Nian Gao(粘糕)~


During Chinese New Year, people eat nian gao (粘糕) a sticky rice cake whose name also sounds like the Chinese words 年高. Cleverly named, nian gao can also take on the meaning that each “year is taller” wishing the person who eats it a better year than the one before.

I was visiting my boyfriend’s parents for Chinese New Year the first time I tried this dessert…and I fell in love. Sticky glutinous rice cake (already my favorite thing in the world), with sweet red beans (another favorite of mine), and coconut (ANOTHER FAVORITE!). By the time I was halfway finished with the cake, I was already sent off into chewy, coconuty bliss…call me a food nerd…I know its true.

I am not sure which was the most motivation for me make the recipe myself…that fact I caught myself daydreaming about it days after I tried it and craving it like no other…or the urge to recreate the experience for my family (also of Chinese descent). I scoured recipes, trying to find the best one, but I was left disappointed. None of the recipes included coconut milk unless it was a baked version (my oven is currently un-usable…) and most of the recipes used the traditional method of steaming. So, I took information from the recipes I could find and I changed it to my needs…

Nian Gao Recipe

3 cups red beans
3/4 cup sugar
4 cup water
16 oz. glutinous rice flour
1 cup coconut milk

Soak red beans over night with enough water to cover them. The next day drain the beans and place in a medium sauce pan and add 4 cups of water. Simmer on low heat for 1 1/2 hours or until beans are soft and cooked through. Add the sugar to the beans. Taste. Adjust the sweetness to your own taste. Cool the mixture.

Red beans

After the beans have cooled, put the glutinous flour into a large mixing bowl. Add 1 1/4 cup sugar. Add 2 cups of red beans (including the liquid) to the flour. Fold together. Add 1 cup of coconut milk and fold again. If the mixture looks dry add some of the bean liquid one spoon at a time folding in between additions. The dough should look sticky, gummy, and not runny.

Pour mixture into two 8 inch pie pans lined with parchment paper (the parchment paper will stick out from underneath the dough). Place in a steamer and steam for 1 1/2 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (since the dough is naturally sticky…”clean” assumes that some of the cake will still stick to the toothpick but it should not be runny and it will be translucent).

Toast coconut in a dry pan and sprinkle on top of nian gao. Serve.

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Chocolate Lover’s Fantasy 2010

I’m so glad to be writing posts again! School has been incredibly busy for me and I haven’t had time to post…I am going to try very hard to put something up regularly, despite how much school work I have…Besides that, I officially changed my major to Culinology and, honestly, I have never been happier. Just like most college students, I struggled with deciding what I wanted to do with my life. My mom always advised me to “follow my heart” and, as easy as that sounds, it’s the most difficult yet the best advice to follow. However, in the end, I discovered what it truly means to “follow your heart”…it took my whole life of experiences for my heart to know what it wanted and then it took the last few years for me to decode my heart’s language and to find the courage to listen… 
This February was the annual Chocolate Lover’s Fantasy at the Embassy Suites in my hometown. The convention hosted chefs from local restaurants, each of which put on a displays with tastings. I thought it would be a good experience for me to be around other food lovers and to see what kind of creativity chefs bring to a very well-known medium: chocolate.

The first table I made a stop at was Embassy Suites.  I was so impressed (and my stomach was so anxious) by their tartlets.  Plus, all the flavor combinations were very creative. 

Embassy Suites' Table

 My favorite were the two below…

A dark chocolate ganache with a hazelnut cream cheese topping

Milk chocolate pudding tart with raspberry mousse and sprinkles

 These are some more from the Embassy Suites table…

Bakalava with chocolate and almonds

Mango-chile chocolate with pomegranate mousse

The next table was Russ’s Market (with a poor woman trying to fill cannoli on the spot and keep up with demand).

Russ's Market

 Then came Sweet Pea’s Bakery…the table was filled with mini cupcakes!!  They were so adorable.  People love small desserts because then they’ll have room to try other flavors…and by having mini cupcakes this is achieved.  The next time my friends come over…I want to do this for them!

