Three jars of this are in the freezer

Easter is coming up, and I want to make a baked yeast item, but I doubt I will be able to actually do that. Sad! I probably have not celebrated Easter ever since I got out of grade school, so the whole coloring egg business is a nostalgic childhood memory I would want to relive again.

It’s deliciously crunchy as is, but I still like to soak it in milk just like I would with müsli.

Instead, I am trying to make useful things, out of which this granola is one. Shii inspired me to make my own müsli, and I decided to use a granola-type recipe which calls for more honey and much longer baking time, creating a more crunchy end product. The result may be just a little bit less healthy than your average müsli, but you can’t really go wrong with a bunch of whole oats, hazelnuts, honey and some dried fruits. I read somewhere “If a granola bar tastes good, it’s not healthy” – certainly that does not apply to this handmade variation.

Without a doubt, my biggest addiction

You may remember that I have recently made lemon squares. This time, we had these organic lemons (exactly 2 of them) which look like they are going to start molding soon. So what do I make? Lemon squares of course. I love lemon bars to the point that I have a hard time making anything else when confronted with lemons, amongst all lemon-y items they are by far my favorite things, and that is despite my incredible love for lemonade. The downside of that is that lemon squares always disappear within 24 hours of their production… how dangerous.

I couldn’t wait till they cooled down before cutting into them, but actually the custard set perfectly.

In comparison to the last lemon bars I have made, I would say that putting in an entire lemon makes the result a little bit too tangy and bitter. (It’s possible that the lemon itself was to blame though – its rind to juice ratio was unusually high.) However, I much prefer this crust made with melted butter. It crumbles more nicely and overall has a better texture. Ah, I want to make more of them already! Next time I will combine David Lebovitz’ crust and the ‘original’ custard from Just Hungry. Perhaps that would be perfect.

St. Patrick’s Day aftermath

Okay, actually we didn’t do anything for St. Patrick’s Day, but we went out for brunch and saw tons of green-themed people in the subway. I especially like these green ballerina tutus for little girls, but for the most part, I am shocked at how everything is so uniformly bright green.

It looks exactly the way it should.

Nevertheless, Pip sent me a recipe for oatmeal soda bread, and I figured it would be nice to try out some new bread again. I made it with whole rolled oats and whole wheat flour, so it promises to be very healthy, especially with the neglectable amount of salt and sugar put in.

Two similarly shaped objects.

The bread turned out pretty much like I expected – very fragrant and delicious, but also very dense. From the photos you can see online, my bread is probably exactly the way soda bread should be. It goes best with a huge dollop of jam on it, and perhaps this is also a good time to take out the Nutella, hahaha. Overall, I thought it was a nice bread but not the type I go crazy for (think banana bread). Since the bread only lasts for like a day or two, it’s also not very practical, especially when you make such a huge one like virtually every recipe suggests. I think I will stick to fruit and yeast breads in the future.

Non-edible items!

Originally this blog was not conceived to a cooking/baking blog. Actually my plan was to learn to knit and make other things, but somehow “handmade” turned into “making food” very quickly. But, things are changing! Pip gave me a sewing machine for my birthday years ago, and finally I am learning how to use it. Hence today’s posting, featuring some of the easiest and fastest things to make in the world: Cat collars for Rodion!

Which one is your favorite?

I have used literally every cute fabric I have, resulting in a total of six collars. His original collar was showing signs of tear and wear, and I used it as a template to make new collars for him. Tutorials on the internet suggest that you can make one of these in like 10 minutes, but in reality it does take longer. Fabrics behave differently (incidentally, the white one was the easiest to work with!) and I am still not familiar enough with my sewing machine to always get it right. In fact, there is a specific way you have to drop in the bobbin to get decent thread tension – I learnt that only now!

Rodion had to model every single one of them, and he takes it with lots of cat dignity.

The first time I saw cat collar hardware was actually on Etsy but I figured you can get them cheaper. Indeed this company has quite a nice deal on them! I got 10 sets, and the product seems to be exactly the same as the one in Rodion’s original collar. I am very pleased with how fast shipping was and I am considering getting more already. It would be lovely to make matching collars for Misha and Rodion…

PS. I have tons and tons of other finished sewing projects, but have been too lazy to take pictures and write the blog postings. Look forward to them!

