringue sit in the fridge for a while, deflate, and then frosted it flat onto the cake. The cake is definitely missing the pointy swoops and fluffiness of medium stiff peaks consistency.

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I also had to: ask everyone I know if they had a kitchen torch, end up purchasing one myself, run all over Culver City like a maniac looking for butane and overcome my fear of fire and small flames. I never found butane (until yesterday -___-) and ended up using a gardening torch, which was a bit larger but worked just fine.

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Let me tell you though, even after all the trouble I went through to procure all the necessary ingredients (my first time purchasing a vanilla bean!) and kitchen tools (pastry brush, 10 in. pan, cake box), I’d have to say that it was absolutely worth it. This cake is probably the most delicious cake I have ever made! That’s just personal opinion though since I know not everyone likes lemon.

This cake has several components, all of which are delicious and are some of my favorite flavors! All in all there were 5 recipes within this one recipe including:
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lemon cream (which is not the same as lemon curd! the difference is in how the butter is incorporated)

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A more sophisticated caramel (that includes vanilla bean — look closely and you can see it!)

The other three components were the layers of chiffon cake, lemon syrup and Italian meringue. It would’ve been much better if I had made some of the components beforehand, but nope. I was feeling extra ambitious and decided to tackle the entire cake recipe, my hummingbird cupcakes from the previous post AND mac & cheese cupcakes all in one day. Let’s just say I spent 12 hours in the kitchen and 5 hours running around trying to find all the ingredients and tools for all three items. But even after all the hard work and effort, I can’t say that I regret any of it! I am proud of this cake (and have eaten it for breakfast) and know that next time I’ll just make some of the components beforehand and improve upon my meringue-making!

* If you would like a copy of the recipe, feel free to contact me! It’s way too lengthy for me to post it all here, though I’m sure it’s out there on the web somewhere.

Spring Hummingbird Cupcakes

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This past Sunday was Easter Sunday and my mom asked me to bake for her church because she was in charge of food & hospitality for the month. I gladly obliged since I love any excuse to bake large quantities of baked goods that are specially decorated! It’s easy to bake on any given day, but it’s hard to be motivated to actually decorate something. I really enjoy frosting cakes and cupcakes because it makes me feel like an artist, like I’m actually being creative. If you know me, you know that I lack skill in other forms of art. Stick figures are about the closest I can get to drawing humans and my drawings of animals resemble deformed aliens. So though I’m not an expert at it, I find joy and excitement in decorating cakes and cupcakes. 

I had a cupcake obsession phase during sophomore year of college and I would often go to Love at First Bite in Berkeley because their cupcakes were always moist, not too sweet, and had a good frosting to cake ratio. It was there that I found my favorite cupcake, the hummingbird cupcake. The hummingbird is a banana, pineapple and pecan cupcake, topped with cream cheese frosting. It’s probably the cupcake that I made the most frequently throughout college (aside from red velvet, which I don’t even really like, but everyone else seems to). This is my favorite hummingbird cupcake recipe. It’s simple and foolproof — I don’t change anything in the recipe. Throughout the years, I’ve also developed the perfect cream cheese frosting:

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick butter (room temperature/softened)
2 8 oz. blocks of cream cheese (room temperature/softened)
3-4 cups of powdered sugar (depending on the sweetness of your teeth)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

The most important thing when it comes to making cream cheese frosting, is making sure that the butter and cream cheese are soft. Always take it out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for at LEAST an hour. You can slice them into smaller parts to allow them to soften quicker. DO NOT microwave it! Even if you microwave it quickly, some water will separate from the butter and will change its structure. Beat the butter and cream cheese with a mixer for a few minutes until creamy. Get rid of those lumps! No one likes lumpy frosting! Add the vanilla and incorporate. Add the powdered sugar in 1 cup increments, beating after each addition. Voila! You get creamy cream cheese frosting!

