Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Favourite Chocolate Cake and Whipped Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

“There’s a corner of my heart that is yours. And I don’t mean for now, or until I’ve found somebody else, I mean forever. I mean to say that whether I fall in love a thousand times over or once or never again, there’ll always be a small quiet place in my heart that belongs only to you.” ― Beau Taplin

To say that everything you do and everything that you are take my breath away would be a gross understatement. That would oversimplify how my heart now beats in almosts because a part of it will always be with you. I would like to have at my disposal literary constructions that properly convey how since meeting you I began wishing for more hours, minutes, seconds in a day; you make me yearn for more than just seven sunrises and seven sunsets in a week. I would like for a word to aptly describe that before you I was afraid to love because it wasn't concrete like the ocean, that I couldn't touch it and make sure it wouldn't change. Now you make me feel like there are oceans inside me. And if you were ever to leave, I would miss you like how the sun misses the stars in the morning sky and I would tell you that even before we met, it was you that had a hold of my heart all along. 

This post might look a little different than my usual. It is not my typical recipe and styling post but I love it nonetheless. Maybe even more. This cake is a reinterpretation of a cake you have seen on the blog before if you have been following since the beginning. You might recognize it as a dark chocolate cake with raspberry pomegrante mascarpone frosting, but today this cake gets a little makeover, or under, depending on how you interpret it. It uses the same (but my ultimate favourite) chocolate cake recipe but instead of a raspberry and pomegrante situation it is a simple strawberry cream cheese. It is a whipped strawberrry cream cheese frosting and that is how I like it most - light, airy, and cloud-like in texture. The frosting is not a buttercream frosting. It is a simple combination of cream cheese and whipped cream. It is so silky smooth and is a dream to work with. I topped it with light pink roses because I would never make a cake without fresh flowers.

There is a change in setting because I made this cake for a bridal shower. I woke up extra early on the Saturday to assemble this cake for a morning garden tea party inside a heritage home. The home is actually a quaint farmhouse located in a park overlooking the river. All the serveware is unique but adorn with similar floral prints. Besides my cake, warm scones with jam and butter, petit tarts, and thumbprint cookies were served in the country-style tea room. The morning light peeked through the diaphanous lace curtains and a gentle breeze rolled in then and again and kept the room cool. Chatter and laughter filled the sunbathed room and it was the perfect backdrop for celebrating the occasion with cake.

Since I have shared the chocolate cake recipe numerous times before, I will just share the recipe for this whipped strawberry cream cheese frosting with you here. If you want a quick and easy dessert, you can chill individual portions of this frosting in parfait cups and enjoy them as whipped cheesecake. 

Whipped Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
275g full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
3 - 4 tablespoons your favourite strawberry jam (without fruit)

Pour heavy whipping cream into bowl of standing mixer. With the whisk attachment whisk the whipping cream until it becomes fluffy and forms medium peaks. Transfer whipped cream into a different clean bowl.

With a paddle attachment on your standing mixer, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually add in three tablespoons of strawberry jam and beat for 1 - 2 minutes. In the same bowl, gently fold in the whipped cream with a rubber spatula. You can add more jam if you feel the cream needs more sweetness. 

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Poached Peaches Cheesecake Ice Pops with Cinnamon Oat Streusel

One of my favourite summer activities is to hunt down this artisan ice pop maker in Vancouver who rides his bike around city with his ice pops and makes occasional pit stops at the farmer’s markets. My first ice pop from his ice pop bike was a creamy avocado and lime ice pop. It was the most life changing an ice pop could be. After that initial ice pop (aka the gateway ice pop), I would always get two ice pops when I see his bike. Avocado lime will always be my go-to but there was one time when I decided to try something new.  The cherry cheesecake pop intrigued me because I loooooove cheesecake. I am low key obsessed with the frozen cheesecakes you buy from the grocery store. I eat them frozen because I do not have an affinity towards soft cheesecakes. The ice pop was everything. It was a complete upgrade of your usual frozen cheesecake on a stick (which does exist!) and it was studded with pitted cherries throughout.

