Mocha Nougatine Cake

Weekends can't be more beautiful than these past two weekends here in San Jose, California. Sure we have a late Spring here with rain pouring down about 3 days a week in average, clouds and winds are the rest, but for the last two weeks, the weekend has always been gorgeous, like the one we're having now. It's bright and sunny with temperature around 75 degrees, so who cares if the weather sucks on weekdays as long as it's warm and sunny on the weekends. So even though my allergy is getting worse and worse, who can complain? It felt so good that I can finally go out wearing shorts and no jacket, it felt good when I stroll around in cotton summer dress, I can finally enjoy my jamba juice and frozen yogurt again, ahh.... a beautiful life :)

Enough about the weather report, onto the meat now.

It was nice having a little break from baking last week, no birthdays (none that I had to make cake for), and no other events, no last-minute thing, nothing. I did enjoy my sleep and not having to wake early to finish some cake or decorating. It wasn't too busy either at work so I could go home on time and play with my baby nephew. I did however, can't stay away for too long from baking. I made this cake last weekend just because for once, I didn't have any particular plan other than errands to do, and this cake has been on my to-try list for a while. So what's special about this cake, other than the fact that it doesn't scream Spring?

There is a bakery in a city of Bandung, Indonesia called Bawean or Sweetheart. This bakery is so famous and I've been hearing lots of things about this particular bakery. I for one, never been there and when I heard so many good things about it, especially about what they call "Mocha Nougat Cake", I just had to try making it at home. From what I heard, this is one of their most popular cakes, it has three layers of vanilla sponge, filled with very strong rum custard, covered in mocha buttercream and crushed nougatine. When I say strong custard, I really meant STRONG. I never prove it of course, but I have quite a few friends coming from the city and the first thing they say when describing this cake is that this cake is strong strong strong in alcohol. I mean literally, it's so strong that it's bitter and the alcohol goes straight into your nose on your first bite. Many said that they feel tipsy after a slice or two, but strangely, people kept coming back and makes you wanting for more.

From the description, it doesn't sound too hard to make, in fact, I would say it's quite simple. So when I had some time last weekend, I was determined to make this. I have never made nougatine before, so I also learned something here. I used chiffon type cake as the base, made pastry cream with lots of rum, simple coffee buttercream, and the peanut nougatine. Making the nougatine was pretty straight forward but it did take me a long time chopping the peanut and the nougatine in pieces. I tried to use food processor but it just grind it into a fine powder, which I did not want, so I chop it manually with a knife.

I was really skeptical putting a lot of rum in the filling as I personally don't like cake that has too much alcohol in it. I love putting alcohol in my cake as a taste-booster, but when it starts to overpower the taste, that's when I draw the line. I say if you like your alcohol, that's fine, but why not go drink it straight from the bottle rather than spending hours or days making a cake that taste completely like alcohol? It's just a one-person opinion though :D. I did however put a good dose of rum in it, just not too boozy yet.

So, does it live up to the hype? Well, I wouldn't know myself but I can say that this cake tastes pretty darn good. Just imagine creamy custard, soft sponge, coffee, and the crunch from caramel-flavored peanut in every bite, enough said :).

I won't post the recipe just yet. The recipe still needs tweaking :)

Planning A Baby Shower for A Friend

This is the last event in last week, which happened on Saturday. Part of the reason why I didn't have time to make a big cake for the baby shower at work (see previous post), is because I was busy planning this baby shower (other than the fact that it was on a weekday). It is indeed for the same mom-to-be (yes, we're both working in the same company and among the same group of friends :D).

We started the planning on and off for about a month maybe, from setting up a date where everybody can make it, the place, food, budget, gift, etc. It was a little challenging finding a place that could hold up 50 people, but fortunately, one of us has a club house in their house area that can be reserved with no charge. It is a big room with a kitchen (and a fridge) and bathroom, it also has two long tables, which is perfect for any of our party that almost always involves around 50 people :D. We don't have any particular theme for this party, which makes it easier somewhat so that my ideas are not limited to certain color or theme.

We had a complete meal for dinner, some selection of dessert, and also a small cake, on a tight budget, so we had to be wise planning everything out but still make everything looks nice and presentable. We had someone kindly offered to cook some of the meal which helped us to cut the budget.

