Two weeks ago, I had a lovely Friday lunch in a cute neighborhood cafe with a friend. The food was comforting (mmm wild boar shepherd's pie), but the real attraction was the baked goods piled behind the glass counter. The whole display was, well, rather American. There were buckets of cookies bigger than my head and five different types of bundt cakes. Despite my usual preference for feather light sponge cakes and delicate custards, I have a soft spot for moist, buttery cakes, especially when they are richly perfumed with citrus and spices.
The slice of lemon bundt cake I bought was...disappointing. I could taste the lemon, but it was missing the lemon fragrance. As commonplace as they are, lemons and oranges have surprisingly elegant aromas (Close your eyes the next time you smell a lemon). Forget passionfruit and lychee, citrus fruits need to take back their status as exotic fruits!
I went home and consulted my trusty America's Test Kitchen Cookbook. It might not be fancy or European, but when it comes to American baked goods, ATK rocks. I used their recipe for lemon bundt cake and added some blueberries to the batter. The cake at the cafe had a soaking syrup, so I made up one with some vodka added for extra flavor (I'm sure lemon has alcohol soluble flavonoids...). I didn't have enough lemon juice left for a glaze, so I made up an almond glaze, which complements the lemon very nicely.
The cake was moist and fragrant, with a tight crumb. It was fantastic paired with a cup of Earl Grey tea.
I know sometimes I seem schizophrenic, but really, I just like variety. In college, I went from singing Brahms in choir to playing guitar in a rock band, sometimes in the same day, even. (In hindsight, I totally should have rocked out in my choir outfit. Nothing says "stick it to the man" like a high-waisted, floor-length skirt.) The second birthday cake was a complete opposite from the tiramisu cake. Whereas the tiramisu cake had bold, popular flavors, the charlotte was delicate and floral and complex, with a name that only pastry buffs would recognize.
So what is Ispahan?
Ispahan is one of the signature flavors of celebrity pastry chef Pierre Hermé. It consists of raspberry, lychee, and rosewater. I've actually never had any of the Ispahan desserts, but the name is so evocative of Arabian Nights (it'd make a great cocktail too, I need to remember that next time I go out). I was going to make a pear charlotte, but then I remembered that I had all the ingredients for Ispahan on hand. I do love my pantry.
I'm used to making birthday cakes for other people, so when it came to my own birthday, it seemed natural that I'd be making it too (a friend told me he was too intimidated to make me a cake, hah.) I ended up making two joint birthday cakes. One was a joint birthday cake with my sister, and the other one with a friend at work.
(Incidentally, does it seem like you know a lot of people whose birthdays are close to yours, or it just me?)
The first birthday cake was a tiramisu cake because my sister adores tiramisu. The recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. The recipe is fairly straight forward: soak two disks of gorgeous yellow cake in coffee syrup, sandwich with mascarpone cream and chopped chocolate, and top with espresso-flavored whipped cream.
Making the cake was interesting, especially as I had to bring half of my baking equipment across the border to Canada. It's a good thing I didn't fly, because I don't think security would be too happy with my Le Cordon Bleu knife set...
People usually ask me what my favorite bakery in Seattle is, to which I usually firmly but gently assert that I've been spoiled by the great pastry shops in Paris* and refuse to visit any in Seattle. But when my friend Edilyn (of Le Cordon Bleu fame) came to visit, we went to a few local bakeries "for research". The results were rather surprising.
Can I find good pastry in Seattle? Why yes!
*Actually, I had my moment of ideological despair in Paris where, surrounded by half-eaten pastries from Pierre Hermé, I realized that I can no longer be enchanted by any pastry. I was saved by some ripe peaches and a deceptively humble teacake from Pain de Sucré, but that's another post.
I've been meaning to check out Hiroki bakery for a while now. I'm a big fan of Japanese/French fusion bakeries, their products are usually less offensively sweet and there are often interesting flavor combinations. Let's just say that I was really glad I went with another pastry aficionado, of course it was normal to order five things between the two of us so we can try everything!
A friend had the brilliant idea of hosting a homemade ice cream party last week, which gave me the chance to try something unusual. My original idea was to make a peanut stracciatella gelato, but while I was leafing through The Perfect Scoop, I landed on a recipe for kinako ice cream.
Kinako is Japanese toasted soy bean powder. I first learned about the term while reading Clotilde's blog entry on warabi mochi, although in hindsight, I've eaten it in pastries while growing up in China (there's a famous Beijing specialty that's basically red bean-filled mochi dipped in kinako). Maybe my palate is biased - after all, I was raised on soy products - but I'm a big fan of kinako's nutty, toasty, unmistakably-soybean taste.
I had a fun time coming up with something to pair with the kinako ice cream. A certain photographer from Scotland suggested caramel, so I made a batch of David Lebovitz's salted butter caramel ... and enhanced it with soy sauce. I learned that trick from Alton Brown, and it just makes so much sense to pair soy with soy.
Anyway, I absolutely loved the ice cream. It's one of those flavors that I'll definitely make if I ever opened my own ice cream shop (for the record, it'll also have strawberry rhubarb and lemon speculoo flavors).
I think that next time, I'll follow the latest NYC trend and flavor my caramel with miso instead...