Category Archives: baking

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!

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Ultimate Carrot Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting (Lightened)

Crisp fall weather has set in for good, and Halloween has passed, which means a fast-paced few weeks until that amazing celebration of all things delicious, Thanksgiving. This year, I am extra excited for Thanksgiving, because not only will I get the chance to see my family for the first time since June, but I will also get to see my boyfriend at the same time because he’s flying out to Massachusetts to spend the holiday weekend us! The past two Thanksgivings that I’ve had since starting medical school have been away from home, so I really miss being home with my family and being able to help make Thanksgiving dinner. Just three more weeks, I can’t wait!

A slice of heaven

Whenever I think of fall, Thanksgiving, winter and Christmas all rolled into one nook of the year that I simply consider “the holidays”, the warm spicy aroma of cinnamon is the scent that defines it best for me. It is no surprise then, that the end of the year always feels like the right time to make a big bountiful carrot cake from scratch to share with family and friends. I still remember the first time I was introduced to carrot cake, baked by a beloved woman whose name is also Lucy. We fondly call her “old Lucy”, which is “老Lucy” in Chinese, (versus myself as little Lucy/小Lucy) to differentiate the two of us. Although she is my friend’s grandmother, she is just like another grandmother to me, she watched me grow up and always supported me in my endeavors. She was the first Asian woman that I had ever met in my young life who could bake Western style cakes, since she worked as a housekeeper for a Jewish family at the time. Looking back on it, I really was very impressed by her ability to bake, and unconsciously her skill was probably one that I aspired to. I remember being incredulous as a kid, resisting the suggestion to try this carrot cake, and ultimately realizing that it tasted nothing like carrots at all. In fact, I always remembered it being one of the most moist cakes I had ever tried, no doubt owing to the insane amount of oil used in making carrot cake ;)

In any case, last year I was home visiting the family when I decided that it was finally time for me to tackle my own decadent carrot cake. I’ve made some simple recipes that turned out so-so carrot cake. Especially those “light” carrot cakes that end up tasting more like cardboard than anything else. But this time, I really wanted it to be the irresistible kind you see in a big glass cake stand in the cozy neighborhood bakery, the kind of carrot cake where you just have to get a slice because it practically literally has your name on it. You know who I turn to when I want the best, most indulgent recipes? America’s Test Kitchen. Maybe it’s my Massachusetts hometown bias, since they are based in Newton, MA after all, but I just love how meticulous and well-tested their recipes are. The recipes are shared in their Cooks Illustrated magazine on a regular basis. I found the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, as well as one for a lightened version also done by them, and I proceeded to tinker a little with them to find a happy medium between the two, which I call the Ultimate Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (Lightened). You see, it tastes exactly like an indulgent slice of full-fat carrot cake, but it actually is lightened to some degree, and that’s why “lightened” is only carried in parentheses :P Needless to say, carrot cake isn’t diet food, no matter how many carrots you stick in there. But if you want to make a beautiful, moist cake that will be perfect for the holidays and is sure to please, you just can’t go wrong. Don’t let the long ingredient list scare you, this is the ultimate carrot cake we’re talking about, remember? All this good stuff in it is what makes the cake so darned amazing. And pretty please, make it as a two-layer round cake, because it looks that much more incredible (especially if your decorating skills are good, unlike mine heh). Also, the picture below was taken using my dad’s DSLR… I asked him to focus on the tip of the pirouette, and realized later that the front of the cake was out of focus, oops. Still learning!

Ultimate carrot cake with cream cheese frosting


Ultimate Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (Lightened) (makes one 2-layered 9″ cake, serves 8-12)

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated original and light recipes, shared on Sunday Nite Dinner.

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (optional, as I didn’t have any on hand)
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups carrots (approx 5 medium carrots), peeled and shredded
  • 8 oz. crushed pineapple, drained
  • 2 handfuls of sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

For the frosting: (you may want to make more frosting, as this amt is not enough to cover the entire cake, only top and middle)

  • 8 oz. light cream cheese, softened
  • 3 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/3 cup (6 oz.) confectioner’s sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch round baking pans (or a single 9×13 pan) with vegetable oil. Line bottom of pan with parchment and brush oil on top.

2. In a bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg; set aside.

3. In a separate large bowl, beat eggs, vanilla, granulated and brown sugars on medium-high with an electric beater until thoroughly combined, about 45 seconds. Reduce speed to low; with mixer running, add oil in a slow, steady stream. Increase speed to high and mix until mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 45 to 60 seconds longer.

