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Posts Tagged ‘chocolate’

Courtesy of Miss Chien

Right now, I am stuck with too many cookies.  All I can say is that I bake when I am stressed.  You know, the CPA exam studying will do that to you, and there is only so much of “share the love” you can do when you’re virtually pounding out 3 dozen cookies every other day.

I have stopped baking so much partially because of this, but more so because I have hit that point where I learned as much as I can as an amateur baker that baking another brownie doesn’t really excite me anymore.  That’s why, I posit, I have to make so many darn cookies–that batch just doesn’t excite me the way it used to a few years ago!

I have tried the cake decorating route.  I threw my hands over the straight-up cooking route.  I am starting to dabble a little more in food photography.  Nothing has quite found ground yet, so where do I go from here?

For now, I am just spending time with friends and showing them how to bake things like these chocolate sables.  My friend had chosen to make them because they were so beautifully elegant.  Then again, what of Pierre Herme’s is not beautiful or elegant?

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If one of my friends reminds me of a raspberry buttermilk cake, this friend reminds me forever of my introduction to the fabulousness-in-a-jar called Nutella.

During my early college days, I spent a great deal of time escaping the miles of cornfields and pumpkin patches that surrounded me and my small college town.  Although I initially loved the romanticism of the Henry David Thoreau-like isolation in Central New York, I began to miss the noise and connection I felt in California to its people and its food culture.

Amidst the fun of plotting weekly brownie raids with my Vermont roommate, she could not fathom my obsession with the California avocado (which I promptly embraced when I made my first trip home  during Thanksgiving) or my habit of drifting through small European grocers and giant Asian supermarkets.  I was alone in my obsessions, and I was reminded of this every time I got a care package.

Of course, then, I had my childhood friend who kept me company during late night cram sessions.  While I taunted her that I finished all of my classes for the day before she woke up, she taunted me with tales about a certain chocolate hazelnut spread slathered between crepes and fruits.  After much insisting, I got my own jar of Nutella, and since that watershed moment, Nutella and I have never parted.

Thus, this cake is a reminder of my first spoonfuls of Nutella.  Psh, don’t give me that look–I know it, and you know it that this is the only way to properly to enjoy Nutella when it is 3 a.m. and you still have the error analysis to compute for the caffeine content in your green tea samples ;)

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Is it wrong to buy a cookbook for one recipe?  I asked myself this question a dozen times, as I stood by the Costco book section thumbing through the pages.  Haha, if I didn’t ask this question enough to myself, my dad raised an eyebrow at my purchase, as I put it in the cart with the bulk sized purchases of Vaseline and toilet paper.

To be honest, I am not a fan of cupcakes.  They’re one of those things that I enjoy making only because of their diminutive size.  Yes, smallness apparently makes everything oh-so-charming and darling.  Then again, I have bought origami books for one diagram too.  I guess I tend to give books the benefit of the doubt since I love books…

However, it took me about a year to make anything from this book let alone the Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes that caught my eye!  I am not sure if that speaks well of the book, but I did bookmark the pages and all with the full intention of making things in it.  It’s just that I have a short attention span, and there’s lots of showstopping desserts and cakes running around in the food blog community these days.

Recently, I had the idea of buying fleur de sel caramels as part of a friend’s birthday present, which reminded me of these cupcakes again.  It was then that I realized I need to make these cupcakes now before my attention drifts elsewhere!

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I have been thinking about New York a lot lately.  Maybe it’s because one of my dear friends is considering attending medical school in the City.  Or maybe it’s because I see so many recipes from NYC (and the boroughs) restaurants popping up on Serious Eats.  Or maybe I am just feeling nostalgic because all I have are fond memories of visiting such a vibrant city.

My fascination with NYC started when I was going to college in central New York.  My classmates, many of whom were from the City, Long Island and Jersey, insisted that I was missing out on awesome food.  Although they came off as slightly zealous (i.e. poking fun of my unusual moon cakes [nothing wrong with them! O-O] that I received during Mid-Autumn Festival from my mother), I knew they were well-intentioned.  Furthermore, I always felt as though I had my head in the sand during my high school years thanks partly to intense nerdom [Asian high school, don’t ask] and partly to my introversion.

Thus, I spent most of my freshman year following my dorm mates around, which introduced me to a world that included such delights like garlic knots and fried dough.  Granted my college town then was surrounded by pumpkin patches and corn fields, I always felt like I was getting a preview of New York City food culture–that is, I never seemed to get the full experience of something that was awesome and inspiring.  Food always seem to fall short of expectations, but I assumed that was because I was here and not in the City.  One of those was the ever-so popular black-and-white cookies that many in the East Coast seem to hold so dear.

“You’ve got to try it.  They’re AMAZING!  My most favorite cookie ever!”  my classmate gushed.

With that in mind, I innocently marched up to the only bakery in that small, small town that sold black-and-whites and bought some only to find that these beautiful cookies tasted mostly of icing sugar.  Sugar bomb!  I was sad.  Really.  How could a cookie so pretty and charming taste so saccharine?  I was unimpressed, and it took me a few years before black-and-white cookies piqued my interest again…  (more…)

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According to the Wall Street Journal, macarons may be the new cupcake.  To be honest, I wouldn’t mind supporting that trend since I do not really find cupcakes to be all that.  Sure, they have got the adorably piped buttercream frosting piled on high and its little ruffled liner, but I am not a frosting kind of girl and I prefer a cake with a more tender crumb than the typical cupcake base. Besides, macarons are fun to eat with all of their flavor combination and filling varieties!

