Saturday, September 26, 2009

happy stars

My cute, little niece turned two on Sept. 12. Can't believe how fast time flies! It was hubby's idea to add the stars on the cake. A while ago, we read a Facebook status update from Melissa, Sydney's mom, about how Sydney has such strong empathy to things now. She was watching an episode of Dora the Explorer where a star fell down from the sky and was crying to come home. Sydney started crying when she saw that. How cute is that??! ^__^ So we put happy stars on her cake! Hopefully she'll like it.

This cake was suppose to be "simple". But based on my experience, because I'm still learning, every cake possesses it's own challenge. And this one is not an exception.

The challenge on this one is that it has to be dairy free. My poor little niece can't eat dairy. So no cream *wahh*, no milk *waaaahhhh*, and no BUTTER *WAAAH!!*. At first I was thinking of trying out some non-dairy cake recipes, but due to time constraint, I decided to just make the chiffon cake that I always use. It has no dairy; it uses vegetable oil instead of butter. So no issue on the cake itself. The buttercream, however, presented quite a challenge. I wanted to make something that taste as good as regular buttercream. So I went and looked for butter alternatives so I can use the recipe that I always use, but with no butter. The problem with living in Fremont is that all the stores located far away from one another. So if I don't find what I'm looking for in one store, I have to drive for at least 15 minutes to go to the other one *sigh*. I found a recipe online that uses this soy margarine called "willow run". I went to Trader Joe's only to find that they don't have ANY non-dairy margarine. Isn't that sad??? So I settled with I can't Believe It's Not Butter (ICBINB) from Safeway. I used it with my Italian meringue buttercream recipe, not realizing that ICBINB is SALTY! Not just a little bit salty, but VERY salty. So...can't use that buttercream *so sad*.

The day after, I went to Lucky across the street to get something else, when I noticed "butter flavor Crisco". mmm... kinda iffy there since I hate everything about Crisco.... but I figured I should give it a chance. Bad mistake. If you think Crisco is gross, the butter flavor Crisco is way worse. It's super yellow, has this very weird "buttery" smell, and as usual, has a waxy mouthfeel. I decided to give it a try anyway. Half butter Crisco and half regular Crisco. The result... eekkk *yucky!*.

Well, since the one with ICBINB is too salty and the Crisco one has no taste, I decided to try an mix the two together. It was okay. I thought, "well, it's only to frost the cake, so it should be okay."

I had Friday off, so I made everything for this cake on that day. Started off with baking the cake, then filling it (I used Pastry Pride - a store bought non-dairy whip topping, and fresh strawberry for the filling). I then frost the cake with the ICBINB/Crisco mixture. After I finished frosting it.... I looked at it... and decided that I couldn't do it!! I couldn't let my family eat this gross, waxy, shortening based cream!!! So.... I scraped it all off!!!

A few days before, I had went to Whole Foods in Saratoga and bought another vegan non-dairy butter called Earth Balance. I didn't try it with the Italian meringue recipe cuz I noticed that it has just about the same amount of sodium as the ICBINB. But I needed new buttercream, so I decided to quickly whipped some simple buttercream using the Wilton buttercream recipe (butter/shortening, powdered sugar, liquid). This one tasted MUCH better. I iced the cake, again, with this buttercream. Put it in the fridge... then got impatient. Time was ticking and I have to quickly cover it with the fondant.

mm.... I think my impatient-ness is my biggest enemy. When I put the fondant onto the cake, I couldn't get that neat sharp edge because the buttercream was too soft. Ugh!! I was so mad! And it was so hot too in my kitchen that day. In the midst of my crazy-obsessive-compulsiveness, I took the fondant off the cake.... and half of the buttercream came off with it! >_< I had to toss the fondant *sobs*. Luckily I had just enough leftover buttercream to frost the cake once more. I let it rest for a longer period in the fridge this time, and was finally able to cover it with fondant. It is still not as smooth as I'd like it to be, but I ran out of buttercream, ran out of fondant, and ran out of time. So it is what it is.

The top is actually rice krispy treats covered with royal icing and fondant. There's only six of us and I don't think we need that much cake.

