10 February 2019

Valentine's Day Cookie Box

I originally did not plan on doing a Valentine's Day post because I did not want to make something overly 'gimmicky' that was only relevant for a day or so. I also did not plan on making heart-shaped treats for the blog because I just did not plan properly in advance. I got too caught up filling cookies with isomalt and multi-coloured sprinkles and spending a large amount of my waking hours being obsessed with Japanese slice-and-bake cookies that I stumbled upon one day. (That obsession resulted in a 3-hour 'quick browse' of Amazon Japan to find cookie making books that apparently only has instructions written in Japanese but hopefully has lots of photos and diagrams that overrides my ability to understand Japanese.) Lately, I feel like my interests in baking are always shifting — I will want to make see-through cookies one hour, intricately-piped and animal-shaped butter cookies the next, and then something that resonates more with what I have done on the blog in the past. Then I get a bit overwhelmed by all of it and end up not baking anything. That has been the theme lately. I am finding it a bit of a struggle to find a balance between baking 'fun' things covered in sprinkles and decorating romantic layer cakes with fresh flowers. I even feel a bit guilty for making too many fun and gimmicky cookies and neglecting the type of baking that this blog started with.

Despite all that, I mustered up some motivation and made some cookies to take my mind off of it. I used my cut-out friendly sugar cookie recipe for the majority of the cookies in the tin. One of my favourite 'hacks' for making an assorted cookie box or tin is to use one base recipe for different types of cookies. Sugar cookie dough and shortbread dough lend themselves well to many different kinds of cookies — cut outs, sandwich cookies, linzers, stamped cookies. I always try to add at least another type of cookie in there for greater variety. Today's addition is this super chocolately shortbread cookie. In addition to the cocoa powder in the dough, finely chopped bittersweet chocolate is added in there for more depth. If you have espresso powder handy, a little bit of that does wonderful things to these (and other) chocolate cookies. The chocolate shortbread cookies were cut into simple heart shapes but they would also be lovely as sandwich cookies (with a peanut butter or nutella cream filling!) or linzers. I added a white chocolate drizzle and pearl sprinkles to mine for a decorative touch.

Share your cookies with your valentine, your friends, or with just yourself — making them is a treat in itself.

In this box...

Super Chocolatey Shortbread Cookies
Yields 3 dozen cookies, depending on size of cutter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
75g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped 

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt.

In the of a mixer, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Add egg yolk and vanilla. Mix until fully incorporated.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Mix until just combined. 

Fold in chopped chocolate.

Shape the dough into a disc, wrap the dough in saran wrap, and chill the dough for at an hour.

Once the dough is chilled, preheat oven to 350 and roll out the dough to 1/8-inch in thickness. Cut out shapes with cookie cutter. 

Place cookie cut-outs on a baking sheet lined with parchment and space them an inch apart. 

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes. Leave cookies on baking sheets out of the oven for a couple minutes before carefully transferring them to cooling racks.

Eat them plain or decorate with a few chocolate drizzles.

Happy baking!

3 February 2019

Chinese New Year 'Nian Gao' Stuffed Cookies

Happy almost Chinese/Lunar New Year to all of you who celebrate it! Like many Chinese holidays, Chinese New Year is celebrated with a lot of food. Most of the food eaten during this time is symbolic of things you would like to have more of in the new year, whether the symbolism is conveyed through the name of the dish of the shape of the food item. On Chinese New Year's Eve, my family gathers around the table to feast on fish (the word fish means that there will be a surplus for next year, whether it is a surplus of wealth, luck, or anything positive), oysters with fat choy (a vegetable whose name sounds like 'fortune'), noodles (for longevity), and tong yuan (circular rice balls, whose shape represents family connection, togetherness and reunion). The next morning on New Year's Day, my parents would start frying up Chinese New Year cake (nian gao) early in the morning. The characters nian gao 年糕 translates to 'year higher,' meaning that those who eat the cake will have a year better than the last. Nian gao has always been the highlight for me. Traditionally it is made with glutinous rice flour, sugar, water, and flavouring of choice, though in more recent years there have been more creative version of this traditional sweet treat. I like the classic brown sugar or white sugar nian gao the best, especially when my parents dip slices of the cake in an egg batter before pan frying it until it reaches golden brown. I think it is the texture of nian gao that makes me love it so much — it is pretty identical to eating mochi, but with a crisp exterior.