I didn’t think I was ever going to do that…

Ever since we made the New York Times chocolate chip cookies, we are convinced that there must be a reason why some of their recipes become huge fads all over the internet. This bread is one of them, and again, it did not disappoint. In all honesty I am still looking for the perfect baguette or the perfect everyday bread, but this bread achieved something I never would have expected: the perfect artisanal bread. It’s at least as good as the bread you get in restarauts before your meal and goes perfectly with olive oil. In fact, I could barely stop myself from eating the entire loaf at once (that is 1 1/2 pounds of bread, mind you!)

The bread tastes just as hipster as the picture suggests.

Somehow the bread ended up baking very fast, and it may have been a good idea to stick to a lower oven temperature or simply take out the bread earlier. However, everything else seems to have turned out perfect; the dough seemed to have the perfect consistency and the crust was exactly like I expected. The bottom just got a little too burnt but the top is beyond great. I wonder if I am ever going to go for another recipe, but at least the incredible easiness of making this bread inspired me.

I must go through iterations of all spreads – butter, nutella, jams etc. to see if there is anything which rivals olive oil.

With that said, I am getting more and more convinced of the Smitten Kitchen blog, making it at least to the top 5 recipe resources (along with, Simply Recipes, Just Hungry and Serious Eats). Her posting on this bread was definitely helpful. I may even buy the book one day. It is the no.1 bestselling cookbook in Amazon though, so that is a little crazy.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

These last days were so filled with exciting dates – a birthday, Chinese New Year and, of course, the celebratory date we love to hate, Valentine’s Day. All I knew was that I wanted to try making a cake with the rice cooker to see how it works, and it had to be a chocolate/strawberry combination. After all, the stores are filled with strawberries dipped in chocolate so the combination might just as well be the most Valentine-y thing ever.

Why are strawberries associated with Valentine’s Day anyways? What about raspberries or cherries?

I chose to make a chocolate ganache as outer crust (such that the cake looks like a chocolate cake after all), and a buttercream with strawberry pieces in the middle. Even though I tried to use our cupcake book for the buttercream, I ultimately eyeballed the ingredients (butter, confectioner’s sugar and light cream) and whipped it until it had a spreadable consistency. Buttercream is so delicious and works well with a cake which only has 2 tablespoons of butter to begin with.

Note to self: Cocoa is kind of grey.

The rice cooker cake actually came out… acceptably. I put in more sugar than the recipe called for (since that one was designed to be frosted with whipped cream) but it was still not particularly sweet. It’s a spongy but dense cake, just as expected, and it looks like pretty much every other rice cooker sponge cake out there. The texture is feels very Asian and soft. While the cake itself is small and does not have much butter or any other fat, it definitely calls for fruit or chocolate or whipped cream toppings.
Considering that we only have a small rice cooker, the shape also came out to be rather – uh – round. Everybody said it looks like a super-sized macaron! XD Also, while I do want to try making cheesecake in the rice cooker, I think rice cookers are ultimately best used for cooking rice. It’s an expensive delicate appliance we have there!

Birthday cakes must be elaborate

I have to admit that I had no idea this cake would take that long though. There are a few French cakes out there (namely Opera Cake and Buche de Noel) which I decided I do not want to make because of the unreasonable effort put into it. When I had to confront the question of what to make as a birthday cake, I remembered how I had a mille crepe cake in Japan. While the cake was pretty, it was clearly mass-produced stuff taken from the freezer with a rather bland taste. Nevertheless, I love the concept and decided to make one.

The caramelized top is awesome.

Upon reading several articles using this New York Times recipe, I decided to stick to it and make a very ‘simple’ version. Since this is basically crepes and cream, there are million ways of dressing it up – strawberries on top, chocolate hazelnut cream instead of buttercream, bananas and chocolate, blueberries and maple syrup… But I wanted to know what the pure taste of butter and heavy cream can do for you.

Apparently the cake is great with Nutella!