So that's my experience trying to work with non-dairy cake and buttercream. It is really hard to substitute dairy products and I feel really sorry to those that are dairy or lactose intolerant. I love butter and whipped cream, so I cannot imagine my life without them.... Hopefully someday I can make better non-dairy desserts for Sydney... or even better, maybe someday she'll be able to eat dairy! But for now, I hope she likes her non-dairy strawberry shortcake ^_^

update 9/27/09:

Sydney loved her happy stars!! ^_^

Monday, September 21, 2009

cheese cake

... not cheesecake ^_^.

This is another Indonesian cake that I've been craving for a long, long time. It's a very standard birthday cake in Indonesia, along with black forest cake. It is basically layered sponge cake, iced with buttercream, and then covered with Kraft processed cheddar cheese. Mom used to make or order this cake for me and my little brother's birthday. We share the same birthday month; only four days apart. So we usually have a combined birthday party.

This year, I told my brother that I wanted to make him a birthday cake and I asked him if he wants something in particular. He paused and said "kue keju", which means cheese cake. Woohoo! I get to kill two birds with one stone cuz this cake is also one of the items on my list.

Just like the steamed cake, I wasn't having a good luck on this cake either. The sponge cake turns out to be quite tricky to make. It is very similar to a genoise, but it uses mostly yolks, very little flour, lots of melted butter, and no chemical leavening agent. This means: very fragile structure. I had to make numerous attempts in this one, called my mom several times, and ... tried to read "how baking works" again to figure out what I did wrong.

I felt like I was baking blindly. I hate not knowing why things don't work out the way they suppose to happen. That's why I love culinary school. I love seeing how things are done correctly and finding out why they won't work out otherwise. I like having somebody who I can ask questions to and right my wrongs. *sigh* I miss my teachers!!

In the end, the cake was a success. It was so YUMMY!!! and I mean, really yummy! As I was baking it, my entire apartment was filled with a very delicious fragrant that reminded me of home. Mom used to bake this cake all the time.... and having that lovely smell in my apartment truly brought me back to years ago when I was.... not very interested in baking! hahaha If only I had realized my love for baking back then, I would've been able to learn how to make this cake from my mom! But better late than never. I still need to work on the cake. But I'm gonna keep working on it until I can make it the way mom makes it! ^_^

Sunday, September 20, 2009

almost over-ripened bananas

As I was planning on moving on to the next item on my list, I noticed three bananas on my counter that looked like they’re about ready to go bad. At first I didn’t pay too much attention on them even though there is a recipe on my stack of “recipe to try” for banana cupcakes from CakeJournal that sound and look really yummy.

It wasn’t until I saw a post on Yossi’s blog that I finally picked up that recipe. It turns out that the recipe that Yossi used for her "bluenana" cupcakes is actually the same with the one I found from CakeJournal. Mm… all those pictures look sooo yummy! So I had to take a little detour from my list and made some use of those bananas.

I gotta say, I have to agree that this cupcake is quite yummy. It’s so light and moist. I couldn’t decide what kind of frosting I wanted to use to complement the banana cupcakes. But then I remember that my hubby brought me those bananas to make banana peanut butter sandwiches for my breakfast. So I thought, why not make peanut butter buttercream? I happened to have some Italian meringue buttercream in my refrigerator. I just mixed that with some peanut butter, to taste. So easy… yet so yummy! I put only a little bit of the buttercream cuz I didn’t want the peanut butter taste to overpower the banana.

I brought them on Saturday to my friend’s house. We were going to the Boiling Crabs for my birthday lunch. The cupcakes received mixed reviews. Maybe next time I’ll try to pair it with a different flavored buttercream. And also I think next time, I would try to not mashed the banana so much. I think I would like it better if I can taste larger chunks of bananas. But for sure this recipe is going to go into my “to keep” folder ^_^.

bolu kukus

The first thing I decided to make from “the list” was bolu kukus. This literally translates to “steamed cake”. Yes, this cake is steamed, not baked. My mom used to always make this cake when I was little. So of course, the recipe that I first chose to use was my mom’s. The ingredients only consists of four things: eggs, flour, sugar, and lemon soda (sprite or 7up). It looks simple enough, or so I thought to myself. Oh gosh, I was so wrong. It turns out that this little steamed cake is quite finicky. My first attempt failed miserably… when I opened the steamer, none of the little cake “smiled”. Instead, they all looked like little mushrooms.

