Another Gathering, Another Tiramisu!

Spring has been gorgeous so far, although the weather changed quite drastically lately from 95F to 65 in just two days, but I'm not complaining. It's been beautiful and I'm enjoying every minute of it. The other reason why I enjoy it so much is because Spring is when the tulip is starting to show up everywhere. It's my ultimate favorite flower (especially the white and the soft pink color :D), but unfortunately, the season doesn't last for so long. I think it's only readily available mostly on April-May. So, I'm trying to spend most of my weekend outside enjoying the warmth of the sun and the cool breeze during the day (although my allergy definitely will not do me any good). You can definitely smell the Magnolia blooming at night, what else could you ask for.

In the middle of the craziness that has been happening daily, I saw an email on Wednesday morning that there will be another gathering for a group of people at work on Friday noon, called "Dip Day". It's basically everything dips, chips, appetizer, etc. and it's clearly said in the email that except for me, I have to bring a dessert, @_@. Hmm.... it was Wednesday and that means I have to come up with something to make (which is always the hardest thing for me), and when to make. I knew for sure that I would be coming home late on both Wed. and Thurs., so a plan is definitely needed of what to make, when to buy the ingredients, when to make it, and when to decorate it.

After a careful consideration, tiramisu came to be the winner. I had some of the ingredients ready, which are the lady fingers, rum and espresso (which are staples in my pantry), all I needed to buy were the mascarpone cheese and heavy cream. Tiramisu is probably the ultimate choice everytime I need to make something quick but will still please everybody. I've never met a single person who doesn't like tiramisu so far. Plus it is fairly quick to make as no oven needed and the decoration doesn't take too long either as tiramisu has that classic decoration look already. The downside is, since it is so popular and almost every single bakery has it, each person has what they each call the best tiramisu in their life. It is quite nerve-wrecking to serve something that's probably not going to matach up their high tiramisu standard. I must admit that there are a lot of bakeries and restaurants out there that have a really good tiramisu, and trying to make something similar or at least be the same level as restaurant standard for a tough crowd, is quite a risk, but I did it anyway.

Nothing new to this tiramisu as I make it quite often. Getting bored with the square look, I decided to finally make use of my hexagonal cake ring that I bought more than a year ago to assemble the dessert. This is also the first time I used my Valrhona cocoa powder and I'm in love with it. It has a deep chocolate flavor and the color is wonderful too. I'm glad that everybody enjoyed the dessert, it is always a great pleasure everytime. And I am so glad that in the midst of the heavy work-load that everybody has, we managed to set aside some time enjoying each other's company and enjoying good food. The food has always been great, I guess it's true that there's a chef hidden inside every person :D.

Pink Swedish Princess Cake

I think I need to remind myself over and over again, no more weekday cakes please, but I just couldn't resist. There were times when I just wanted to quit when I was making a cake in a time crunch. When you only have an hour everyday to pull together a cake, your planning must be good. But I'm no quitter, even if it means that I have to wake up super bright and early for a few days to finish it, you can't quit what you have started (there are exceptions of course :D).

Now, the cake. It was a request from a friend who likes princess cake so much for another friend's birthday (talking about selfish :P, j/k). Boy, do we have lots of birthday celebrations lately. The request was that it must be pink because it is the birthday girl's favorite color, despite the fact that traditional princess cake is green. If you follow my blog, you would see that I made this cake a few times before and everytime, I kept changing something whether it's the type of the cake base, the simply syrup, the proportions of cream and/or pastry cream, etc.

This time is no difference. I decided to make my own raspberry jelly instead of the usual seedless raspberry jam used in a princess cake. I always find that store-bought jam is way too sweet to my liking. Although, looking at the economical point of view, making your own is not too beneficial though as the cost of the raspberry itself is equal to the cost of a jar of jam (not to mention the time and labor put into it). Plus, you would still have plenty of jam leftover if you buy it. But I am such a hard-headed or stubborn person if you may call it, that I'd still make it myself despite that I know all the plus and minus behind it. It's not too difficult, just a little time-consuming because you have to puree the raspberries and strain it (the part which I like the least everytime I pureed something --> takes too much time and more dishes to wash) then heat it, add the gelatin, and finally let it cool down to thicken (may take a while). I didn't even use a measurement, just kinda go for it.