I have always had this rice cake in a somewhat traditional way — either sliced and panfried or baked. Recently though, I came across some videos of cookies being stuffed with rice cake (!!) so that when you bite into the cookie, it reveals a chewy, sticky centre. I saw these magical cookies on Li Tying's (@nglitying) instagram account, a very talented baker that I have followed since I started Instagram. If you have never came across her account before, she is known for her many variations of matcha treats, salted egg yolk espresso brownies, and rich chocolatey cookies. Her account has always inspired me to use more of my favourite Asian ingredients in my baking. 

After I saw those nian gao cookies, I knew I had to create some for my Chinese New Year celebrations this year. I chose to use a white sugar nian gao for the centre of my fun, celebratory funfetti soft-baked sugar cookies. It took quite a few tries to do this cookie justice because I originally thought I could just stick a cube of rice cake in cookie dough and bake for the 8 - 10 minutes I was use to. It turns out that the rice cakes needs a bit more time than cookie dough to warm up and reach its sticky and chewy state. I thought about pre-cooking the rice cake first but then avoiding that extra step would be preferred. After a few tweaks and trials, I am happy to share this nian gao-stuffed soft-baked sugar cookie recipe with you just in time for Chinese New Year celebrations. Feel free to use any type of nian gao for the centre. I think brown sugar or coconut-flavoured nian gao would be just as good in these cookies.

Chinese New Year 'Nian Gao' Cookies
Yields 12 - 14 cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt, optional
1/2 cup sprinkles (jimmies)
Nian gao or Chinese New Year cake, cut into 1 inch x 0.5 inch cubes

Preheat oven to 325C.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar on high until it becomes pale and fluffy.

Add egg and vanilla extract and mix until well combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture in two increments and mix on slow, adding the second one when the first addition has been almost fully incorporated.

Once the dry ingredients have been incorporated, fold in the sprinkles with a rubber spatula. I prefer using Jimmies so the colours from the sprinkles don't 'bleed' into the dough.

Using an ice cream scoop, scoop out balls of cookie dough onto a plate.

Push a cube of the nian gao at the centre of each dough ball and use your hands to roll the dough so that the nian gao is no longer showing and the dough has evenly covered the rice cake.

Place the prepared dough balls with rice cake onto a baking sheet, with two inches between each dough ball, and bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown and the centre (where the rice cake is) has puffed up.

Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool for 20 - 30 minutes before eating. The rice cake centre develops more chew once it has cooled down a bit.

Happy Chinese New Year!

22 January 2019

Whipped White Chocolate Ganache and Strawberry Cheesecake Cream Puffs

One of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of 2018 was to bake more things that are not just layer cakes. Layer cakes will always have a special (and largest) place in my heart but I wanted to learn more about pastry. I decided to start with choux because it is the base of many great pastries like cream puffs, éclairs, and impressive croquembouche towers. I also want to be able to make Totoro cream puffs like the ones from Shirohige’s Cream Puff Factory in Japan. Once I get the hang of making choux, you bet there will be many Totoros all over my Instagram. I did not start making choux pastry until a few months ago because it has always seemed like a very daunting baking task. What do you mean I have to cook the batter on the stove before I bake it off? How can you tell the batter is ‘cooked’ enough? What if my choux pastries do not puff up? What if it spreads too much? 

Since making my first cream puff, I have made so many more. I have been playing around with the ratios of ingredients to see what yields the perfect puff. Based on the amount of choux I have made in the last little while, I could start a blog dedicated to cream puffs. I could call the blog Choux Corner, If the Choux Fits, or some other terrible pun involving the pronunciation of ‘choux’ (which actually sounds a lot like ‘shoo’ than ‘cho’).
These cream puffs are some of the best ones I have made so far. They filled with everything I want in a dessert:
— an airy whipped strawberry cream cheese filling that is reminiscent of a ultra fluffy cheesecake slice
— a whipped white chocolate ganache that is like a more indulgent form of sweetened whipped cream but more tame than a white chocolate buttercream
— great texture and crunch from craquelin, a cookie like dough that is baked on top of each puff
— a simple rosewater glaze and a rose petal for a gentle floral note
— gold luster dust for that extra sparkle

Whipped White Chocolate Ganache and Strawberry Cheesecake Cream Puffs
Yields 12 cream puffs 

25g unsalted butter, softened
25g brown sugar
25g all-purpose flour

Pâte à Choux
57mL water
57mL whole milk
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
57g unsalted butter
70g all-purpose flour
110g large eggs, lightly beaten

Whipped White Chocolate Ganache
114g white chocolate chocolate
228g/1 cup heavy cream

Whipped Strawberry Cream Cheese
228g/1 cup heavy cream

228g cream cheese, softened

1 tablespoon sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1/4 cup freeze dried strawberry powder

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and mix with rubber spatula until smooth.