But I refused to give up! After numerous attempts, researching on the Internet, and words of wisdom from my parents and Bertha, I finally got it!

I didn’t want to waste so much eggs while doing my trials, so I used a smaller recipe that I found here. In the end, I'm finding that mixing the batter gently is not really necessary and that it's important to start steaming with very hot boiling water and not to open the lids on the first 20 minutes.

Ooh... and the cute pink pedestal is a birthday gift I got from my friend, Onie. Isn't it so pretty?? Thanks Onie!! ^_^

Friday, September 18, 2009

the birthday list ^_^

Unlike others who celebrate their birthdays getting cakes from other people, I wanted to celebrate mine by making lots and lots of cakes and desserts.

A few days before my birthday weekend, I made a list of some of the dessert I’ve been wanting to make (from hereon will be referred to as “the list”). The plan was to make all the items before my birthday ended. My birthday this year fell on a Monday, and I had taken the day off. My birthday came and gone…. it’s one week after and so far, I’ve only crossed out two items from my 14-things-to-make list ;-P. Hey, at least it’s moving somewhere, right? Hopefully I’ll be able to cross them all out before my next birthday!

So, what's on the list?

These things:
- Chestnut puzzle cake
- Chestnut Mont Blanc
- No-bake green tea cheesecake
- Green tea cupcakes and cream cheese
- Chocolate and Mango Coconut Cream Cake
- Apple turnover
- Mellow
- Gateau Saint-Honore
- Cheese and raisin cake
- Lapis legit
[- Cheese sponge cake] - done!
[- Bolu kukus] - done!
- Fondant

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

crazy about jam!

I had lotsa leftover berries from the dessert table projects.... I didn't know what to do with them, so I just threw them into the freezer until I figured out what I can make with them. I had last Friday off, so I decided to make strawberry jam!!

It's probably the easiest jam out there for expert jam makers. But I've never really made jam before. The extent of my "jamming" skill is only goes as far as a simple pineapple jam for my pineapple tartlets. I know a few people who likes to make jams, and have received some very yummy jams from them. So I had a few empty cute mason jars that I’ve been wanting to use. I took a quick run to the store to buy a few replacement caps, and I was ready to go.

I used a recipe for strawberry conserve from the Cake Bible. I altered the recipe a bit. I added lemon juice and puree the strawberry instead of leaving them in chunks. As I later found out, what I made was more of a preserve instead of conserve. I did a bit of reading on the Internet and learned about the basic differences between jam, preserve, conserve, jelly, and marmalade. Apparently, these different types of “jams” are based on the how the fruit is incorporated into the mixture. Preserve or what people most commonly referred to as jam contains very fine particles of the fruits. So since I puree my strawberry, it can be categorized as preserve. Conserve usually contains chunks of the fruits. Jelly is when you use only the fruit juice, resulting on a clear mixture. There are a few opinions on marmalade. Some website states that marmalade usually contains the rind of the fruit. Some states that marmalade is for citrus fruits like orange, lime, lemon, etc. And another site mentioned that traditional marmalade has a hint of bitterness. I guess if you combine all those, you’ll get a pretty accurate description of what a marmalade is. Wikipedia has a pretty good explanation about the differences types of fruit preserves.

Anyway, back to my jam… the recipe I tried did not use any additional pectin. So… that means it involved quite a long cooking and stirring time. Well, good thing I have the day off, right? ^_^ I then put them into sterilized mason jars, put the tops on, and then immersed the whole thing into boiling water for about 10 minutes. I’m not sure how the physics works, but I guess the difference in temperatures and pressure resulted in a vacuum when the jars are taken out of the water. Here’s a good brief explanation that I found at

How "heat processing" works
: As the filled jar is heated, its contents expand and internal pressure changes take place. These changes allow gasses or air to be "vented" from the jar. After processing, the atmospheric pressure outside the jar is greater than inside due to "venting". This pressure difference causes the lid to be pulled down onto the jar causing a vacuum seal to be formed. The resulting seal prevents microorganisms and air from entering and contaminating the food.