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Design #1: eggs on a bed of grass
For this cupcake, I added some green dye to my cream cheese frosting and just kept mixing until I liked the color (about 6 drops per one cup of frosting). To make the grass, I used my 8 in. piping bag and a Wilton grass tip #233. If you use Ateco brand tips, it’s #133. The Wilton link above has great tips on piping technique. Pipe the grass upward in the middle and then start piping outward as you move away from the center of the cupcake. The key is to first stop applying pressure to the piping bag, then lift the tip off the cupcake. Don’t lift while still applying pressure, or else it gets everywhere and ruins the precise grassy shape. Then top it with chocolate eggs! I wanted to use M&M eggs but Target ran out :(. Luckily, just about every other chocolate company makes eggs around Easter time so I used whoppers!

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Design #2: the rose
There are many different techniques for piping roses, and this is probably the simplest one. To make this color, I added 11 drops red and 3 drops yellow to one cup of the frosting. I used the Wilton 1M open star tip (Ateco #826) and started piping on the CENTER of the cupcake and then piped around it until I covered the entire cupcake. I’ll have to try other techniques and piping tips and definitely practice before I can say that I’m totally satisfied with my rose-piping!

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Design #3: drop flower tip
I only made one of these and because I just wanted to switch the tip and practice with my other ones. I believe I used Wilton #190 and piped it using the same technique I used for the grass. I started in the middle and piped upward. To create drop flowers, I believe you’re supposed to stop applying pressure and then pull the tip away. BUT I kept applying pressure as I pulled the tip away, hence the taller peaks on each flower (I hope that made sense. I’m new to piping talk! :/).

Well enough of the baking talk, here are more pictures!
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I thoroughly enjoyed making these, and it brings me even more joy to know that others appreciated them as well! Hope you all had a joyful Easter!

A Few of My Favorite Things (mostly food-related)

I take pictures here and there of things I consume and of the simplest things I enjoy and/or find amusement in. There have been so many of these recently that I’ve lost track of which ones I wanted to dedicate an entire post to and which ones I wanted to mention briefly. Bottom line is, I just wanted to share them with you. And since I love lists and photographs and believe that the combination of both is highly entertaining, here is a photographic list of things I’ve been enjoying recently:

1. Korean Food
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Although I’m 100% Filipino, I thoroughly enjoy Korean food way more than I enjoy Filipino food. It’s probably because my mouth always craves spicy, tangy, bold and fresh flavors. That may or may not describe Korean food, but regardless, I am in LOVE with Korean food. It may have started when my mom lived in Korea for 6 months and the rest of our family visited her and brought back with us a newfound love — kimchi. It gradually progressed as I met my longest, oldest and one of my best friends in 6th grade and we’d have play dates where her mom would feed me kimchi bokeum bap. Then in high school, I hung out with more Korean girls who lived in Koreatown and…the story goes on. My friend recently took me to a “dank” (her words, not mine) naengmyun place in K-town called Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun where I discovered my current favorite Korean dish pictured above, bibim naengmyun. Yeah go look it up if you’re curious about what exactly it is. All I know is that it’s spicy, semi-sweet, cold, delicious, and has gochujang in it (which you could also google ;)).

2. Sushi
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Sushi is definitely on my list of top three favorite foods EVER (which includes ice cream and…other things, I promise! :D). And when I say sushi, I’m not talking about rolls dripping with mayo, deep fried crap and teriyaki sauce. No no. That ain’t real sushi. That’s fake Americanized sushi that I DO enjoy from time to time, but I love sushi mainly because I love raw fish and other sea creatures. Yep, that’s right. I prefer my fish as sashimi, fresh and left alone for their subtle, yummy fishiness to shine. (Uni, hamachi, toro and spicy tuna are some of my faves!) So for this year’s dineLA Restaurant Week, I coerced a friend to join me for a sushi lunch at K-Zo , an apparently popular, mid-price range and decent sushi restaurant. Read my yelp review here!
(***Fun fact: In my 8th grade English class, each student was required to write a 20-50 page research paper throughout the year on a specific topic and to prepare a 10-minute presentation on it. My final two choices were anesthesiology and sushi. Can you guess which one I did? I totally went around LA interviewing sushi chefs for the paper and put on a chef hat and made sushi for the entire class. Yup, I seriously thought I’d be the first legitimate female sushi chef. Now please go watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi and make a reservation with me!)