4. Turn off beaters, and using a spatula, fold in the flour mixture into the wet batter until just combined (do not over-stir). Towards the end, stir in the carrots, pineapple, coconut, raisins, and walnuts until mixed in.

5. Pour into cake pan and bake until toothpick or skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. On a wire rack, cool cake to room temperature in pan, about 1  hour.

6. For the frosting, mix cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl at medium high speed with electric beater until well combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add confectioners’ sugar and mix until very fluffy, about 1 minute.

7. Run paring knife around edge of cakes to loosen from pan. Invert cakes onto wire rack, peel off parchment, then invert again onto serving platter. Frost cake layers as desired (note the amount of frosting called for above is enough to frost just the top and middle of a 2-layer cake; I would double the frosting recipe if you intend to cover the entire cake).

Ultimate carrot cake with cream cheese frosting

Enjoy this ultimate carrot cake with a warm mug of spicy tea (or with a tall glass of milk at midnight if that is your style). The cake layers are moist and fluffy, with an abundance of flavor in each bite being contributed by the carrots, coconut, pineapple, raisins, and walnuts (you can see the ingredients right in the cake in the above picture!) And the cream cheese frosting is amazing… lightened up by quite a bit so that it is not cloying, and instead maintains the wonderful tang of cream cheese with a sweetness that complements the cake such that you’ll want some in each forkful. Dust on some cocoa or cinnamon on top and decorate with some whole walnuts for a nice fall look, and you can even throw on a chocolate pirouette for contrast like I did, or a cinnamon stick would work too. Some flaked coconut would be nice too for winter especially if you decide to frost the sides. Yummm…


Starbucks inspired butterscotch scones with blackberries

A couple of months ago, I was picking up some free pastries being served at a conference when I fell in love with a caramel scone on my plate. In fact it was so good that I decided the next day that I must try and make this same scone. It had this delicious rich buttery toffee flavor and was just right paired with a cup of coffee. Or tea, or even milk. That’s the one thing that a scone always needs, a beverage to go with it because it lacks the moistness and sweetness of a dessert or pastry that stands alone. But with the right cup of goodness on hand, a scone is just wonderful. Don’t make the same mistake as me and eat scones on their own, wondering why they are so dry and lacking in flavor :P

Butterscotch scones with blackberries

When I was visiting my family a while back, I decided to try and make some caramel scones, but not knowing where to start, I decided that a recipe for Starbucks’ caramel scones would be a solid one to try. It requires a food processor for efficiency, but it’s doable with some elbow grease if you are so inclined (which I am not lol). As it turns out, these scones don’t use real caramel, instead they rely on butterscotch chips for their caramel flavor, hence why I named this recipe “butterscotch scones”.  And since berries were in season in June when I made these, I could not resist putting in some delicious fresh blackberries in my scones. If you don’t have fresh berries, some dried cranberries or raisins would do just as well too, I just really like a little fruity tartness to go with the toffee flavor of the scones. The fresh berries also made the scones more moist, which I thought was a plus. I unfortunately over-baked my scones a little with the eggwash on top, so they came out a bit more brown than I would have expected, and I think maybe this has to do with me not following the directions exactly because apparently it wanted you to use 2 layers of baking sheets, oops. And in case you didn’t know, putting cut up blackberries into a batter tints the batter a blueish-black color, which may be a little odd to you… so use blueberries, raspberries, or dried fruit instead if you want more natural-looking scones and don’t want your little brother to pick one up and go “eww…” haha.

Butterscotch scone with blackberries

These Starbucks inspired scones are not quite like the one I tried at the conference, which was a bit sweeter, but these were really good for breakfast or an afternoon snack, especially after I drizzled butterscotch and white chocolate on top. As it turns out, scones are not that hard to make, I just am not very good at making them look as pretty as the ones they sell in stores heh. But these are so much more satisfying than the usual breakfast fare of cereal or granola bars that we eat when we’re in a rush, so it’s totally worth the effort!

Butterscotch scones with blackberries



Butterscotch Scones with Blackberries (makes 16 large scones)

Recipe adapted from Starbucks Secret Recipes

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut up into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup milk or cream (up to 1 cup as needed)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1 cup blackberries, chopped coarsely
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  • Additional butterscotch chips and white chocolate chips for drizzled topping

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Spray a large double-layered baking sheet (2 stacked on top of each other) with non-stick cooking spray.

