17 November 2019

Saveur Blog Awards 2019 & Cincinnati

Never did I think I would be be attending the Saveur Blog Awards. I started baking and blogging about three years ago. Constellation Inspiration existed before then but it was a DIY blog that had blog posts about adding metal studs to your favourite denim jacket, creating a floral infinity scarf, and putting together the ultimate outfit for Coachella. Then the blog slowly made the transition to being a baking blog that you know today. Even before I started baking and blogging, I attentively paid attention to the Saveur Blog Awards — I would nominate and vote for my favourite bloggers and get super excited about checking the results the night of the awards. The first year I started blogging about my cakes, I asked all my friends to nominate me for the Best New Voice category. I did not get shortlisted and looking back now, I feel kind of silly for thinking my super infrequent posting would land me that title. Since then, I never really considered myself Saveur Blog Awards material because all the nominees and winners have always been people I looked up to with skills I strive to one day have. So I was completely shocked and in disbelief when Jenn of Two Cups Flour and Karlee of Olive and Artisan DMed on Instagram a few weeks back congratulate me. I had no idea what they were talking about and then I found out I was nominated for the Best Baking & Sweets category of 2019. What. Exactly.

Fast forward a few weeks and I found myself getting off the plane in Cincinnati, Ohio to attend the 2019 Saveur Blog Awards. It still feels surreal. The three days I spent in Cincinnati have been so wonderful. The Saveur team put together a jam-packed itinerary filled with activities that showed off the food culture of Cincinnati and workshops and panels with speakers like David Lebovitz, Deb of Smitten Kitchen, Creative Director Kristen of Food52 Genius Recipes, and more. We also got to hang out and learn more about food writing with the Saveur editorial team. But one of my favourite parts of this experience was getting to meet many bloggers I have been following for the longest time and bond over our love of blogging and creating. I also made a new friend (a very good friend), Erika of Pancake Princess. Erika and I were roommates on this trip and I could not have asked for a better Saveur buddy. Erika is so talented and her dedication to what she does is very inspiring.

I did not win my category of Best Baking & Sweets, but I am extremely grateful for this experience. Everyone that I met is so talented and truly an inspiration. I would also like to say the biggest thank you to everyone that nominated and voted for me — Constellation Inspiration would not exist without each and every one of you.

Instead of just telling you what happened in Cincinnati, here are some photos of highlights of my trip from my phone — of Saveur events I attended and places I snuck off to before and after a panel or a workshop. I do not want to call this a ‘city guide’ because there is so much of Cincinnati I still have yet to explore, but these were some of the memorable things I experienced:

The American Sign Museum. The blog awards were held at the American Sign Museum and we were lucky enough to have the entire museum to ourselves. The museum is dedicated to the art and history of commercial signs and sign making. My favourite wing of the museum was "Main Street USA", which features many storefronts of Main Street with shop windows full of sign-related objects and curiosities.

Collective Espresso (Northside location). A very cute little cafe tucked inside a back alley (it is very easy to miss!). The cafe looked like a little green house, with glass walls and a glass roof. I had a super smooth cortado and a Guatemala pourover (I think it was made with Deeper Roots beans) that was bright and delicious. 

Findlay Market.  A public market and one of Cincinnati's most cherished institutions located just blocks from downtown in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. The market is the home to 40 indoor vendors selling farm fresh, locally-sourced, artisanal and specialty foods.

Mercantile Library. A membership-only library located in downtown Cincinnati. We had a panel inside this library and both the space and the collection of books were so impressive.

Deeper Roots (Findlay Market location). Really amazing roaster and cafe. I went twice on my three-day stay because the coffee was so tasty. Whoever runs their social media is so lovely and took the time to write a full list of recommendations for me for the rest of my trip.

Brown Bear Bakery. I knew I had to visit when I came across their Instagram account and saw photos of trays of amazing cinnamon buns. I went right when they opened at 7:30am and shamelessly ordered one of everything they had because I could not decide on just one treat. Of all the treats I tried, my favourite were the pumpkin cake slice (so ~moist~), the savoury scone, lemon bar, and of course the cinnamon bun. Erika loved their chocolate chip cookie.

Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey. We visited this spot for our last Saveur team brunch. The food can be described as southern comfort with an Asian twist. The Best. Grits. Of. My. Life. They were topped with lemongrass shrimp, coconut chili gravy, and country ham. The Oregon Trail was another great dish with sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, crispy kale, carrots, poblano, and a bulgogi glaze. I was more than happy to consume three-days worth of calories at 10am on a Friday. I wanted to eat e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

Sotto. This was my very first stop of the trip. I went to Sotto within an hour of landing in Cincinnati. I tried to make a reservation after I saw Cincinnati Magazine list Sotto as their restaurant of the year. Reservations were all full until the end of the month but I was able to snag a seat at the bar right at opening. Tasty kale caesar and an extremely creamy cacio e pepe (the pasta was tonnarelli) with a generous amount of pecorino and black pep.

A few clothing stores I loved: The Native One, Continuum, Idlewild, Wolfpack

21C Hotel. We stayed at 21C Hotel in downtown Cincinnati. The hotel is also home to an art gallery on its second floor. Pieces of the gallery change yearly and you see art pieces and installations all throughout the hotel. Super cool bathrooms in each hotel room.

Until next time, Cincinnati!

29 October 2019

Weeknight Baking Fudge Brownies

It is so exciting when I see my blogger friends release cookbooks and it is especially exciting when it is a book I have been anticipating even before the book announcement was made. This is the case with Michelle's new book, Weeknight Baking. I first met Michelle of Hummingbird High a few years back when I visited San Francisco. I emailed her asking for a list of recommendations of places I should visit — the best bakeries, ice cream shops, restaurants, and coffeeshops I cannot miss during my 4 day stay in the city. Michelle responded to my email quickly and gave me the most detailed list. Her list included trying the liège waffles at Blue Bottle Coffee and ordering the lemon tart (her fav) from Tartine. We ended up getting those waffles she spoke highly of together and chatted about blogging while working full time and all things butter-sugar-flour. I remember asking Michelle if she would ever release a cookbook and she told me she wanted to have a solid theme for a book before she embarked on the cookbook writing process. Four years later, after many amazing recipes shared on her blog, Michelle's new book that comes out today. Weeknight Baking is here! And I am SO happy that it is.

Today, I am sharing a few reasons why I love Weeknight Baking (besides the fact I love everything Michelle does):
1. It is filled with recipe that are, well, perfect for weeknight baking. The recipes are not fussy at all and the more labour-intensive recipes are broken down into parts that can be completed across several days or sessions. They recipes are made for those who work a full-time job and only have time outside of 9 - 5 to do their baking

2. So! Many! Photos! I do not need a cookbook to have a photo of every recipe...but I do need them. All the photos are shot by Michelle and feature her signature style you find on her blog. There are also very helpful step-by-step tutorials for things like rolling out pie crust

3. Really helpful conversion notes. Michelle lets you know how many cupcakes a sheet cake recipe makes and the baking time for the cupcakes if you are on team cupcakes > sheet cake for her peanut butter brown sugar cake recipe, which would be just as delicious in either form

I am also sharing the first recipe I made from Weeknight Baking — better-than-supernatural fudge brownies. These brownies come together really quickly (less than 15 minutes of active labour!) and  are extremely rich and fudgey. They also have that paper-thin sugar crust I love seeing on a brownie square. The book has many more recipes like this and I cannot wait to bake my way through the book. Weeknight Baking can be found at your local bookstores and online!

Weeknight Baking Fudge Brownies
Yields 15 - 20 bars
From Weeknight Baking by Michelle Lopez of Hummingbird High

1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, chopped into 1- 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
8 ounces dark chocolate (between 63% and 73% cocoa), from whole fèves or a high-quality chocolate bar, hand broken into pieces
1 cup (4.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 cup tightly packed (7.5 ounces) dark brown sugar
I cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Position a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a 9 x 13-inch cake pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the pan's two long sides.

Place the butter and cocoa powder in the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set over a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan filled with a few inches of simmering water (be sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water). Cook over medium heat to melt the butter.

While the butter melts, in a food processor, pulse the chocolate for a few seconds at a time until roughly chopped. Add the chocolate to the butter and cook, using a heatproof rubber spatula to stir the mixture and scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally, until the butter and chocolate have melted and combined, about 10 minutes. Set the double boiler or bowl on a wire rack and let the chocolate mixture cool while you prep the other ingredients.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the eggs, sugars, and vanilla. Whisk on low until combined, 1 to 2 minutes, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary. Increase the mixer to medium and slowly pour in the chocolate mixture, aiming for the sides of the bowl as opposed to the whisk. Continue whisking on medium until the batter is smooth, about 1 minute.

Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the batter all at once and use a rubber spatula to mix until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and use an offset spatula to smooth the top. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the brownies comes out with a few crumbs attached. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing

Run a butter knife or offset spatula along the edges of the pan and use the overhanging parchment as handles to lift the brownies out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Slice into 15 - 20 rectangles. The brownies can be stored in an airtight container or zip-top bag at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Congratulations, Michelle!
You can get your copy at your local bookstore or here!

22 September 2019

Ruby and White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I can't believe it took me this long to make something with ruby chocolate. I have seen it in its original Callebaut Ruby form and in the form of Ruby Kit Kat bars that made their debut in Japan and Korea. Callebeaut markets it as the fourth chocolate next to dark, milk, and white. The flavour of ruby chocolate is neither the flavour profile of white chocolate or milk chocolate, but if you needed a good reference point for the taste of ruby chocolate, I would say it is most similar to white chocolate with berry fruitiness (specifically raspberry) and luscious smoothness. It might be weird to say that it is a "refreshing" chocolate but that is definitely a word I would use to describe it. Since it is still a relatively new product, finding it might be a bit harder than finding other types of chocolate for your cookies. A specialty bakeware in Vancouver sells ruby couverture and I like using nicer than chocolate chips for cookies. I heard you can buy ruby chocolate wafers from Trader Joe's so that might be worth a try.

These cookies are a good mix of chewy and crispy and they get their ripples from Sarah Keiffer's pan-banging technique. There are puddles of both ruby chocolate and good-quality white chocolate to give variations in chocolate flavour. I also really like the look of having both pink and white puddles peeping through the cookie. The secret to chocolate puddles in a cookie is to use coarsely-chopped, good-quality chocolate and not chips that tend to retain their shape. There might be a time and place for chocolate chips, but this is not one of them. Lastly, I give these cookies a generous sprinkle of flaky sea salt which, in my opinion, is extremely necessary for any cookie.

Ruby and White Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Yields 16 cookies
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 1/2 cup + 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4.5 oz  (~3/4 cup) ruby chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 oz (~1/2 cup) white chocolate, coarsely chopped
Maldon flakey salt, to sprinkle

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until smooth, about 1 minute.

Add the vanilla extract and egg to the butter mixture and mix on medium speed until fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until just combined.

Add the chocolate and mix until just incorporated.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap or place in an airtight container, and then refrigerate it for at least one hour.

After an hour, preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

With a standard ice cream scoop, scoop balls of dough and place them about 2 inches apart on the trays. These cookies will spread a bit.

Bake for about 12 minutes and remove the pan from the oven and bang it on the top of the counter to produce the first layer of ripples. Return pan to the oven and bake again for another 1 - 1.5 minutes before removing it and repeating the banging step. Bake the cookies for a total of 15 - 16 minutes, or until the cookies are browned and caramelized along the edges and centres are just set.

Top each cookie with a sprinkling of the flakey salt. Allow cookies to cool on trays for 5 minutes and transfer to a rack to continue cooling.

Happy baking!

3 September 2019

Kabocha Salted Egg Yolk Mooncakes with Sago Pearls

I cannot believe we are already three days into September. The summer fair has wrapped up and the $1 ice cream cone special from you-know-where has ended. I still have an ice cream sandwich blog post (for these!) I want to share but it seems out of season now? Do we still care about three easy homemade ice cream sandwich hacks? Can I still make a cake that features a flamingo floatie on top? Those are the type of questions that have been floating in my head for the last few days. I. Am. Dreading. Fall.

