Chinese birthday cream cake with strawberry mousse filling and fresh fruit

Since I posted about my Chinese birthday cake recipe a few years ago, it’s been my most popular post on the entire blog, and I’m thrilled that so many of you find it helpful! I’ve since made this cake several times for family and friends, and I’ve done a few variations for the original custard filling that have all been great. The simplest is to fill the center with cream and fresh fruit, which allows you to skip the custard-making step entirely. I’ve also made a taro paste filling, which is surprisingly easy to do and very popular in Chinese bakeries (post to come at a later time). Eventually I’d like to do a chestnut paste filling too, which is a favorite from my childhood growing up in Shanghai.

Chinese birthday cream cake with strawberry mousse and fruit filling

Today’s post, keeping in theme with the recent recipes for using fruit, is a Chinese birthday cake with fresh fruit and cream on the outside, and a strawberry mousse with fruit on the inside. As I mentioned in my previous post, I managed to go through 2 pints of strawberries in just 4 days, which is no easy feat when there’s just me and my boyfriend consuming all the food. The first pint went into making the lazy man’s fancy strawberry shortcake. The second pint went into this Chinese birthday cake. Well, technically it wasn’t anybody’s birthday… I just wanted to make this cake to eat, and my boyfriend has never tried my Chinese cakes before, so of course I had to make it for him, birthday or no birthday. I enjoy spoiling him silly :P

The strawberry mouse filling here takes its inspiration from the beautiful strawberry mirror cake. I adapted a couple of strawberry mousse recipes together to fit my needs, and used a springform pan to help form the mousse so that it would sit in-between the cake layers and surround the cake on the outside. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough mousse to cover the entire surface I wanted to cover, but it was easily fixed with a layer of stabilized whipped cream frosting on the outside. The strawberry flavor of the mousse filling really shines through here, and all the fresh fruit along with the moist cake and fresh whipped cream just give the whole cake a refreshing taste, light yet creamy and indulgent at the same time. Even better, I was able to use the leftover macerated strawberry juice from the strawberry shortcake, which was delicious. Now that’s efficiency! I topped the cake with fresh strawberries, golden kiwi (I hadn’t seen this type of kiwi until I came to California, it’s sweeter than the green kiwis), and a few cantaloupe melon balls, which my boyfriend requested, but since I had no melon baller, I had to improvise and scoop them using my measuring spoons! He approved :)

Fresh fruit toppings on the cake

If I were to make this cake again, I would add more gelatin or use less strawberry juice and milk in the mousse because I would have liked it to set up more firmly in the cake. The amount I used here set up more like a very thick yogurt rather than a firm mousse, but I couldn’t determine that until I had let the whole thing set up fully. So without further ado, here is the recipe below. I use the same cake base as my original Chinese bakery style birthday cake, but the filling recipe is described below as well as the assembly process. Have fun!

Chinese birthday cream cake with strawberry mousse and fruit filling



Chinese Birthday Cream Cake with

Strawberry Mousse Filling and Fresh Fruit

(makes a 2-layer cake, 9″ diameter)

For the cake base: please see my previous Chinese bakery style birthday cake recipe. Note: you will need 1 pint total of fresh strawberries for assembling this cake.

For the strawberry mousse: (recipe adapted from Joy of Desserts and Viet World Kitchen)

Ingredients: 

  • 1/3 pint of fresh strawberries (approximately 1 1/3 cups cut up)
  • 1/4 cup macerated strawberry juice (see strawberry shortcake recipe, or you may substitute with more fresh strawberries)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 packet of unflavored gelatin (1 1/4 tsp)
  • 2 tbsp Triple Sec, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier (may substitute with water)
  • 1/8 cup granulated sugar (use 1/4 cup if not adding macerated strawberry juice)
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions:

1. Sprinkle gelatin powder on top of 2 tbsp of liquor or water in a small bowl, allow to soften for at least 5 minutes.

2. Wash and hull strawberries, chop roughly and puree in a blender. I obtained about 1/2 cup of puree. Add macerated strawberry juice and milk to make approximately 1 cup of volume total.

3. Stir in sugar, and heat puree on medium heat until just starting to simmer. Remove from heat, and stir in softened gelatin until it dissolves. Set aside puree in a mixing bowl and allow to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

4. In a separate bowl, whip the heavy whipping cream until soft peaks form (for a firmer mousse, whip until stiff peaks form). Fold whipped cream into the room temperature strawberry puree. Now it is ready to use for the cake!

