Category Archives: cakes

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


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!


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…


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