What I am ultimately trying to say is that I am glad I decided to try something new (for a change) and buy the cheesecake pop. Without that initial cheesecake pop, this cheesecake pop might not have existed. I did not go the pitted cherry route because the process of pitting cherries is blah and peaches are finally in season! I poached the peaches in Pure Leaf Peach Iced Tea (Happy National Iced Tea Day, actually!) to get a stronger peach flavour, layered that with a creamy cheesecake base, and finished it off with an addictive cinnamon oat streusel. The oat streusel is a play of the classic graham crust but with more texture…because #texture. Until I find the ice pop guy on his bike, I will be munching (because I like biting into my frozen treats) on these ice pops.

Poached Peaches Cheesecake Ice Pops with Cinnamon Oat Streusel
Yields 8 ice pops

Cinnamon Oat Streusel
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats or quick oats (not instant)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cubed

Poached Peaches
1 bottle 547mL Pure Leaf Peach Iced Tea
3 small peaches, peeled, pitted and halved

Cheesecake Base
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup  + 2 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Oat Streusel
Preheat oven to 350F.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Using a fork or pastry cutter, incorporate the butter into the flour mixture. Streusel should be in pea-sized crumbs.

Prepare a baking sheet and spread streusel into one layer. Bake streusel for 20 minutes.

Remove baking sheet from oven. Let streusel cool before assembling ice pops.

Poached Peaches
Prepare three small peaches by peeling and pitting them. Cut them into halves.

Place prepared peaches and Pure Leaf Peach Iced Tea into a medium sized saucepan.

Over low-medium heat, cook peaches in Pure Leaf Peach Iced Tea until they are tender, roughly 15 minutes.

Strain peaches and let them cool. Dice the peach halves into ¼ inch cubes.

Cheesecake Base
In a blender, combine cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar. While blender is still running, gradually pour in milk. Do the same with Greek yogurt. Add vanilla.

Blend until well-combined. Transfer base into a measuring cup for pouring.

For each ice pop cavity, take ½ tablespoon of diced peaches and place it at the bottom of the ice pop mold.

Pour cheesecake batter until halfway. Sprinkle on streusel. Fill in the remainder of the cavity with cheesecake batter. Finish off with some streusel.

Freeze for 4 – 5 hours until ice pops are firm.

To release the ice pops, run the ice pop molds under warm water for a minute.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Coconut Earl Grey Lavender Cake with White Chocolate Buttercream

I received this bouquet, the most beautiful bouquet, for my birthday. Falling in love with flowers is one of the quickest way I fall in love, I must admit. I love each and every perfectly diaphanous petal but also each imperfection a bloom might carry. Even when a flower starts to wilt, it still irrevocably enraptures all of me. Of the many things I wish lasted a while longer, flowers might be one of the things I wish lasted forever. 

I can thoroughly enjoy a bouquet for what it is but there is also this unremitting sense of urgency and desire within me to create something more with it. And that is why this cake exists. It exists because I wanted the flowers to last longer even though the sentiment behind this bouquet has already been rendered permanent. In my mind putting the flowers on a cake makes the bouquet last longer because I get extra keepsakes — the experience of making and decorating the cake. I also get to start a love affair with the flowers all over again. This cake also exists because it combines many of my favourite flavours into one.

This cake. This cake is a two-tiered kind of treat. It is a bit over the top for every day purposes, even though I do wholeheartedly believe that every day is worthy of a celebration with cake. It is a bit different from my usual but of course it is still naked in its finish and adorn with fresh flowers. I wouldn't have it any other way. Fall in love, make a cake, fall in love again.

Coconut Earl Grey and Lavender Cake with White Chocolate Buttercream
Yields three layer 6-inch cake
*Double this recipe to make three layer 6 inch + two layer 8 inch cake, baking times may change

Coconut Earl Grey Cake
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
200 ml full-fat coconut milk
100 ml milk
3 earl grey tea bags

Lavender Syrup
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoon dried culinary lavender
*Note: store any leftover syrup (you will have leftover!) in an airtight container in the refrigerator, up to 10 days. The lavender syrup is great for lavender lattes at home.

White Chocolate Buttercream
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups icing sugar
6 oz. white chocolate, melted
2 tablespoons whole milk

Coconut Earl Grey Cake
Over medium heat, let the earl grey tea bags steep in the milk. Once milk comes to a light boil, remove from heat and let tea bags steep for 10 - 15 minutes. Once milk has cooled down, combine the milk with the coconut milk. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F and prepare three 6-inch cake pans.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together butter and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and mix well.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and shredded coconut.