Assembling the cake:

You will need:

  • 1/3 cup macerated strawberry juice
  • pastry brush
  • 9″ diameter springform pan
  • chopped fresh fruit for the filling of the cake
  • fresh fruit to decorate top of cake
  • stabilized whipped cream (from Chinese bakery style birthday cake recipe)

1. Trim the brown skin off of the cake rounds, and trim the rounds so that they are the same size. Brush both sides of cake rounds and edges generously with macerated strawberry juice. Place  first cake round in a 9″ diameter springform pan (it should sit centered, with a rim of space around the edge).

Cake round in springform pan

2. Pour strawberry mousse over cake, letting it settle in the rims, until there is a 1cm layer of mousse covering the top of the cake.

First mousse layer, starting to put strawberries on top

3. Spread chopped fruit on top of mousse, gently, until covered. Pour more mousse on top and spread to sides. Reserve some mousse for the next layer!

Tons of fruit layered in the middle!

More mousse to cover the fruit layer

4. Place second brushed cake round on top of mousse and fruit filling. Spoon remaining mousse on the side to fill the rim. If you have made enough mousse, ideally it will come up evenly on the side of the cake, but as you can see below, I came up short. I think if you used less mousse in the middle layer that would work too (by placing fruit directly on top of the bottom cake round and then pouring mousse on top, instead of trying to get the fruit in the middle of the layer).

5. Place springform pan into refrigerator and allow to set at least 3 hours (preferably overnight).

6. When ready to unmold cake, take the springform pan out of the refrigerator and wrap a warm wet washcloth around the edges for 30 seconds. Carefully unmold the springform pan ring to release the edges. (Do you see how I didn’t have enough mousse to fill the rims to the top? Oops, underestimated how much mousse I was using in the middle layer. No worries, it’ll get covered with whipped cream frosting!)

Wrap with hot wet towel to unmold cake

Cake unmolded

7. Place cake back in the refrigerator to firm up while you prepare the stabilized whipped cream recipe. Frost the cake around the edges and on top with stabilized whipped cream. Be gentle around the strawberry mousse to avoid disturbing it. You’ll want to frost the top surface of the cake more thickly than the sides, as there is already that rim of strawberry mousse on the sides.

Cake frosted with stabilized whipped cream

8. Finally, decorate top with prepared fresh fruit. Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve. The cake will keep in the fridge for at least 3 days, but hopefully it will be gone long before that! Enjoy!

Chinese birthday cream cake with strawberry mousse and fruit filling


The Lazy Man’s Fancy Strawberry Shortcake

I know, this post sounds like an oxymoron. But ever since I’ve discovered this way of making strawberry shortcake, I have been too lazy to make it from scratch, because it passes so well for made-from-scratch. Now, if you’re really truly lazy, you’ll probably end up making pseudo-strawberry-shortcake, which is that thing where you throw some strawberries on top of those store-bought yellow cake shells and then spray on some whipped cream and call it a day. I think that is so far removed from the original thing that I would call it an entirely different name if I could. I call this recipe a “fancy” strawberry shortcake because it looks like the real thing, and has a good texture and taste that you could definitely serve to your guests for a nice occasion. And it does require a little more work than having everything store-bought, but it is so much easier than making the shortcake from scratch. These strawberry shortcakes helped me use up the first of 2 pints of strawberries, a yummy way to eat my fruit indeed!

lazy man's fancy strawberry shortcake

Anyway, I found the recipe on the back of a box of Bisquick, which I bought to make pancakes on lazy weekends. As it turns out, you can just use the biscuit mix to make the shortcakes, which turn out like big biscuits with a golden crunchy outer crust (actual shortcakes are just the sweeter variation of a biscuit). They also look lovely with their crackly round tops. Just cut them open and fill with macerated strawberries and freshly whipped cream, and you have an impressive dessert that was a total no-brainer and put together quickly just before dinner. Yeah… that’s why I have been too lazy to make these from scratch haha.