2. In a food processor, pulse together flour and cold butter cubes until it comes together in a fine crumb. Remove and place in large mixing bowl.

Pulsed flour and butter

3.  Stir in sugar, salt, and baking powder.

4. Add milk, vanilla, and egg, and stir until just combined (do not over-mix or else scones will be tough). It should be the consistency of a soft dough, you can add more milk (up to 1 cup total) if your batter seems too dry to come together.

5. Gently fold in butterscotch chips and chopped blackberries.

Mixing in butterscotch chips and blackberries

6. Divide batter to make 16 scones, and form them into shapes of your liking on your greased baking sheet. Brush each scone with beaten egg white.

Scones formed on the baking sheet

7. Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. Remove from oven and cool completely on wire rack. (See how they came out much more brown than you’d expect?)

Scones after baking

8. Melt butterscotch chips and white chocolate chips according to package instructions, and drizzle on tops to decorate. Serve with coffee, tea, or milk, and enjoy! :)

Butterscotch scones with blackberries


Caramelized onion and goat cheese phyllo tarts with fresh basil

Summer is in full swing, and the basil plant that I acquired a month ago has been reminding me of its bright and refreshing flavor with its bountiful jewel-green leaves. Ever since I got this plant, I’ve been in love with fresh basil. I tear up a leaf or two and sprinkle it on top of my rice when I eat my meals, and it adds a hint of fresh flavor that reminds me of eating at a Thai restaurant. When I water my basil, the smell of the leaves always reminds me of delicious appetizer skewers of cherry tomatoes with balls of mozzarella and basil leaves, all drizzled with the most luscious balsamic vinegar. And one of these days, I am going to harvest a big handful of basil to make the freshest, most flavorful pesto sauce, mmm.

fresh basil

Last week when my boyfriend was in town visiting for the July 4th long weekend, we were discussing options for a night of cooking in when I remembered a recipe for goat cheese tarts with sweet onions and thyme that I saw on the Serious Eats French in a Flash column. They sounded like the perfect appetizers to go with a pasta dinner that we were planning. I was particularly excited about the goat cheese, as I had just recently bought a small pyramid of spreadable Chavrie (goat’s milk cheese) and had not thought of a good way to use it yet. And instead of thyme, the thought of the bright taste of fresh basil paired with this tart made my mouth water. The original recipe also calls for using frozen puff pastry for the tart bases, but I had some frozen phyllo dough that I’ve been wanting to use instead, which I thought would add a dimension of lightness to the appetizer as well. My inspiration for adding honey to the tarts came from the multiple experiences I have had with restaurant appetizers that wonderfully pair the salty creaminess of cheese with the sweetness of fruit and honey, such as with baked brie and sheep’s milk ricotta. So thus was born the concept of crispy flaky squares of phyllo dough topped with soft caramelized onions, basil, goat cheese, and a drizzle of honey to bring all the flavors together.

In execution, this recipe is actually pretty straight-forward. But do plan ahead, as it takes about an hour to make these tarts, although most of the time is spent waiting, with some stirring here and there, so it is definitely an appetizer that is great to make alongside your main dish and it will be piping hot and ready to serve just when you are finishing up your cooking. If you have never used phyllo dough before, fear not! This recipe was my first time using my frozen phyllo dough as well, and although the directions on the box sounded scary and involved, the actual preparation of the dough was very easy. It would help immensely if you have a pastry brush to brush the phyllo layers with oil, but if you are a poor student like me, the back side of a big soup spoon will do just fine too :) These tarts were so good hot out of the oven, even my boyfriend who doesn’t like cheese enjoyed these. The flavors come together to be savory, the textures of the soft cheese and onions contrast with the crisp phyllo dough, and the hint of richness from the goat cheese is balanced by the brightness of the basil and the touch of honey. I will be keeping this recipe for the future when I want to serve French hors d’oeuvres at a dinner party, and I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do!

caramelized onion and goat cheese phyllo tart with fresh basil



Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Phyllo Tarts

with Fresh Basil (makes 6 small tarts, serves 2-3)

Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 large yellow onion, thinly sliced into bite-sized strips
  • 2 sprigs fresh basil, about 20 leaves
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 oz spreadable goat cheese (Chavrie brand is the easiest to find at grocery stores)
  • 20 sheets of 9×14″ frozen phyllo dough, freshly thawed and cut in half (approx 9×7″, or 4 oz. by weight)
  • grape seed or olive oil for cooking and brushing on phyllo
  • honey to garnish

Directions:

1. In a skillet on medium heat, gently saute onions with 1/2 tbsp of grape seed oil, stirring often, for 15 minutes.

2. Tear up the leaves from 1 sprig of basil (about 10 leaves) and add to skillet along with brown sugar. Stir to mix well, and continue to cook for an additional 10 minutes. Turn down the heat slightly if the onions are browning too quickly.