Alternating between the milk and dry ingredients, gradually incorporate the two to the butter-sugar mixture. Careful not to overmix.

Transfer batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 28 - 30 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Lavender Syrup
Bring to a boil water, sugar, and lavender, stirring occasionally. Once at a boil, bring to a simmer for 2 minutes, or until the syrup coats the back of a spoon.

Strain through a fine sieve and let cool.

White Chocolate Frosting
Using an electric mixer, cream together butter and icing sugar on low speed until well combined. 

Add melted white chocolate and milk, mixing until smooth and desired spreading consistency. 

Place one cake layer down on cake stand/plate. 

Using a pastry brush, brush on a thin coat of lavender syrup on the top side of cake. Top with frosting. Place second cake layer on top and repeat previous step, alternating between cake, lavender syrup, and frosting.

Lightly frost the tops and sides of cake. Smooth out frosting with offset spatula or bench scraper. 

Garnish with shredded coconut and decorate as desired.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Apple Rose Vanilla Custard Tart

Home is not necessarily where you are from, but where you feel like you belong. Some search everywhere and endlessly to find it. But for some, they find it in a person. To find home within a person, to find a person that makes your heart whisper in confidence "I am here, I will be here, and I am with you." Finding the person I can call home is when I learned that home is where the heart is. 

Lately I have also found a sense of home in creating and I hope it abides as a constant from now on. Whether it is creating a simple white cake adorn with delicate stems of garden roses or creating an image, not necessarily of a cake, but of simple quotidian things from which I find joy and comfort, I have found a renewed and complete sense of home. I have tried to incorporate more of the latter on a daily basis — capturing unorchestrated scenes of my 8am coffee, diaphanous florals and each of their petals, and places that made me wish time would remain suspended for just a moment longer. This has really allowed me to step out of my vapid routine of taking photographs of a cake staged on my white marble table. Cake layers, overly familiar white marble table, the same cake stand, and a vein of discontentment running through it all. In the last few months I have really struggled with the direction of this blog and my photos — everything felt too predictable, too routine. I resonated with this sentiment even outside of the blog as well. I found a routine and I got comfortable. And this type of comfort is not necessarily the type I yearn for. It is a comfort that is a little too much intertwined with indifference, in that quiet little fear that manifests itself slowly.

Recently, though, I have found a new meaning to 'home is where the heart is' and it has necessitated what I feel now. I never thought much of that phrase in the past. That adage seemed as much prosaic as everything I have been aimlessly doing. Now, this renewed sense of home seems much more clear and concrete — I have found my heart situated in unexpected spring blossoms, in the quotidian I use to look past, and in all those quiet coffee-soaked mornings spent with the right person that I wish would last much, much longer. I have learned that not everything has to be orchestrated, that the placement of each baby's breath on the cake does not have to be overthought, and that there is perfection in imperfection. And more importantly, that everything will eventually fall into place and that the sense of home can be found in places and people in the most unexpected and unpremeditated ways. 

Originally this apple rose vanilla custard tart was made with the intention of being shared on Valentine's Day. My good friend Anna and I made and photographed this tart back in January. I spent quite a bit of time editing the photos and actually had all the photos ready a week before Valentine's Day. I somehow lost all my edited photos that I spent countless hours on and that really deterred me from finishing up the post.  I posted a champagne cake for Valentine's instead. This tart was something I really enjoyed making with my friend (and eating as well!) so I knew I still had to post it, even if it meant dedicating some extra time to it. So after some delay, here it is. Apple rose vanilla custard tart, possibly some of the most beautiful flowers blossoming this spring. 

Apple Rose Vanilla Custard Tart

Pâte Sablée
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Beat the butter and powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until creamy.

Beat in the egg yolk and mix until fully combined.

With the mixer on low speed, beat in the salt and flour just until the dough comes together and there is no more visible flour. Careful not to overmix. Remove dough from the bowl and press the dough into the tart pan, making sure it is evenly distributed (watch out for the edges of the tart pan!). Using a fork, prick the bottom of the tart shell to prevent the bottom from puffing up when baking.