I followed the traditional filling for princess cake, which is three layers of sponge cake (usually genoise type), simple syrup to moisten it (I flavored it with raspberry puree-->can't you tell how much I love raspberry already?), a thin layer of raspberry jam (made my own) and cream for the bottom filling, vanilla bean pastry cream as the second layer of filling and more cream on top to cover the cake and to form the dome, and finally enrobed with marzipan. I can never get a soft pastel color for the marzipan, it has a natural brown almond color that whatever color you color it with, it will always be darker. But I found some white marzipan somewhere online the other day, had to try it someday. It's not a difficult cake to make as each filling is pretty straight forward. You don't even need a particular recipe, you just need to know the components that make up the cake.

I wasn't 100% satisfied with the decoration as I think I rolled the marzipan too thin that the cake inside is showing (you can tell from the picture). I also did a poor job on covering it. You can probably notice it too that the bottom part has some wrinkles. I just use the leftover marzipan to make pearls for the bottom border and brush it with pink luster dust to make it shiny. I also had to hunt for the roses though, luckily we have a mini rose plant at the front yard so I just had to pick out the best ones to put onto the cake.

I couldn't make it to the birthday dinner though as work was calling. But I was so.....glad and relieved after I heard that the cake had rave reviews, everybody really liked it. Pheeww.... talking about pressure. I was afraid that I would mess up something in the proportion since I keep changing something everytime I make the same type of cake. Unfortunately I couldn't taste it myself, thanks to my friend who forgot to save me a slice :P, but as long as everybody likes it, that's all I need :D

An Un-planned Chocolate-Tiramisu Entremet and Raspberry Macarons

Why the name? Well, it's because it was unplanned indeed. The story behind it was that it was initially meant as a birthday cake for a friend's birthday. I was going to use this "opportunity" to experiment with new flavor combination that I've never tried before. At least there would be enough people willing to be "the victim" for the experiment cake, I thought. That was the plan two weeks before the birthday. But little did I know that so many things will happen for the next two weeks. From family emergency which makes me to be in charge of feeding the whole family now, including the dishes and helping with the nephew and niece, work also has its way of adding my frustration. Going home at 9-10pm from work was a regular and I came home just wanting to throw myself into bed, not doing anything else. I hardly have time to breath (this is hyperbolic but you know what I mean :D).

But I didn't give up on the cake just like that. The cake I wanted to make has about 7 components including the decoration I was planning to put on it. I originally wanted to make a cake similar to what Aran had made before. She has been my inspiration ever since I found her blog. The minute I saw her post that day, I was in love and determined to make a replica of her creation. The many components that always challenge a part of my brain, the clean-ness of her cut, the decorations, you name it. Plus I still had an enormous amount of meyer lemon juice I had kept in the freezer.

I started on the planning, when should I make the cake base, lemon cream, mousse, and stuff. I woke up super early for two days just to try to beat the time. I made the cake base that she has posted on the blog, but it didn't satisfy me. I guess I'm used to Indonesian-type of sponge cake, which uses tons of eggs (particularly the yolks), very little flour and lots of melted butter, resulting in a light cake but yet so soft. So, I made another sponge cake the day after (this is the day before the birthday), and also the chocolate mousse and the milk chocolate cream. I used Pierre Herme's chocolate mousse recipe from his book "Dessert by Pierre Herme", where I saw the combination of lemon and chocolate for the first time. He has similar cake recipe which uses chocolate cake, lemon cream and chocolate mousse. I have bookmarked the page for almost 2 years now, but never get to it :P. So, back to the cake, I literally gave up the night before. I was really tired that I couldn't make another component. At that time, I was only able to make the cake and the milk chocolate cream.