3. Remove onions from heat and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

4. Prepare thawed phyllo dough on a clean cutting board. Layer one sheet of phyllo on top of the next, brushing each layer with a light coating of grape seed oil (it does not need to coat entire sheet, but do brush enough to ensure that each sheet adheres to the next. When all 20 sheets have been layered together, use a sharp chef’s knife and cut into approximately 6 squares.

5. Line a baking pan with foil, and spread phyllo dough squares into pan. Top each square with onions, then the goat cheese.

assembled tarts ready to bake

6. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees F until the phyllo bakes to a golden color.

tarts done baking

7. Remove tarts and serve warm, drizzled with honey and garnished with torn fresh basil. Enjoy!

And just for completeness sake, this was the delicious main dish that followed the appetizers,  made by my boyfriend. A hearty whole wheat penne with chicken thigh, onions, mushrooms, and basil in a vodka sauce. Such a good dinner… I think he should come visit and cook for me more often :)

chicken with whole wheat penne in vodka sauce


Peach Dump Cake

I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of person who often craves a sweet bite at the end of a meal or later at night. I fully realize that this isn’t doing me any favors, and so I try pretty hard to prevent catastrophe by resisting from buying any snacks or junk food when I’m at the grocery store. Instead, I buy fruit and tell myself that when I’m craving sweets, I can just reach over and eat a pear or an orange. Right, but I must be delusional whenever I go grocery shopping, because whenever I happen to be actually craving dessert, I never ever feel like having fruit. Let’s not even get into how much of my well-intentioned fruit purchases go to waste. Anyway, I came across a post on Bakerella about peach dump cake (which she politely re-termed “peach crunch cake”), and the fact that it was so incredibly easy to make pretty much sold me on it. The one thing I value the most these days is time, and if I can crank out a dessert with minimal time and effort, then I am a happy camper.

I can’t rave enough about how much of a no-brainer this cake is. Though it’s definitely more like a peach cobbler/crisp than an actual “cake”. But I’m okay with that. All you need is canned peaches, boxed cake mix, butter, brown sugar, and optional nuts (I used cashews because that was all I had on hand, which came out quite nice). Seriously, that’s it. It’s called dump cake precisely because you practically just dump the ingredients in a baking pan, one after the other. Then bake and you’re done! And it was really delicious, especially warm right out of the oven. The only thing I didn’t like about the recipe was that it had too much sugar in it, so it was too sweet, especially when served with ice cream. I ended up eating it with some plain yogurt to help temper the sweetness, which worked out quite well. On the bright side, that meant that only a few bites of the dump cake was enough to satisfy my sweet tooth, and that actually was kind of nice for the purposes of getting that thrill of dessert without really indulging. In any case, I did reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe below. Dump cake is normally made with canned cherries and pineapple, but I liked the idea of canned peaches instead. You can substitute real fruit or other canned fruits of your choice (I imagine cocktail fruit would be great), and mix and match the cake mix as you please. I’ve heard that a black forest version of this cake using canned cherries and chocolate cake mix is delicious, mmm. Enjoy!!

Peach Dump Cake (serves 8-12) adapted from Bakerella

Ingredients:

1 large can sliced peaches in light syrup (approx 29 oz.)
1 box yellow cake mix
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used cashews)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour canned peaches, along with syrup, into a 9×13″ baking pan, leaving out just 1/2 cup of the syrup. Gently cut up the peach slices into smaller chunks, and spread out evenly in pan.

2. Spread the yellow cake mix over the top of the peaches, covering evenly.

3. Cut up butter into 16 pieces and spread over the top of the cake mix.

4. Sprinkle brown sugar and chopped nuts over the top of the cake mixture. That’s all there is to the prep work!

5. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees F, and remove to cool slightly before serving.

Dig in! Top with whipped cream, ice cream, or serve plain. The dump cake can be deserved cooled as well, but the top will be most crispy within the first day or two. I had the pan sitting in my room and would sneak spoonfuls of the dump cake whenever I was bored or craving sweets. Mmmm. :)


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