- Chinese-style fried noodle (home-made)
- Assorted stir-fried veggies and meatballs (home-made)
- Panda-Express Orange Chicken
- Panda-Express Beijing Beef

Dessert and Drinks:
- 6" fondant cake
- Indonesian cheese-cake squares
- Fruit platter
- Chocolate-dipped strawberries
- Guava and strawberry punch

Some of you might raise your eyebrow reading the Panda Express meal, well, there's a story to it. We were planning on ordering some food from our favorite restaurant like we normally do, but when we're calling ahead 1.5 hours before the party, no one picked up the phone and after a quick visit to the restaurant, it turned out that they're closed on vacation for a few weeks. I hit myself in the head for not confirming this and call way ahead of time. So we had to come up with plan B and the choice was Panda Express just because it's close to the party place and we can order trays of food in no time. It probably wasn't the best choice of party food but at that time, I'm just glad that there were food on the table.

I was able to use some of my newly-bought cake stands and dessert platters, I particularly love the cake stand with the ribbon, so cute and the best part is, I can change the ribbon to match the color theme of the party, superb! On a side note, I found that Michael's (art & craft store) are having their annual sale this week, I bought lots of ribbons with 60% discount the other day! Apparently, I am in love with all things polka-dots lately as almost all the ribbons I bought were all sorts of combination colors of polka-dots!

Congratulations to I and V for the upcoming baby girl, can't wait to see her :)

Strawberry Cream Puffs with Grand Marnier Custard Filling

This may not be worthy of a separate post just because I made it so often, but I'll do it anyway. Last week has been particularly crazy, there were 3 events in a week. Right after the surprise dinner last weekend, I didn't want to do anything related to baking on Sunday. Sunday is never my baking day anyway unless I really have to, it is usually filled with Church, lunch with friends, and a nap. Yes, I so needed this and besides, I had to clean up the mess I made on Saturday (my least favorite part of baking :D).

There was a surprised baby shower in the office for our dear friend, V, on Wednesday. The baby is due on late April-early May and this week will be her last week at work before she's gone to her 5-month leave and we want to send her off and wish her a healthy baby. I was initially given the responsibility to make a cake but this plan got changed last minute because I didn't have enough time to make one big cake, so I offered to make just a small and simple dessert. It took me quite some time deciding what I would make, this part is one of the longest parts in making cake for me (the other one would be the deciding how to decorate it) until on Monday evening, my friend asked me on gchat about eclair. Right at that time I knew that cream puff is what I'm gonna make. I don't know what took me so long deciding, I was thinking macarons, mini lemon tarts, and some other over-the-top stuff, but not one time did I think about cream puff, which is weird since this was my first dessert of choice whenever I'm pressed with time. Well, it has been quite a while since I made my last cream puff too and so I was set.

Cream puffs are super easy to make. It provides a basic shell that you can fill with anything you want, ice cream, custard, whipped cream, mousse, fruit, you name it. I didn't want to make just a plain cream puff with custard filling and since it is Spring time (or at least how it should be at this time of the year), strawberry is the fruit of choice. I cheated and used Jell-o instant pudding to make the filling (reduce the amount of milk to make it slightly thicker), but you can also make your own pastry cream at home. I basically started making the custard on Tuesday night at 11pm, right after I got home for a birthday dinner and continue making the shell, filling and decorating early in the morning before going to work(yes, I have a very tight schedule).

I didn't get a chance to take a picture that morning but I was able to make a few more puffs a day or two after so that I could photograph it really quick and feed them to my nephew and niece :). It was a basic custard with strawberry slices for the baby shower but I added Grand Marnier for the second time I made it. If you notice, I always put orange-flavored liqueur (Grand Marnier or Cointreau) whenever I make strawberry desserts/cakes. I really like these two combination, just like how perfect rum is with coffee, it's the same thing for strawberry and orange liqueur :). Many people like to use Kirsch (cherry brandy) with strawberries but I have never liked cherry-flavored anything, it reminds me of a cough medicine I used to take when I was a kid. But it's another different story when you give me fresh sweet Bing cherries, I could munch of them all day long if only they don't give me a stomach problem afterward :). I'm very much looking forward until cherries appearing on the market soon.

I really recommend you making it soon if you need something special for a party/gathering, but yet simple and satisfying.

While we're at cream puff post, I just thought that I'd also mention about this durian puffs I made many months ago. The pictures have been sitting on my folder since forever because I thought it was too simple to deserve its own post. It's nothing complicated, same shell, the filling is just pastry cream mixed with durian pulp. No measurement as for how much durian needed, it all depends on how fragrant your durian is. As much as I love and crazy about all things durian, I've always been hesitant to make durian dessert, particularly because the frozen whole durians I find here in the US are not as flavorful or as tasty compared to the fresh durian I found back home. Some of them are sweet, don't get me wrong, but they lack the strong flavor or the potency of what durian should be, which is the key to make a good durian dessert.