Lazy Man’s (Bisquick) Fancy Strawberry Shortcake  (makes 6 shortcakes)

Recipe adapted from Bisquick

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • 3/4 cup sugar (for macerating strawberries)
  • 2 1/3 cup Bisquick mix
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 tbsp sugar (for the shortcakes)
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tbsp powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Two hours in advance of serving the shortcakes, prepare the strawberries. Wash and hull them, and cut into small chunks, reserving some whole strawberries to decorate the tops of your shortcakes. Stir in 3/4 cup sugar and allow to sit at room temperature in a large bowl for 2 hours. Place in refrigerator to chill strawberries if you have time before serving.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, stir together the Bisquick mix, milk, 3 tbsp sugar, and melted butter, stirring until a soft dough forms.

3. Spoon dough in 6 scoops onto an ungreased baking sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes, until tops are a golden brown. Remove from oven and cool slightly on baking sheet.

4. Meanwhile, whip the heavy whipping cream with the powdered sugar until the consistency of whipped cream, about 3 minutes.

5. To serve, split open warm shortcakes with a knife, and fill with macerated strawberries and whipped cream. They get a little crumbly when you cut them open, so I like to throw the extra crumbs on top of the whipped cream for decoration. You may save the leftover shortcakes after they have cooled off in an airtight container, and microwave them briefly to warm them up before assembling more shortcakes (my boyfriend’s suggested this and it was great). Delicious and easy!

p.s. You can totally save the juice from the macerated strawberries and use them for other things – drizzled on top of the shortcakes or other desserts, reduced on the stove with the addition of some cornstarch slurry to make a thicker strawberry sauce, or put it into the recipe for a strawberry mousse as I did :)


Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

Okay, I’m not joking when I say that my boyfriend’s condo is overflowing with fresh fruit. I just recently did away with the cherries, as well as 2 pints of strawberries, and now these cheesecake bars are my solution to the giant box of blueberries his parents gave us when they left for vacation last week. We still have an insane number of peaches, plums, mangoes, and apricots. Maybe I can squeeze in something with the mangoes before I leave California this weekend… In any case, my goal was to make a dessert that would use up the blueberries and only ingredients I had on hand, which included a box of cream cheese and a lemon, both things I bought in anticipation of baking and now need to get rid of before I leave. Wouldn’t you know it, Tyler Florence apparently had the same thought I did, and has generously shared with the world a recipe for lemon blueberry cheesecake bars. My lucky day!

Lemon blueberry cheesecake bars

These bars are super easy to make, and has 5 stars with over 100 reviews, so a pretty sure bet if you’re baking for a BBQ or a potluck. My only qualm was that I thought the tartness of the lemon in the cheesecake was a bit much for me, but I’m not a fan of sour things in general, and I cringe whenever I have to eat fruit that is not very sweet and ripe. I don’t even really like sorbets because they’re too sour for me, shrug. But with some good summer blueberries and a heavenly crust, these creamy bars are a wonderful treat. My boyfriend said it tastes just like cheesecake, except it took me so much less effort! I halved Tyler’s recipe because I only had 1 box of cream cheese, and it made 8 bars that were about 2×2″, which I think is the perfect size. I also made a few minor changes, including adding more butter and cinnamon to the crust, using neufchatel instead of regular cream cheese, and adding more blueberries than called for (I was trying to use them up!) It all worked out well, and the crust was sturdy and rich. Just the way I like it!

Lemon blueberry cheesecake bars



Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars (makes 8 bars, 2×2″ each)

Recipe adapted from Tyler Florence

Ingredients:

For the base:

  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 5 sheets graham crackers
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 8 oz. (1 box) cream cheese (I used the 1/3 less fat neufchatel), at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 small lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and dried
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9×5″ bread pan, and line with parchment, leaving tails to allow you to pull the bars out of the pan later. Press and fold the parchment to make neat corners in the pan.

2. Prepare the crust first – in a blender, grind the graham crackers until you get fine crumbs. Pour out into a bowl, and stir in the 1 tbsp sugar and 1/8 tsp cinnamon. Add the melted butter and stir well to distribute evenly.

3. Pour the crumbs into the bottom of the baking pan, and press down evenly with the bottom of a flat glass (I used a shot glass because it was nice and small for getting into corners). Bake in the oven for 12 minutes until golden. Set aside to cool.

4. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In a mixing bowl, stir together the egg, 1/2 cup sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add the room temperature cream cheese, and beat on low with an electric beater until the mixture is smooth. Pour filling into the pan on top of the crust, then sprinkle the blueberries on top. If you are using as much blueberries as I am, you will basically cover the entire top with blueberries. They will sink about halfway into the filling.