Wrap the pan loosely in plastic and chill 30 minutes.

Bake the tart shell at 410F or until the crust is golden brown (approximately 15 minutes). Remove carefully from oven and let rest on a wire rack. Let cool completely before filling with vanilla custard.

Vanilla Custard
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
1 vanilla bean 
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoon granulated sugar

Combine milk and cream in a small saucepan. Using a sharp knife, split vanilla bean in half lengthways and scrape out seeds. Add bean and seeds to milk mixture. Place over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or until hot (do not allow to boil). Remove saucepan from heat.

Whisk egg yolks, cornflour, and sugar in a heatproof bowl until well combined. Remove vanilla beans from milk mixture. Pour hot milk mixture over egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly.

Return mixture to saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for 10 -15 minutes or until custard thickens and coats the back of a metal spoon.

Apple Roses
7 - 8 large red apples
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter

Over low heat, combine orange juice, sugar, and butter in a medium-size pot.

Slice apples with mandolin.

Place the slices apples in the sugar, butter, and orange juice mixture. Leave apples to soak for 10 minutes until they are pliable. 

Start with the smaller apple slices first, roll apple slice so that both ends of the slice overlaps a little. Taking a slightly larger slice, build a second petal on the exterior of the first rolled slice. Continue until you have a fully "bloomed" apple rose. 

Arrange apple roses into the custard-filled tart.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

On Change & Turning 26.

Hello. Remember me? I have been a little MIA lately, both on the blog and other forms of social media. Though unintentional, I am really glad I took a brief break. Do not worry, I am okay. Oh, and I turned 26 yesterday. This year came and went by so quickly. It was also a year of many changes. You know that cliché-ish saying, change is the only constant? The one that most of us resonate with deep down inside? This quote, cliché or not, felt extra relevant this year. Around the same time last year I was finishing my last course for my Master's degree. At that time I was pursuing something completely different than what I am doing now. I was happy then but deep down I knew it was not the right fit. I decided to not continue with my PhD despite not having a back up plan. I had no idea what I wanted to do and to some extent, one year later, I still feel like I am trying to figure out what it is that I truly want to do. Relationships also change. It can happen passively in indifference. It was not intentional but you start to care a little less and less, day by day. It is not as though you meant to, as if you're hoping to bring something to a close. Things run their course whether or not we're done with them. Roads bend and sometimes they end. And sometimes what we thought in absolutes turn out to be conditional.

Change definitely happens. Have happened. Will happen. Changes start slowly, the way things often do. It will not feel slow though. In fact, it will seem sudden. You wake up, fix your gaze across the room, and think that something must have snapped in the night. But you refuse to believe that it happened there. It could not have. The thought of anything happening that rapidly while you were asleep is a thought you have long abandoned.

One of the changes I have appreciated the most is the growing ability to appreciate beauty in the mundane and the prosaic. Finding joy in early ink-stained mornings spent writing and reading in a cafe. Finding solace in a failed cake recipe. And finding unparalleled happiness when coming across the perfect rose to top a layered cake.

The luck I have been having in meeting people who are genuinely passionate about creating is one thing I hope never changes. Kelsey is someone that embodies that. Just over a week ago, Kelsey drove to Vancouver to celebrate my 26th birthday early with me. She baked a cake, made the perfect swiss meringue buttercream, and brought it all over to my home. We decorated the cake together with the most perfect stems from Celsia Florist and Victor was there to capture all the moments. I have always struggled to take my own photos when I am around Victor and Kelsey. They are both such talented photographers that I often feel quite intimidated when I am around them. But this time I made a promise to myself that I will at least snap a couple of photos myself - for practice and because the more photos the merrier. Besides, this was such a lovely set up that I knew I would have regretted it if I did not take photos to preserve the memories. This change in self-confidence is also something I hope I will be able to keep up.

Here are my photos from our lovely weekend. Kelsey will be sharing the recipe for the cake and buttercream on her blog soon and I will share some tips and tricks on decorating a cake with fresh flowers real soon along with Victor's beautiful photos. Until then, happy baking and do not be afraid to embrace change.