As much as I adore macarons, I do not believe that macarons going mainstream would be much of a success since macarons are extremely temperamental cookies.  They just taste funky if all of the macaron components are not there!  Yes, macaron making is down to a science because they are that fussy!  Thus, there are many food blogs spouting off advice about how to avoid macaron pitfalls.  However, that still didn’t make this project any easier.   Of all of the things I planned on making this week, this was by far the hardest thing I have had to make.  Actually, this is the hardest thing I have had to make.  Period.  I thought my general meticulous nature would make my macaron experience slightly less painful, but I was wrong

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After being jerked around so much during the accounting recruiting process, I am still dazed that this is all finally over.  I remember earlier this week speeding along I-280 N, rushing out of my business suit, and standing in the front corner of the classroom by the door.  Just standing there in wide-eyed confusion.  I was wearing pearl earrings and make-up and mismatched sweats.  Where am I? The faces look familiar…

My professor looked at me curiously and said, “You do know you can sit down, right?

“Oh yes!” O___O

As I sat down horribly embarrassed by my tardiness and confusion, it all came back to me–I am just a college student.  Not a prospective intern.  I already stepped out of the corporate world and checked back into the college campus.

It felt strange to be here in the classroom again, listening to lectures and studying for midterms.  I do not even remember the last time I tried studying for an exam, so psh, at all my friends who think I study all the time!  For the past month and a half, I have been prepping for interviews, waiting for interviews, going to interviews, hearing from interviews… Oddly enough, it repeats!  In greater intensity with banquet dinners and back-to-back interviews!

Through it all, I threw myself out there, knowing that I would get my toes stepped on.  Repeatedly.  You know, the kind of toe-stepping that feels like a person put their whole weight on their foot?  Yeah, that kind. Oh gosh, I can’t tell you how many times I have winced over “incorrect” interview answers and how many more times I wrote myself off. Let’s just say, I have used the phrase ” I am a goner” one too many times during 2010…

However, I did it–I got an offer four hours after my last interview.  I am sitting here stupefied.  This is two days after the fact, and yes, I am still speechless.  I could make this into a Miss USA pageant winner’s speech, but I am not going to go that way.  I will say this instead: I have never been braver and more clairvoyant and more determined amidst my fears of failure. I think it was that attitude that sealed my fate.

That confidence and attitude was not nurtured all on my own.  As I mentioned earlier, I was riddled with self-doubt, but throughout this entire experience of shaking hands and talking to people, I met all sorts of well-wishers and advice-givers ranging from friends and family to strangers.  I have never been more humble and grateful throughout this entire experience.

In fact, I had a hard time articulating anything but humility and gratitude for the past few days.  I am that floored, which brings me to the next point–how in the world is this related to chocolate souffle cupcakes?

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Growing up, my mother taught me never to eat foods raw.  With the exception of my family’s Burmese culinary tradition of eating salad (dok), my more dominant Chinese culinary tradition dictated that foods were best eaten cooked.  Whether food was stir-fried, braised, or steamed, the sharpness of raw ingredients disappeared, and the flavors would meld together.  Food was in harmony together only when cooked.

It is that kind of upbringing that made it difficult for me to understand how people were tempted by raw cookie dough or batter.  The gritty sugar and the raw flour taste just did not have any appeal to me, but  of course, it did to my kitchen mates in middle school cooking class. I remember that we were supposed to bake chocolate chip cookies–one batch for our school’s bake sale and the other batch for ourselves.  While the batch for our school’s bake sale was followed to the letter, the other batch was improvised on the whim of my group mate who was nibbling on the cookie dough constantly and adding more brown sugar to taste.

The result was a mind-boggling recipe for Martian mud–my friend and I peered into oven and saw the poor cookie dough in a bubbling muddy mess.  Our cooking instructor tried to revive our poor cookie dough by making them into muffins to no avail.  Our dazzling concoction reliably became Martian mud, and I had to scoop out the lumpy mess into the trash.  My friend still giggles about that incident till this day.

In a way, this baking disaster taught me that all things go wrong when you eat raw dough or batter.  Yes, it’s a bit irrational since it was the improvisation of adding excess brown sugar that ruined the cookie dough, but I feel that disasters should be avoided at all cost. I do not need to be reminded of such disasters.

Although now that I have more baking experience, I can see the temptation of raw cookie dough and batter because I realize that the sheer knowledge of having to wait for something sweet and delicious at the end of a long baking time is enough to test someone’s patience.  Why not nibble a bit here and there?  However, that incident in middle school has forever scarred me from ever trying to lick the spatula despite how luscious and rich and intoxicating the smell of, let’s say, a brownie batter.

I usually save my tastings after the baked goods are warm to the touch.  After that, I take a nibble, make some mental notes, and drift off.  Baking loads of goods every so often does that to you.  Not everything piques your attention enough to warrant more than a nibble.  That is, of course, unless you’re talking about Francois Payard’s Flourless Chocolate Walnut Cookies.

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