Roll out the craquelin dough to 1/8-inch in thickness. Use a cookie cutter and cut out 12 2-inch circles. Set aside.

Pâte à Choux
Preheat oven to 350F.

In a saucepan, combine the water, milk, sugar, salt, and butter. Bring to a light boil, remove from heat, and immediately add in all the flour. Quickly stir in the flour, using a rubber spatula, and return saucepan back over medium-high heat.

Continue to stir the mixture, without stopping, until the paste is smooth, about 1-2 minutes. It will pull away from the sides of the pan and leave a thin coating of cooked paste on the bottom when ready. The texture should resemble dry mashed potatoes.

Transfer the paste to a stand mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low for the choux to cool down.

While the mixer is running on medium, gradually stream in the lightly beaten eggs. Mix until well combined.

Transfer the pâte à choux to the prepared piping bag with a round tip. Pipe out 12 choux mounds onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving roughly 2 inches between each puff. If you are making choux with a craquelin top, this is when you want to add the craquelin to the choux mounds.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and immediately bake choux puffs for 35 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and turn down the oven to 325F, then bake for 10 minutes more until choux are deeply golden. Remove from oven and set on cooling rack to cool.

Whipped White Chocolate Ganache
Finely chop the white chocolate and place into a bowl.

In a saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Once mixture has boiled, pour milk mixture over the chopped chocolate and let sit for 1 minute.

Whisk the chocolate mixture until thoroughly melted and combined. Set in the refrigerator to chill, at least 4 hours.

Once chilled and ready to use, transfer the ganache to the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip ganache to medium-stiff peaks. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a medium round pastry tip to pipe into choux pastries once baked.

Whipped Strawberry Cheesecake
In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and fluffy, 2 -3 minutes.

Add heavy cream, cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds and whip until it reaches to medium-stiff peaks.

Transfer the whipped cheesecake cream to a piping bag fitted with a large star pastry tip.

Keep whipped cheesecake cool until ready to use.

With a sharp serrated knife, cut choux as you would a sandwich.

Pipe the choux cavity with whipped ganache until it reaches the brim of the bottom choux half.

Pipe two layers of whipped cheesecake on top of the whipped ganache.

Top cream puff with other choux half like a hat.

Optional: drizzle a simple glaze and top with dried rose petal.

1 January 2019

Playing with Isomalt + Totoro Sprinkle Cookie

Happy New Year! I hope 2018 was everything that you wanted and dreamed of and I also hope that your 2019 is even better. The past week I would argue was one of the busiest but most wonderful weeks of the year. It was extremely busy because of all the holidays and my irrational (yet delicious) decision to make a different type of Christmas cookies every day of the week. Despite all the busyness, the week has been a reflective one. Busyness always renders itself as a tool that helps me prioritize what is important and what I want to focus on more in the upcoming year. Between work, all the holiday baking, and holiday preparations in general, I took some time to sit down and write down all the things I want to accomplish in the next little while. I would not call these hard-to-achieve 'resolutions' but gentle reminders of what's important and achievable goals that promote growth whether it is growth in baking or myself in general.

I am proud of myself for all the new things I tried and skills I attained this past year — I made choux pastry for the first time and immediately fell in love with making it despite the first few batches falling a bit flat; I taught myself how to pipe buttercream flowers by watching some YouTube videos and giving myself lots of time (and buttercream) to practice; and I made moon cakes, a seasonal treat I grew up eating during Mid-Autumn Festival, for the first time. Besides learning to make new kinds of desserts, I invested in my new favourite lens (my 24-70!) for my camera and shot a lot more. I was determined to get to know my camera better so I could produce more beautiful content to share with you.