3. Brunch
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Eggs benedict, french toast, waffles, bacon, fried herb potatoes. Need I say more? I’ve been slowly compiling a yelp list of breakfast and brunch places that I’ve tried in the Los Angeles area. These eggs benedict pictured above is from my most recent brunch-place discovery, Blu Jam Cafe, which I think is slightly overhyped but still pretty delicious.

4. Caramelized onions
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On my pizza, in my sandwiches, in my omelettes, toast, soup…seriously I can go on forever. (New ice cream flavor? Okay maybe not) I especially love caramelized red onions, which I believe are a bit spicier and sweeter than regular onions.

5. Whole food discoveries
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A friend shared this kale and white bean stuffed sweet potato recipe she found with me and it was actually REALLY delicious! I LOVE kale and sweet potato (because of its lower glycemic index than regular potatoes). The beans make it a bit too mushy and the dish could use more crunch (from bacon, perhaps? just kidding!) and I altered the recipe to make it more acidic and spicy. I think I’m starting to get predictable here. Beatriz loves sour and spicy.

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Oh and then theres this quinoa, butternut squash, chicken stew that I made pretty recently that was DELICIOUS, hearty and totally healthy. I topped it with a savory Greek yogurt (aka Greek yogurt with a splash of horseradish and Tabasco). I totally meant to write a whole post about the process of cooking this dish, which was let’s say…pretty darn exciting and was going to be titled “Kitchen Battles.” Let’s just say I almost lost a finger, sliced my hand open and ignited a fire. Whoops.

6. Fruit. Cakes. White chiffon cake with mixed fruit!
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Lately I’ve been buying pretty exotic fruits like kiwi and mango. Well they’re really not that exotic. But they’re not as ordinary as apples and bananas (no offense, apples and bananas!) They’re also the fruits that come in Angel Maid Bakery’s (the bakery I work at) famous cake, the white chiffon cake with mixed fruit. It also comes with strawberries, pineapple and peaches!
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It was pretty darn good. Definitely could’ve used more whipped cream frosting, but otherwise really good. I used smitten kitchen’s white chiffon cake recipe and pretty much winged the rest.

7. French Macarons
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Macarons are totally taking over the cookie world (if you even want to consider them a cookie!) and they’re EVERYWHERE from Paris to Malaysia and Hong Kong and most recently, at Angel Maid Bakery! I definitely bought myself a box after work one day and though they aren’t the best I’ve had, they hit the spot and are much cheaper than say, Bouchon or Bottega Louie. Oh and by the way, macarons with one O is different from macaroons with two O’s (the coconut based cookies). Is it snobby of me to get kind of annoyed at people who pronounce french macarons like “macaroons”? They’re extremely different! Stay tuned for a post about my journey to find the best macarons in LA!

8. Pizza
As you can see from my previous post, I kind of LOVE pizza. I’ve recently rekindled the desire to actually make them since I haven’t enjoyed pizza in LA as much as I’ve enjoyed it in the Bay Area. So why pay for ’em when you can make ’em? (I still have to try Pizzeria Mozza though!) I recently tried to make pizza using phyllo dough as the pizza dough and it was pretty…weird. My friends were probably just being nice when they actually ate it, but yeah it tasted really odd.