5. Bake for 30 minutes at 325 degrees F, or until the center only slightly jiggles (I could not tell with all the blueberries on top, so I just went with 30 minutes, which is 5 minutes less than the original recipe in a 9×9″ pan). Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan. Then place pan in the refrigerator and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight to set.

6. When set, gently remove the bars from the pan by lifting the parchment lining. Cut into bars and dust with powdered sugar to serve.

Lemon blueberry cheesecake bars

Lemon blueberry cheesecake bars


Cherry Clafoutis

We are in the midst of summer, and as I am spending some time visiting my boyfriend in California, the fruit here is overwhelmingly sweet and abundant. Cherries are in season, and we had some guests over last week who brought us a big bag of sweet bing cherries, which had us worried because cherries don’t last very long in the fridge. If only I had an ice cream maker, I would have made cherry vanilla ice cream, one of my favorite flavors growing up. My boyfriend asked me what I could bake cherries into, and of course cherry pies and cobblers came to mind, but I remembered a French dessert that I had read about but never made before, the cherry clafoutis.

Fresh cherries

“Kla-foo-tee”, that’s how it’s pronounced in French. The clafoutis is a custard cake baked with fruit, a French countryside dessert/breakfast cake that was traditionally made with unpitted cherries. The pits of the cherries lend the clafoutis an almond flavor, but make it difficult to eat, so these days cherry clafoutis generally uses pitted cherries, but of course lack the almond aroma. The cake is a combination of a custard and crepe batter, baked so that the center is still custard-y and the edges are browned and chewy. It’s a delicious combination of flavors and textures, and versatile enough to be served for breakfast, brunch, or dessert. Its only drawback is that it should be served fresh and warm, because I’ve heard it’s not as good later (I can’t confirm this fact, since… we ate our entire cherry clafoutis straight out of the oven… oops!) Yeah, it was really good warm haha. Making the clafoutis worked out well for our need to use up the fresh cherries – this dessert uses a lot of them (I used up 24 cherries for a 4-serving portion!), and accommodates for either fresh or frozen/jarred cherries. Plus you don’t need any fancy ingredients and everything comes together pretty quickly once you’ve pitted your cherries.

My recommendation, if you decide to make your own cherry clafoutis, is to pit the cherries ahead of time (I did mine the night before while watching TV), so that when you wake up in the morning to throw this together, you’ll have gotten the hard part out of the way already. And if you have almond extract, add a touch of it to really bring out the flavors. Just… don’t forget about your milk on the stove like I did heh, burnt milk is never a fun thing.

Cherry clafoutis



Cherry Clafoutis (serves 4)

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. fresh cherries, a little more than 1 cup or about 20-25 cherries, stemmed and pitted (see step 1 below)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp heavy whipping cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp finely grated orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • Powdered sugar for serving

Directions:

1. If you are using fresh cherries, pit them first (unless you want to go traditional, in which case I would warn your loved ones lest they break a tooth). If you have a cherry pitter, well I’m envious lol. Otherwise you can just use your hands, by making a slit at the tip of the cherry with your thumbnail and then digging out the pit. Watch out for cherry juice, it stains pretty well. If cherries are not in season, you can also use pitted frozen cherries or bottled cherries, just thaw/drain and proceed the same way.

Pitted cherries

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9×5″ bread pan (or you can use a 7″ tart or cake pan, as well as smaller ramekins, depending on your preference).Line the bottom of the pan with the pitted cherries.

3. Combine the milk and heavy cream in a small saucepan and heat on medium heat until just starting to simmer (watch it carefully, it’ll boil over fast!) Set aside.

4. Mix together eggs, flour, sugar, orange zest, vanilla, and salt in a separate bowl. Slowly whisk in the hot milk mixture, to prevent cooking the eggs. Stir until smooth, the batter will be thin. Gently pour the custard batter over the cherries in the pan, tap the pan if needed to let the batter settle.

Cherry clafoutis ready to bake

5. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the tops are a golden brown. The clafoutis will puff up in the oven, and the edges may get more browned than the center, but you’ll want to make sure the center starts to just brown lightly so that you know it’s set. The cherries will give off their juice during the baking process as well. Whatever you do, try not to open the oven door, because the clafoutis will deflate when you do. So save that for when you are done baking.