I think 2019 is going to be a big year. I have some really exciting projects coming up and I cannot wait to share them with you. I am kicking off the new year with a new baking project. It is not my usual buttercream-coated and flower-adorn type of creation, but one that is a mix between a baking project and a DIY. I have been obsessed with all the insanely cute Japanese cookies I see on Pinterest and Instagram, especially the cookies that have a clear see-through element and shaped into characters of Japanese cartoons I grew up watching. I am creating one of these cookies on the blog for you today and sharing some tips and tricks I learned about working with isomalt through many batches of failed cookies that did not resemble what you see here in this post. I would not call these everyday cookies but over-the-top cookies that add to any celebration.

Bubbly isomalt vs. clear isomalt that was in the oven for 10 minutes 

What is isomalt? Isomalt is a sugar substitute derived from beets that is commonly used by sugar artists to create sugar sculptures, cake toppers, gems and other cake decorations. It is preferred for sugar work over regular granular sugar because it holds up better in heat and humidity. It is sold in crystal form, with granules that are around the size of coarse salt. You will not find it in your regular grocery store, but you should not have a problem finding it in your local cake decorating or specialty cooking/kitchen store. If you cannot find isomalt but want to create cookies with a see-through centre, you can easily substitute isomalt with crushed up clear candies. The clear candies will not create a 'glass' as clear as isomalt, but will still have the transparent quality we are looking for. I have made a batch with crushed clear candy and I was still able to see the sprinkles clearly!

How do I melt isomalt? You will only need two ingredients to cook clear isomalt: isomalt and water. For every cup of isomalt you cook, the water volume will be approximately 1/8 of that amount of isomalt (ex. 1/8 cup of water for every 1 cup of isomalt).

1. Place the isomalt in a small pot over medium heat
2. Allow the isomalt crystals to melt without stirring them
3. Once the isomalt is boiling, remove the isomalt from heat. Isomalt will be very bubbly.
4. Hold the small pot off of the heat until the bubbles settle down. 
5.  Once the bubbles have settled down, place the pot back down on the burner and stir in the water, a little at a time. Steam will aggressively come off of the sugar as the water is now cooling it down. Isomalt will still be very bubbly.
6. Reduce the amount of air bubbles in the hot isomalt by placing it in the oven at 265F for 10 minutes. If you skip this step, the bubbles will stay in the isomalt and will harden like the cookies on the left in the above picture.
7. After 10 minutes, carefully remove pot of isomalt from oven and use the isomalt while it is still hot. If the isomalt starts to thicken, place it back in the oven for 2 - 3 minutes until it liquefies again

How do I make these cookies with isomalt? You will need your favourite sugar cookie or shortbread cookie recipe (i.e., a cookie that does not spread much in the oven), liquid isomalt, royal icing, and your favourite sprinkles.

Follow your recipe's instructions to prepare the cookie dough. After you have rolled out your cookies and cut them into the desired shape and then cut a hole where you want the isomalt to fill. Bake the cookies according to recipe.

Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet as you prepare the isomalt according to instructions above.

Once the isomalt is ready to be used, carefully pour the isomalt into the hole of the baked cookie. Allow the isomalt to cool undisturbed for at least 20 minutes, until it has completely set.

*Note: to make one sprinkle-filled cookie, you will need 3 cookie cut-outs. Two of the cookie cut-outs will be filled with isomalt. These two filled cookies will be on the outside your assembled stacked cookie. The order you stack them should be: isomalt-filled cookie, hollow cookie, isomalt-filled cookie. The purpose of the hollow cookie in the centre is to add extra height to the stacked cookie, which then allow the sprinkles to move freely.

Once the isomalt has set, place one isomalt-filled cookie down. Apply royal icing to the edges of the cookie, being cautious to not get any icing on the 'glass.' Stack the hollow cookie before the royal icing dries. Fill your cookie with sprinkles of choice. Attach last isomalt-filled cookie with royal icing to 'seal' the cookie.

Shake, shake, shake!

I cannot wait to make different varieties of these isomalt sprinkle cookies for other holidays. Perhaps heart-shaped cookies for Valentine's Day, confetti-filled Easter egg cookies in the spring, and of course snow globe cookies for next Christmas. I saw the cutest flamingo sprinkles at my craft store the other day and I am tempted to make a little swimming pool cookies filled with flamingo sprinkles and blue sanding sugar. You can also make your own filling or sprinkles for these cookies. I made these little soot sprite 'sprinkles' inside my Totoro cookies by cutting out circles of black fondant with the opening of a piping tip and attaching smaller white balls of fondant for the eyes. It was quite time-consuming but I love how they turned out.

Happy baking and happy new year!


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