9. Jin Patisserie // Abbott Kinney Boulevard
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There’s this small patisserie in Venice on Abbot Kinney Blvd. called Jin Patisserie that I accidentally discovered with my family back in high school. We were looking for a cake for my birthday and stumbled upon this little gem that serves tea and desserts out on a little outdoor Japanese-style patio. They make really delicious individual cakes, like this “passion” cake above. It’s a meringue-based cake with a passionfruit cream and mangoes inside. Um, those are only three of my favorite things in one CAKE, which is another one of my favorite things. Win x4. They also make the BEST lychee macarons I have EVER tasted. But then again, how many places actually make lychee macarons? Check them out before they move!

10. Monopoly Deal… + Beer & Wine
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Lately I’ve been playing a lot of monopoly deal with my friends and it always brings me back to some wonderful memories in college of playing the game! I played it a good amount in college and it was the perfect break from studying. Whether it was on a patch of grass or inside a car, it was/is always fun! If you feel like adding some over 21 drinks like wine or beer, do so in moderation! I’m really into pear cider and have recently discovered Shock Top Lemon Shandy and Riesling. These are probably the least alcoholic-tasting alcoholic beverages ever, which is totally my thing!

And that concludes my first ever favorite things list, which actually really revealed a lot about me…hehe. Stay tuned for more!

Bûche de Noël

When I first visited my sister in London during winter break of my sophomore year of high school (which was…more than 5 years ago. I’M GETTING OLDER), she would often take me grocery shopping with her. I LOVE going to grocery stores in foreign countries because you see local products, foods people enjoy, the different prices, the produce they have (or don’t have – Californians are so spoiled!), etc. It’s always an enjoyable experience for me (unless it’s freezing and you have to take two busses and the tube or something). I always make it a point to go to the dessert, pastry & bread sections of any grocery store because well…I love these products. The British love to make pre-packed, individual desserts of their local delicacies like trifles (which I bought out at Marks & Spencer), English pudding, other stuff I forgot, and YULE LOGS! My first encounter with yule logs was at Sainbury’s in England. It was a little log of rolled up cake with frosting covering it and little red decorations all over it. It was so adorable and it looked so good! But it was much too big for me to eat by myself because no one in my family enjoys cake as much as I do. So sadly, I bought my trifles and forgot about it.

Over the years, I have learned that a yule log is the same thing as a bûche de noël and that it’s kind of a European thing. I didn’t really bother reading much about its history. I’d rather browse pictures (which I did) and realized that it was meant to be an actual LOG…like a wood log with mushrooms growing on it and weird funky things. People really go crazy with their yule log decorations. Anyways, it was on my friend Michelle’s and my to-make list so we decided to make it together! With the help of foodgawker.com, I found this recipe, which seemed first and foremost, EASY. Secondly, we had all the ingredients needed. It’s actually fairly easy to make! I think the highlight is the decoration, which we had totally forgotten about. So we made do with the few decorations we had and created our very own bûche de noël. I love saying the French names of baked goods. Bûche de noël. Bûche de noël. Bûche de noël. Okay I’m done.

Quick summary: Bûche de noël is usually made out of a genoise or sponge cake, baked in a large shallow pan so it comes out thin, frosted inside, rolled like a sushi, frosted outside and decorated however you want to.

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My friend Michelle (the first human appearance in this blog!) holding up our medium stiff peaks of egg whites for our spongey cake.
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This is what medium stiff peaks look like, folks!

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Flat, thin chocolate spongey cake, cooled and frosted with whip cream.

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Roll it like a sushi! Okay I understand this doesn’t make sense to people who have never made sushi. You basically roll it and remove the parchment paper as you go!

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Our bare and rolled up bûche!

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Frosted with a chocolate whipped cream. I personally dislike buttercream and prefer whipped cream frosting all the way.

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Our finished product! The recipe had perfect quantities of everything. No leftover frosting at all! The cake is light, moist and is best served cold (keep whipped cream frosting in the fridge as much as possible). I’m so happy to have made (AND FINALLY EATEN) a yule log with a great friend. Note to selves: next time decorate it better!