I made PH's chocolate mousse the morning after and at that time I knew that I really need to buy a cake that day from a bakery somewhere. Which is not a bad thing really, as there are quite a few bakeries that I like around here. I don't normally eat my own cake but I would definitely enjoy it if somebody else made it. So, this is the chance for me to actually eat a cake on a birthday celebration!!! how cool is that?! I quickly changed my mind to not make the chocolate-lemon combination for a few reason. So, I grabbed two 8" layers of chocolate sponge cake I had kept in the freezer (don't you just love freezer? it's just a baker's best friend). The sponge cake I made the night before was too big to be used for anything I will decide to make with the mousse :P, so I kept it save and sound in the freezer. It was enough for a layer of filling and a few mini chocolate mousse cakes (which I did not capture). I kept the partially-done cake in the fridge for a few days as I hardly had time to do anything with it. Until about three days later that I finally forced myself to finish the cake.

So, after not-so-careful consideration and observing what I had in the fridge at that time, the cake was finally done! It was composed of two layers of moist chocolate cake, brushed with strong espresso simple syrup, chocolate mousse and cocoa nibs as the bottom layer, and tiramisu cream for the top layer. Then I piped the milk chocolate cream on top of the tiramisu cream. Thank goodness for the leftover chocolate shavings that I was able to quickly decorate it with the clock ticking. The chocolate decoration on the side as also super quick to make. You only need melted chocolate and a spoon, plus parchment paper or acetate sheet. A tiny white ribbon made it extra cute :P.

The macaron however, was specially made just to decorate this cake. I only needed one pair of course. I couldn't help it after seeing Aran's beautiful macaron she put on her cake that I just had to make it too :D. I filled both the pink and the chocolate macaron with raspberry buttercream. The raspberry one has a square of raspberry jelly in the middle of the macaron. Need to practice more on macaron though, can't get that perfect "feet" and smooth top.

Brought this cake to a friend's place where we all gathered to have this cake as an-after-dinner dessert. I was really nervous at first as I had no idea how this cake would turn out, but I was super relieved when one of my friend took the first bite and quickly said "this is REALLY good". He said that a few times just so that I would believe it (cause I didn't :P), plus "from the bottom of my heart, this cake is really good", haha....Okay....., so I tasted it the day after and to my surprise, I ate the whole slice! I can definitely taste the espresso and the tiramisu cream. The mousse was light, not too bitter as well, plus the addition of the cocoa nibs for that extra texture, it was definitely far from "too rich". Yummm.......The macarons too, were gobbled up pretty quickly. My friend was like munching it and said "hmm....this is good, should make this more often". It was definitely more than good enough for an un-planned cake :D.

On the last note, I'm submitting this for "For The Love Of Chocolate" event entry hosted by Poornima of Tasty Treats

Chilled Mango Cheesecake

I'm so thankful to be blessed to work in a company where the people are so friendly and so easy and fun to work with. I enjoy working where I do right now, it doesn't feel so much like working really because I actually enjoy being with the people around me and doing what I do (there are exceptional times of course :P). There are so much hospitality and laugh and stories shared each day, and work of course even with the people I don't really know. Instead of being my coworkers, they have become friends to me.

Today, we had a potluck party during lunch time for a group of people. I was so excited to try different foods from different countries and just experiencing the good food made by them. I was planning to bring an Indonesian dish (I know they'd love it) and a dessert (by request). Until the day or the night before, my mind was still blank, don't know what to make. There were so much things to be done at work and at home that I didn't even have enough time to sit down and just think about what I wanted to make. So, after forcing myself to concentrate, I wrote down some options for desserts that I can make at home, something light, fruity, and not difficult and take so much time to make, and hopefully fancy enough to meet their "high expectation" :P. I decided not to cook for time constraint since I only have few hours to prepare the dessert and also cook for the whole house too :)

I finally settled on chilled mango cheesecake after a careful consideration. I have one layer of chiffon-type cake left in the freezer, some mango pulp in the freezer as well, and there are so many fresh mangoes almost gone bad, plus unused heavy cream that I bought to make my brother's cake but ended up not using it at all. Besides, I absolutely LOVE mango, one of my all-time favorite fruits, so mango chilled cheesecake it is! I just need to make a stop on my way home to buy some cream cheese, and I'm all set.