Sweet Pea's Bakery

Chocolate cupcake with chocolate ganache frosting

Red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting

 Another table was Lazlo’s Brewery and Grill.  Their theme was “Pretty in Pink” :]  They had pink cotton candy spun on cookie sticks and homemade caramel dipped in chocolate with pink Himalayan sea salt (the combination of salt and caramel was sooo goood).

Lazlo's Bar and Grill

Other restaurants represented that night was the Red Onion Grill, Dish, Runza, The Mill, the Cup, Venue, and Colby Ridge Popcorn.

The night was really fun (despite the fact I went alone).  I came home with my sweet tooth overly satisfied and brought home a few samples for the fam :]

Piped Sugar Cookie Flowers and Butterflies

Currently, my oven is leaking gas…which means I can’t bake until it’s fixed!  How depressing…

So I managed to find some old pictures of piped sugar cookies I had made last year as practice for a craft fair table I was going to have.  The craft fair idea didn’t hold through, but I learned how to pipe sugar cookies.  A time-consuming yet fun and rewarding process.  I surprised my close friend with some of these cookies and it made me feel good to know that I left her with a happy stomach, a smile on her face, and a rejuvenated spirit.  There is almost nothing better than eating something delicious from someone who cares about you.  Give these cookies as a gift, packed in a treat bag and tied with a ribbon.  Or just keep them for yourself!  There’s no harm in that. 😉

Recipe:

Makes about 7 large cutout cookies.  This recipe adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan.
For the dough:

1/2 teas. salt
1/2 teas. baking powder
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teas.vanilla extract

For the Royal Icing:

4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons meringue powder
6 Tablespoons water
Wilton’s Gel Food Coloring

Tools:

At least one Wilton’s #3 piping tip
At least one pastry bag with coupler
(If you want to pipe multiple colors, having more than one piping tip and bag will be necessary. One bag and tip for each color is ideal, but not necessary-read recipe for more info)

Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder together in a bowl.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add sugar and beat for 2 minutes, until mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute until incorporated. Beat in vanilla. Reduce mixer speed to low, slowly add the flour and mix until just incorporated. Finish blending the dough with a rubber spatula (you don’t want to over mix sugar cookie dough).

Divide the dough in half and place each half on a piece of plastic. Shape dough into a disk and wrap. Refrigerate the dough for about 2 hours, until chilled. Once dough is chilled, keep the plastic on and using a rolling-pin, roll each disk until it’s 1/4 inch thick. Cut cookies out with cookie cutter and place them on a cookie sheet about 1/2 inch apart.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake them in the oven for 9-11 minutes until firm and still pale. Let them cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute and then transfer them to a cooling rack until they are room temperature. Cookies must be at room temperature before piping frosting on them.

Repeat with the rest of the dough, cooling the cookie sheets between each batch. The dough can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

While cookies are cooling, make the royal icing. Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix for 7-10 minutes or until the icing loses its shine. This consistency of icing is perfect for piping outlines on the cookies. If you would like to have different colored icing, separate icing in smaller bowls for each color you want to have. Having many colors to pipe gets tricky when you don’t own many piping tips and bags. However, it is do-able. If anything, you can have many piping bags and only one or two #3 piping tips (just clean and interchange the piping tips between colors).

Pipe an outline on the cookie with desired color and let icing dry. Repeat with all the cookies.

With left over icing, add a few drops of water at a time, mixing after each addition until the icing becomes a liquid consistency. To test the consistency of the icing, let some of the icing drop into the bowl. Count to 10 seconds, the droplet should have disappeared in exactly that amount of time.

To fill the cookies in with the thinner royal icing, drizzle a small amount over the entire cookie. Use a toothpick to push the icing to the inside edges of the outline you made before. Let te icing dry. Tada!  Now you have a pretty, shiny, royal icing frosted cookie!

~Amanda

Chocolate Molten Cakes-Love at First Sight

These molten cakes are memorable. So memorable in fact, I don’t remember why I made them 3 years ago, but only the cake itself. When I took the spoon to the cake and then to my mouth, I watched as the chocolate pudding poured from my cake to the plate…it was there my love for baking began. It mesmerized me. The cake was rich, moist, so satisfying and topped with whipped cream….mmmmmm. The chocoholic’s cure.