I have stated in the past that my least favourite type of baking is fall baking. I am not that into all the warm spices and the lack of berries and stone fruits makes me a bit sad. Also, I do not want to add pumpkin purée in any of my baked goods. Occasionally I can find some joy in making a fall apple or pear pie (lattice top, of course) but if I had to choose a favourite type of fall treat to make it would be mooncakes to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival. I started making mooncakes last year, both the traditional kind with a salted egg yolk centre and the 'snowy skin' variety with taro and coconut, and have become obsessed since. I love buying all the different patterns for my moon cake press. Since last year, I bought a new mooncake press! A smaller square one! My older press makes a mooncake with 100g of dough and filling while this new one makes 50g moon cakes. I actually prefer the smaller press because I really like mooncake dough, especially snowy skin mooncake dough because if the mochi-like consistency. I decided to make snowy skin mooncakes again this year because A) they do not require the use of lye water B) are so beautiful with all their different colours and C) are so tasty. My mooncakes this year are galaxy inspired, with different shades of blue and purple swirled throughout and topped with a good amount of edible gold leaf. The filling is made with one of my favourite things to eat, kabocha squash! And because it is not a mooncake without salted egg yolk, I folded salted egg yolk into the squash purée so you get a bit of it with every bite. Sago pearls are also folded into the filling for more texture and chew.

Mid-Autumn Festival falls quite early this year, on September 13th, but you still have almost two weeks to perfect your mooncakes! Brb, I am going to make more mooncakes now! (PS. I gave you measurements in grams because mooncake dough can be finicky if the ratios are off)

Kabocha Salted Egg Yolk Mooncakes with Sago Pearls
Yields 8 - 10 mooncakes (*depends on size of mooncake press)

Snowy Mooncake Wrapper
180 g unsweetened full-fat coconut milk (~200ml)
15 g vegetable oil (1 tablespoon)
50 g glutinous rice flour
35 g rice flour
20 g tapioca flour
45 g icing sugar

In a measuring cup, combine coconut milk and vegetable oil.

In a separate bowl, whisk together glutinous rice flour, rice flour, tapioca flour, and icing sugar.

Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and mix well using a whisk, making sure no clumps remain.

Strain mixture through fine-meshed sieve to remove any clumps. Use the back of a spoon to press on any clumps to smooth it out.

Over medium heat, steam the mixture in the bowl for 30 minutes, until it becomes slightly transparent.

Remove the bowl from the pot and stir the mixture with chopsticks for several minutes until the mixture is glossy and smooth.

Transfer the dough to a plate and cover with saran wrap. Knead  for several minutes until the surface becomes oily.

Form the dough into a disc and refrigerate for at least three hours before assembling the mooncake. A warm dough is too sticky to handle.

Kabocha Salted Egg Yolk Filling
160g kabocha squash, steamed and mashed
3 salted egg yolks, cooked
25 - 40g (3 - 5 tablespoons) powdered sugar
28g (2 tablespoons) full-fat coconut milk
1/2 cup sago pearls, cooked (~1/3 cup uncooked)

Wash kabocha to remove any dirt that may be on the exterior. Cut kabocha in half and scoop out the seeds. Depending on the size on the squash you have, you may only need 1/3 or 1/2 of the squash.

Place kabocha half into a steamer or steaming basket. Steam until tender to the fork, roughly 20 - 25 minutes.

Remove squash from steamer. Using a fork or potato ricer, mash the kabocha into a smooth paste.

In a separate bowl, separate the cooked salted egg yolks from the whites. Mash the the yolk with a fork until it becomes a coarse paste.

Combine the egg yolk mixture and kabocha paste. Mix in powdered sugar. Add the coconut milk, a tablespoon at a time, until it forms a thick paste. You may need more or less coconut milk depending on how much moisture is inherently in your squash. At this point, I also like to taste the mixture to see if it needs more sugar. Salt levels of salted egg yolk can vary depending on brand.

Lastly, fold in cooked sago pearls. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Toasted Rice Flour (for dusting)
1/4 cup rice flour

Toast rice flour in a dry frying pan over medium heat for about 3 - 5 minutes until rice brown turns a light golden colour.

Set aside to cool.

For a small (50g) mooncake press, weigh out 35-gram scoops of squash filling and gently shape each portion into balls. Set aside.

Divide and weigh the dough into 15-gram pieces. Roll out each piece of dough between to pieces of saran wrap until 1/8 inch in thickness.

Place ball of filling in the centre of each piece of dough. Wrap the squash filling with rolled-out wrapper dough and seal completely. Shape into an oval shape, so it will easily slide into the mooncake mold. Dust the bottom of the mooncake ball with toasted rice flour.

Dust the mooncake mold with toasted rice flour and insert dough ball into the press. Press on the mooncake mold to shape the mooncake. Carefully remove from the mold. If any sides of the mooncake is too tacky, brush on toasted rice flour.


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