Interesting, eh? I think so. ^_^

Hubby and I ate some with breakfast the next day. It’s pretty yummy! We then took one jar to Half Moon Bay for our weekend gateway, celebrating our 5-year anniversary!

I still have some strawberry in the freezer, so this week I’m planning to make some more with pectin to see how they differ from each other.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

falling in love

I love baking. I really do. I have always known that I enjoy baking, but I just never realize how much it means to me. In the past, it was to entertain me when I was bored. Then it became something that I just chose to do whenever I have free time. But now, it has became something more. It’s what I do; it’s what defines me; it’s part of who I am.

I had another opportunity to make another dessert table one week after the previous one for Milly and Izzy. This time, it’s for another good friends, Patricia and Chris. I was honored, not only because I was making this table for them, but also because I was asked to be Patricia’s bridesmaid. It would seemed like an impossible thing to do, but I am lucky cuz I had helped from two very trustworthy people: my dear hubby and my partner from school, Tingting.

Unlike the previous table, this one consists of more cookies and no candies. The couple are Indonesian, and wanted something somewhat Indonesian. So I made them two of the most well-known cookies in Indonesia, Nastar (pineapple tartlets) and Kastengel (cheese cookies). I really don’t know many other Indonesian cakes and cookies, and those two were the only ones I felt comfortable making; I’ve been helping my mom making them since I was a little girl. Of course the recipes I used are my mom’s recipes.

In addition to those two cookies, Patricia also requested French Macarons and sugar cookies with their initials. I was most nervous about the French Macarons, since I haven’t really got the hang of it. However, they turned out quite well (see previous post of my joy here). Altho I still think they’re a tad too sweet, but being able to get the shape right is a huge leap forward in my opinion.

Surprisingly, the sugar cookies were the ones that gave me most difficulties! I was struggling in getting the right consistencies on my royal icing. It was late, and I was tired. And I stupidly used a piping bag that was previously used for whipped cream!!! For those who don’t know, royal icing must never touch any grease or it will not set. Of course I washed my piping bag, but it turned out there’s some fat residue on it that transferred on to the royal icing. I should’ve used my disposable bag… but again… it was late, I was tired :-P. After a few hours attempting to make it work, I gave up. The next day, I decided to use white chocolate fondant instead. I thought it would be easy. Well… I was wrong. That day was so hot, I was hot, the fondant was hot. It’s pretty hard to keep a heart shape fondant when it’s semi-melting in your hand… hehehehe…. After making about 30 of them, I decided that it was enough…. Time to move on to the initial. You wanna know a little secret? I sux at piping! No lie. I do. I keep telling myself I need to work on it… but I just sux so bad that I frustrated myself when I practice. The extent of my piping skill ends at rosette and shell borders. So I settled with letter cutters. Should be easy, right? Hahaha… no. Sticky fondant, very small cutters, 30 sets of “C”, “&”, “P”. I was ready to give up. But I remember her request. So I refused to give up! The results weren’t so bad, I just couldn’t believe the amount of time it took me to make ‘em.

In addition to the cookies I mentioned above, we also had cheesecake bites, chocolate chip cookies, and fruit tarts and spritz cookies made by Tingting. I love the way she arranged the fruits on the fruit tarts!! I just wanna eat them all… but I couldn’t. Cuz by the time I arrived at the hotel… guess what? They were all gone!!! ^_^

When I got there, I saw my hubby running back to the car. I asked “how’s the setup? Do you need help?”. He said “it’s done and gone”. For a while I could not comprehend what he was saying. Then he said to me “the set up is done, and all of the goods are gone, even the refills”. Again… I was in awe! I ran in, and again I was overwhelmed by all the positive feedback. Many asked for business card, contact info, menu, etc. Wheee…. I’m in cloud 9 again.. ^_^

Thanks to Tingting and hubby. Wouldn’t be able to do it without you! ^_^

Wanna know another little secret? I enjoyed this more than I enjoyed decorating cakes! So hopefully I'll get a chance to do this again in the future!