These are so easy to make despite its elegant look. I have no doubt that it will become your go-to recipe.

Every year my Mom asks me to make Chocolate Molten Cakes for her birthday. This year she didn’t even have to ask, all she had to say was “You know what I want for my birthday…”  Happy Birthday, Mom ❤

Recipe:

From Kraft Food & Family
 

4 squares of Baker’s Semi-sweet baking chocolate
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
whipped cream and/or powdered sugar for topping

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Butter 4 custard cups or ramekins. Place on a baking sheet to make it easier to carry it from the oven to the table. Microwave the chocolate and butter in a large microwavable bowl on high for 1 minute or until chocolate and butter is melted (if there is still little chunks of chocolate in the melted butter, stir until the chocolate melts). Whisk in the powdered sugar until incorporated. Whisk in the eggs. Whisk in the flour. Divide the batter between the 4 custard cups.

Bake for 13 to 14 minutes or until the sides are firm but the centers are soft. Let them cool for 1 minute. Gentlely run a knife around the edge of each cake and carefully invert the cakes on plates (they’ll still be hot). Top with whipped cream and/or powdered sugar.

Sugar Cookie Buttons

It’s always slightly depressing after Christmas is over.  Extended family members disperse back to their humble abodes, the Christmas lights stashed away, and the waiting for ‘A Christmas Story’ to return to TV begins again.  I did however have one small keepsake from the holidays to take with me…a small piece of leftover sugar cookie dough.  So needing to satisfy a baking urge, I made these: small, buttery, almost bite-size sugar cookies with a crunchy coating of colorful sprinkles.

Recipe:

Since I made these cookies with leftover dough, I’m not certain how many cookies the full recipe will make.  I’m guessing about 50 cookies.  This recipe was adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan.
 

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teas. salt
1/2 teas. baking powder
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teas.vanilla extract
colored sprinkles

Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder together in a bowl.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add sugar and beat for 2 minutes, until mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute until incorporated. Beat in vanilla. Reduce mixer speed to low, slowly add the flour and mix until just incorporated. Finish blending the dough with a rubber spatula (you don’t want to over mix sugar cookie dough).

Divide the dough in half and place each half on a piece of plastic. Shape dough into a disk and wrap. Refrigerate the dough for about 2 hours, until chilled.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In the meantime, fill a small bowl with colored sprinkles. Roll dough into one inch balls and then roll into the sprinkles until completely coated. Place on cookie sheet about 1 1/2 in. apart. Using your thumb or the bottom of a glass cup, press cookies until they’re about 1/2 in. thick (you can make them thinner if you want a crunchier cookie). Bake them in the oven for 10-12 minutes until firm and still pale. Let them cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute and then transfer them to a cooling rack until room temperature.

Repeat with the rest of the dough, cooling the cookie sheets between each batch.  The dough can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Cranberry-Walnut Biscotti Dipped in White Chocolate


Whenever a holiday rolls around I get excited to make a list of cookies that I want to make. The story was no different around Christmas, only instead of baking only for my family, I wanted to share cookies with our neighbors too. I probably spent a whole week browsing cookie recipes, looking for impressive, yet time do-able recipes (I had planned to make seven different things). One cookie that I have wanted to try was the biscotti and I thought that it would be the perfect holiday cookie.


Before I baked the dough, I shaped the dough into logs which gives the cookie its characteristic shape. After the logs baked and cooled, I controlled the length of the cookie by how deep I cut the logs on the diagonal. I cut the logs in a way to make smaller biscotti because they were cute and fit perfectly on a plate of shared cookies to the neighbors. You should have seen me cut the biscotti logs! To be honest, I don’t have a good bread knife, so I had to use two different knives to do the job! If I hadn’t done this, I found that the logs would crumble.