I kinda measuring and mixing as I go. Adding the mango pulp while weighing it so that I can take a note for future, how much pulp I needed to make the mango flavor pronounced, thinking that lemon juice might help with discoloration and balancing the flavor, things like that. I tasted the batter, and I couldn't stop my finger from keep licking it (with different fingers excuse me). I poured the mango glaze in the morning and decorated very simple. It's not too pretty, but that's what I had on hand at the time.

When I opened the box at work, I was shocked to find out that the glaze was running down the side of the cake! oh no! I panicked but tried to calm down as I got work waiting for me. I admit that I drove a little too fast (I was late :D) and I completely forgot that there was a cake I need to take care of. But, I can't do anything to fix it except wipe off the glaze from the cake. It doesn't look pretty anymore :(, I should have taken a picture or two before I took it to work.

I was so sad about the appearance because really, it look so pretty before (well, at least for me) :(. But it all paid off after getting unexpected come back from my coworkers!!! I wasn't expecting that many compliments from them, but I'm so glad that they all LOVED it. Even the person who doesn't like mango at all finished a slice. One girl even printed the cheesecake she ate and put it outside her cube, I mean what could be more rewarding than that? I just hope that they didn't sing me that embarrassing happy birthday song when they asked me to cut into the cake (and no, it wasn't my birthday) :D

Strawberry Sponge Pudding Cake with Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise

The title is a little bit confusing and super long, yeah I know but I can't think of other names that are suitable for this dessert. I want the title to represent the dessert, but of well :P

The term "pudding" in Indonesia is very different than what we call pudding here in the US. Here, we always know pudding as the Jell-o type pudding, at least that custard-like texture. But back in Indonesia, pudding is something that you make using agar agar. It's a gelling agent, almost like a gelatin, but agar agar is derived from plants, instead of animals. The texture it gives is also different than what gelatin does, it sets in different way. Pudding always reminds me when I was a kid. Everybody eats lots of pudding during the childhood, so pudding is often associated with childhood memories. It used to be made with just liquid (water, milk, coconut milk, you name it), agar agar, and sugar. Now, there are so many variation on puddings. People are getting more and more creative with this dessert and sky is the limit of what can you do with it. Another thing about pudding is, no one can mess it up. All you need to do is boil it and pour into mold for basic pudding. Even if it doesn't turn out like you expected, it'll still taste great anyway.

I was craving for one for quite some time, but again, didn't have the time to make it. So last Sunday, I had about three hours of free time. I usually take a nap on Sunday but it was pretty late for nap and I didn't want to stay wide awake at midnight. I remember I had some strawberry puree in the freezer. I pureed the leftover strawberries in the fridge since they showed some threat of going bad real soon. I love to keep fruit purees in the freezer all the times. It's a great time saver whenever I want to make mousse, or jelly, or anything. So I guess that time was reserved for strawberry pudding.

I make the sponge-type pudding this time, which I added beaten egg white (hence the name). I also added some egg yolks to the mixture to get a softer texture. I used a base of chiffon type cake that I had kept in the freezer for times like this. Everything will just be a breeze to make if you have some of the components ready to use. I also made clear jelly to pour on top of the pudding to have the shiny or mirror effect. It looks like strawberry mirror cake really with strawberry mousse filling, but believe me, the texture is nowhere close to mousse. I made vanilla bean creme anglaise for the sauce. It's very common to serve pudding with creme anglaise, or what we usually called "vla".

It happened that on Monday, we had a surprise birthday dinner for my brother and so I brought this dessert over. My friends went crazy over this, it was gone in a split second. Too bad it was a small size cake, about 8", but everybody got a slice at least. I brought the mini ones to work to share with friends and the pictures are again courtesy of Tony :)

I'm not going to type the recipe because I'm not sure if the kind of agar agar I used is readily available. But let me know of you want me to.