Cherry clafoutis

6. Remove pan from oven, allow to cool for 3 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges to release from the pan (I didn’t even need to do this, the shrinking of the clafoutis did that by itself). Cut into wedges and serve warm with a dusting of powdered sugar. Enjoy!

Slice of cherry clafoutis

 


P.S. I apologize for the lack of posts lately, it’s been a busy year of medical school, and only now am I finally finding some time to update. I still have so much that I’ve made that I want to post, and at the same time I am making more goodies, so the posts will trickle in as I find time to squeeze it in. Thanks for reading!


Coconut Tapioca Pudding with Mango and Toasted Coconut

Yesterday, my friend who lives down the hall from me came and knocked on my door. She was holding a can of unsweetened coconut milk that she purchased on a whim because she thought it might be interesting to drink. Heh… after the first few sips I think she realized that this stuff isn’t for drinking :P She asked me if I knew of anything I could make with coconut milk so that it wouldn’t go to waste, so I went about looking for dessert ideas that would not require me going out to shop for ingredients. I wanted the coconut milk to be the star of the show, since I had a whole can to use up, which made an Asian dessert the most likely candidate. I did not have any frozen taro on hand to make the taro sago dessert I have made before, but I did have some mini tapioca balls left over from the last time I made taro sago. A quick search for Thai desserts using coconut milk yielded several recipes for a thick and creamy coconut tapioca pudding with either bananas or mangoes, which sounded divine to me. (The other option was coconut dulce de leche, which also sounds amazing and I bookmarked it for another time, yum.)

Coconut tapioca pudding with mango and toasted coconut

I have never made tapioca pudding on my own before, but there’s always a first time for everything! This recipe is super simple and makes for a surprisingly rich and velvety pudding that leads with its coconut flavor in every spoonful. If you are a coconut lover, I promise you will go nuts for this pudding. I combined ideas from several different recipes I saw online, adapting the pudding itself while adding mango chunks and toasted shredded coconut for a more sophisticated, Thai-inspired flavor. This coconut tapioca pudding is so easy to put together and yet has several components that come together for an elegant and tropical presentation, I’m sure you will impress your guests when you serve it as a finale to your Asian-themed dinner. For bonus style points, I also highly suggest serving it in classy martini glasses!

Coconut tapioca pudding with mango and toasted coconut



Coconut Tapioca Pudding with Mango and Toasted Coconut (serves 4)

Recipe adapted from Allrecipes and About.com

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup dry mini tapioca
  • 1 can (14 oz.) of unsweetened coconut milk (not coconut cream or cream of coconut)
  • 1/2 cup milk (adjust amount as needed)
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed light brown sugar (I would use even less next time)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup cubed mango chunks
  • Sweetened shredded coconut for garnish

Directions:

1. Soak mini tapioca in lukewarm water for 15-20 minutes, stirring once or twice. Strain excess water and place tapioca in a medium saucepot.

2. Reserve 2-3 tbsp of coconut milk and set aside. Pour remaining coconut milk into the pot with the tapioca. Add salt, and gently stir contents while bringing them to a boil on high heat.

3. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10-15 minutes until tapioca are completely translucent in the center and the pudding has thickened up, stirring occasionally. You may add the milk in small amounts until you reach a pudding consistency that you like. Halfway through the simmering process, stir in the brown sugar until dissolved. Note: you may use granulated sugar if you would like your coconut tapioca pudding to be a whiter color, otherwise the brown sugar will make the pudding a light caramel shade.

cooking the pudding

4. Meanwhile, cover a baking sheet with foil and spread a thin layer of sweetened shredded coconut on top. Toast in a 350 degree oven on the lower rack just until most of the coconut starts to turn a light brown (it took about 6 minutes for me). Toss briefly and then remove from oven to cool. Keep an eye on that coconut because it will burn fast if you don’t pay attention! (Also, I never knew that toasted sweetened shredded coconut could taste so good, it’s kind of like crack! Me and my friend who was helping me could not stop munching on it!)

toasted sweetened shredded coconut

4. Once your pudding is done cooking after you have adjusted for taste and consistency with the milk, remove pudding from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

5. Assemble your pudding when you are ready to serve it (it was delicious warm but you may also consider chilling it first also). Spoon the pudding into your bowl, top with toasted shredded coconut and chopped mango pieces. Finally, drizzle on your reserved coconut milk to finish it all off, and serve immediately. Enjoy!!

coconut tapioca pudding with mango and toasted coconut


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