In the end, the cake turned out absolutely perfect! It turned into a tall cake with a nicely flat surface and the slight unevenness of the crepe border makes it look like ruffles. Taste-wise the cake is surprisingly better than the sum of its parts. I thought the crepe itself was too heavy and sweet, while the buttercream (prior to adding heavy cream) tasted like mere pudding. As a combination, however, the whole thing attains a subtle exquisiteness I can hardly describe. It turns out crepes go amazingly well with cream! Even though I am tempted to make a chocolate version of this cake one day, I strongly doubt that it will happen anytime soon. It is, after all, something like a 5 hour endeavor.

22 layers for a 22 year birthday.

I want a room for food photography

Unfortunately, the house we live in has terrible lighting conditions. Basically, there is just not enough sunlight coming in. This is not really a problem as long as there is one room which has sunlight sometimes during the day, but it is certainly never the kitchen. As a result, most food photos are taken under subpar lighting conditions and therefore never really look that great. We should do something about that.

It took less than 24 hours for all of these to be gone.

Lemon squares – well what can be said about them besides the fact that I absolutely love them? They are amongst my favorite pastries besides cheesecake and anything with strawberries. What’s more, you can make them (mostly) with artificial sugar! The recipe is very simple and in fact I chose it partially for this reason. The recipe on Smitten Kitchen calls for double as much butter (terrifying!) and David Lebovitz’ recipe uses an entire lemon and the food processor which I did not want to bother with. One day I want to try those other recipes too, but my gut feeling tells me already that simplicity is just as good. We will see.

Things I never blog about…

…because they don’t really look that nice, or because they disappear so quickly. Banana bread or pound cake are the kind of things that don’t look so great, and scones are the kind of things that typically disappear before I could take a picture. Both banana bread are just so delicious and comparably healthy – they are the kind of thing I can whip up quickly and enjoy as a pre-breakfast snack. (Pre-breakfast takes place sometimes between 5am and 7am, whereas breakfast is more like… 10am.)

As a matter of fact, these are the last two of the batch.

When my parents came over, they gave me a scone pan (technically it was not a scone pan but I am using it as such) so I knew I absolutely had to make some. Later on, there were some organic blueberries on sale… coincidence? Ever since I tasted one of Starbucks’ blueberry scones for the first time, I had been in love with scones. The recipe is pretty much the same, and one can easily substitute whatever scone type we are talking about with blueberries, e.g. by kicking out the vanilla and the glaze in this recipe, or replacing the chocolate chips in this recipe (in fact, chocolate chip scones are amazing too!), or ditching the streusel in this recipe. Even though I really like picking scones when I need a snack from Starbucks, luckily handmade ones are just as good.

Similar but not the same

I have a can of azuki bean paste (oh my goodness, I love it so much!) and tons of glutinous rice flour. (Actually I think I had 3 pounds, out of which one is now used.) The Chinese version, yuanxiao, is made with the flour, water and bean paste. The Japanese version, daifuku, is made with the flour, water, sugar and bean paste. However, besides the fact that I made ichigo daifuku (i.e. the daifuku have a strawberry in them), the difference between the two are huge.

It didn’t actually take that long to make these.

Yuanxiao are cooked in water and then also served hot in a sweet soup (in my case, I was lazy so I just diluted some brown sugar in the soup). This means that you make a dough which consists mostly of rice flour (and some water), which needs to be at the right consistency to wrap the bean paste in. If it’s too watery, it will stick and not hold its shape; if it’s too dry, it’ll break easily during the wrapping process. I figured out that having a slightly dry dough is fine, because you can just use water to fill the cracks. Speaking of cracks, amongst the 25 or so I made, only 2 ended up breaking apart during cooking. That’s pretty good for a first try, I would say!

It didn’t actually take that long to make these.

For the ichigo daifuku, you make something like a batter with a 1:1 water to flour ratio and add sugar more or less to taste (overall, I roughly had a 1:1:0.7 ratio). I was so terrified of this production process. I microwaved the batter for roughly 7 minutes and let it cool down while wrapping the bean paste around the strawberries. It’s a thankless and surprisingly boring task. Later I forgot about the mochi for a little too long, so the wrapping of the final mochi layer was probably also harder than necessary. But, surprisingly the end product ended up fairly round after all!

Yuanxiao used to be my favorite dessert of all times, but all in all, ichigo daifuku are better. The combination of strawberries, red bean paste and mochi is absolutely unbeatable. I love mochi, strawberries and red bean paste separately, but the combination is probably the most godly food in existence. To me.