Cherry Blossom Birthday Cake

Spring has just arrived and the weather here in San Jose, California has been gorgeous lately. Flowers are blooming, plenty of sunshine, crisp air, it's like having a natural air conditioner. I know that the cherry blossom season had just passed a few weeks ago. I was planning to make a cake with a cherry blossom theme everytime I saw the tree in the street (which is a lot), but business got the best of me. And besides, it was mostly raining when the blossoms were at their peak :(. There's something about this flower that makes me wanting to take pictures everytime I see them. Imagine how many pictures I'd have if I did that.

So, the idea of making cherry blossom theme cake was kind of fade away along with the end of the cherry blossom season until about a week ago. It was one of my beloved brothers' birthday and also one of my dearest friends' birthday last weekend. It was actually on Monday, but we went out to dinner to celebrate two of our best friends. And of course I'd be more than happy to make the cake for them.

I'm a planner, I have to plan everything way before I have to actually do something with it. I always plan what to cook on Monday, Tuesday, and so forth the week before. I always plan wah beforehand what kind of cake I want to make, how will I decorate it, when should I start, what should be done first, etc. The reason is first, because I like everything well-planned and organized, second, because I don't have the time to make something in an instant, especially when it comes to a cake. There are so many steps involved that I just need to break them down and do them separately according to my time. Some inspiration usually comes to mind about what I really feel like making, what flavor combination I'd like to try and so forth, but not this time. I was still blank even the day before the birthday dinner (which is very unusual). But I bought some cream anyway. I will definitely need it for mousse cakes, bavarian cream cakes.

I kinda had something in mind at that time, but then I remembered that we're going to bring the cake to the restaurant, which means, no refrigeration for 1-2 hours. I switched gear immediately and decided to make something that can stand in room temperature without getting soft and becoming a gooey mess. So I went with vanilla and raspberry cake covered in fondant. And what could be more perfect time to put the cherry blossom idea into it! It consists of soft vanilla sponge, raspberry soaking syrup, raspberry buttercream, and raspberry gelee. I've been wanting to try Hidemi's Sugino raspberry buttercream recipe from his book that I got for myself two months ago. The problem is, it's all in Japanese. The ingredient part has French translation, which I can understand a little, but the direction is 100% in japanese. Luckily, it has some step-by-step pictures, so I can try to guess. I added gelee just so that I has some texture contrast. I figured the gelee won't melt or soften that much without refrigeration.

The buttercream recipe is based on creme anglaise. The creme anglaise is mixed with creamed butter, then added some raspberry puree, and lastly, fold in the italian meringue. It's a very lengthy process, but I was determined to make it. In the end, the buttercream was not as stiff as I expected, it's rather "soup-y". Definitely not good firm enough to be spread on the side of the cake and especially after I cover it with fondant later on. I refrigerate it for a while, and added another stick and a half of butter to it. It doesn't help much, but the refrigeration does. The amount of liquid added to the butter was a lot (the creme anglaise and the raspberry puree), so I should have guessed about the texture. Despite the texture of the buttercream, it tasted delicious!

It was a challenge covering the cake with fondant. The cream soften so quickly outside the fridge so I had to go back and forth to keep it firm enough to hold the fondant. So, here it goes. I'm not too happy about the result though. The cake could have been taller, the branches could have been smaller, I don't know, there were so many "could have" or "if only I do this". I'll just hope for the best that the cake will taste good :).

Apparently, we can ask the restaurant to keep the cake in their fridge! Bummer, I could have gone with some other cake selection (here we go with another "could have"), but it's too late now. I'm just thankful that they kind enough to offered their fridge so that the cream wouldn't soften. We ate the cake as a dessert in the restaurant and I was so relieved that it tasted great. The raspberry flavor was so intense, you know that I love raspberries more than any other berries and it's just the way I liked it! The gelee also provides some textural balance with a tad of tartness to it. Phew! at least the cake survived until dinner.

The restaurant was so dark that I couldn't take a good picture of the inside of the cake, and besides, my camera battery died on me. This is the only better picture I can take with the last breath of the battery.