The recipe I used is from epicurious.com but I changed the recipe slightly by using anise extract instead of whole anise. I also used walnuts instead of pistachios. Here is the original: Holiday Biscotti

Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon whole aniseed
1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
3/4 cup shelled natural walnuts (chopped)

6 ounces white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 3 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift first 3 ingredients into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl to blend well. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Mix in vanilla and anise extract. Beat in flour mixture just until blended. Stir in cranberries and walnuts. The dough will be sticky and soft. Turn dough out on lightly floured surface. Gather dough together; divide in half. Roll each half into 15-inch-long log (about 1 1/4 inches wide). Carefully transfer logs to 1 prepared baking sheet, spacing 3 inches apart.

Bake logs until almost firm to touch but still pale, about 28 minutes. Cool logs on baking sheet 10 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

Carefully transfer logs still on parchment to cutting board. Using serrated knife and gentle sawing motion, cut logs crosswise into generous 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place slices, 1 cut side down, on remaining 2 prepared sheets. Bake until firm and pale golden, about 9 minutes per side. Transfer cookies to racks and cool.

Line another baking sheet with waxed paper. Melt white chocolate chips in the microwave and dip the ends of the biscotti into the chocolate. Lay dipped biscotti on the baking sheet and let cool until the chocolate has set.


Coconut-Raspberry Cupcakes

My friend was quite fortunate to blissfully return home from school with a gorgeous four layer cake covered in coconut and raspberry (her two favorite things) and layered with buttercream and raspberry preserves .

My family, however, was not so fortunate. I began to hear rumors circulating the house that went like: “That cake would be so good now” or “too bad she didn’t make one for us”…So needing an escape from studying for finals, looking to satisfy a sweet tooth, and feeling sorry for my family’s stomachs empty of cake, the coconut-raspberry cupcakes were born! Despite being mini-versions of the grand cake I made before, the size doesn’t take away from the beauty (or the taste) of the original…in fact they’re even cuter.

recipe adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan:

Makes 24 cupcakes
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 teas. salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teas. vanilla extract
1 jar of seedless raspberry preserves
1 7 oz. bag of Baker’s Sweetened Coconut Flakes

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place baking cups in cupcake/muffin pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together the milk and eggs in a separate bowl. Put sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl and using the whisk attachment, or a hand mixer, beat at medium speed until mixture is fluffy and light (about 3 minutes). Beat in vanilla extract, then add a third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed until incorporated. Next, beat in half of the egg and milk mixture, then beat in half of the flour mixture, with each addition mixing until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and egg mixture beating again until incorporated then add the last of the flour mixture. Continue beating for another 2 minutes until batter is very smooth and aerated.

Line cupcake pan with liners.  Fill baking cups 2/3 full with batter (I fill the baking cups using a small levered ice cream scoop so all of them are the same). Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cupcakes are well risen, springy to the touch, and toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center. Transfer cupcakes to a cooling rack.

After the cupcakes have cooled, peel off the liners and carefully cut off the top of the cupcakes with a bread knife. Spread about a nickel size of seedless raspberry preserves on the inside and replace the top of the cupcake. If you worry about putting the top on exactly the way it came off, slice a tiny notch on the top edge of the cupcake, so when you replace the top, all you have to do is line up the notch (you’ll cover up the notch with frosting).

For the meringue buttercream frosting:
1/2 cup sugar
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teas. vanilla

Put the sugar and egg whites in a heatproof mixing bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly for about 3 minutes. Make sure that the egg whites are hot to the touch and that the sugar is all dissolved. Transfer egg white mixture to a another large mixing bowl and using a whisk attachment on a stand mixer or a hand mixer, beat on medium speed for 5 minutes until mixture has cooled. The egg whites should have about tripled its size and look like shiny marshmallow cream. Switch to a paddle attachment and beat in butter, first the full stick, until incorporated and then the half stick. Once all the butter is in, mix for 6-10 minutes to make the buttercream velvety. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Pile the tops of the raspberry preserve filled cupcakes with the buttercream, then sprinkle the coconut on top to completely cover the buttercream.

Place one raspberry in the middle of each cupcake…that’s it!  Enjoy!