Pate a Choux:
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk (can be substituted with water or combination of both)
1 cup all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400F
Melt the butter, milk, and salt together in a saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil. Add the flour all at once and stir with wooden spoon until it forms a ball. Remove from heat and mix until slightly cool. Add the eggs one at a time, completely incorporating the previous egg before adding another.
Place a spoonful of batter or use piping bag on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350F and continue baking for about 30-40minutes until the top is golden brown. Let cool. You can make this one day in advance and keep it in an airtight container until ready to use.

I used instant Jell-o pudding (reduce the amount of milk a little to make it thicker)
Grand Marnier, to taste
Strawberries, sliced
pastry cream (I'm not suggesting using instant Jell-o pudding for durian filling)
durian flesh

Topping (for the strawberry cream puffs):
Slightly-sweetened whipped cream
Grand Marnier, to taste
Fresh strawberries
Chopped pistachio

A Surprise Garden Birthday Dinner

First of all, I want to wish everybody a Happy Easter! No, this post is not anything about Easter at all although seeing many blogs posted their cute little Easter cakes and eggs made me so itchy to make one of those too, but as time would have it, I could only do so much :).

It feels like the sunshine that appeared for a week or two before was just a quick dream or a short teaser. I woke up one morning only to find that Winter is definitely back again. Gloomy days, rains, and cold winds are what we have been seeing for the last week and a half. I took out and wore my wool jacket again today in sadness as it was really cold here in San Jose. I drove home Sunday afternoon while it's raining hard listening to Bryan Adams singing in the radio and followed by "Pocketful of Sunshine" by Natasha Bedingfield. Yes, a pocketful of sunshine is what I need. I came home and hurried to bed to find warmth and comfort under a thick blanket and took a nap for two whole hours, it was certainly the perfect weather for nap and it felt good.

A few weeks ago, my sister in law had the idea of celebrating her husband's (a.k.a my brother) birthday in their backyard with close friends.

"Lets pimp the backyard and have a sit-down dinner outside!", she said.

She had been dying to use her backyard for outdoor dinner since forever and I guess this is the perfect time for her to finally use it. Their backyard is not big, it's small and long, had a jacuzzi on one end and that's it. There's a deck in the middle of the yard which is perfect to place a long table for dinner. After probably 2-3 weeks of occasional planning, I was in charge of the food (from appetizer to dessert) while she was in charge of the decoration. She was definitely in her forte in the decoration department, she knows what she wanted it to look like.

It was somewhat challenging to keep this dinner as a surprise. Well, it was a little strange that suddenly there was a big long table appeared at their house and some decorations as well but fortunately, J, the wife (a.k.a my sister in law) was quick enough to think of some excuses to distract his attention. He even helped carrying the table inside and finding things here and there at their house without even a slight suspicion :D. We threw him (and another friend) a birthday dinner before (see the previous post), so he shouldn't be expecting anything else followed after that, although I don't know what's going through his mind when his wife was busy cleaning up their backyard in the morning despite the fact that she's pregnant and it was cold outside :), but it was all worth-it because it turned out to be so beautiful!

Planning the menu was a little hard for me, there were too many things going on at the same time (the previous birthday cake was one of them) that I only had a very limited time to plan, shop and actually make it, I was definitely on a roll, using my time as effective as possible to get a lot of things done. The entree was decided on the morning of the D-day, the appetizer was decided while we're shopping for ingredients at a grocery store on the same day, the dessert was ready in the morning too and wasn't decided until the day before. I really hoped I had more time to make a better one, but I was forced to settle down by something simpler due to time constraint.

Appetizer: Bacon-wrapped asparagus spears; warm french bread with olive oil-balsamic-herb dipping sauce
Entree: Cajun Pasta with chicken and teriyaki meatball
Dessert: Mango panna cotta verrine and chocolate-mango macaron
Drink: Fruit punch (made using guava-passion fruit-orange concentrate and lemon-lime soda)

We had about a few hour window when he was out doing something and came back. He was told that they were going to have a nice dinner outside but guess what he found at home? He was certainly surprised (in a good way)! The only downfall to the party was the weather, it was cooollddd..... but we can't complain afterall as for more than a week, it was the only day that wasn't raining.

The dessert corner

I chose mango panna cotta verrine because it's simple to make, I've made it before in both mango and strawberries (meaning, no experiment needed) and mango happens to be the birthday boy's favorite fruit (it runs in the family :D). For this reason too, I used this opportunity to try out Boiron mango puree that I had been hearing so much. I've always used Alphonso mango pulp for all my mango dessert and I had no complain at all, but I can't help to try this line of mango puree and see if the hype is true. To my surprise, when I opened the package, the smell and the color was almost exactly the same as the Alphonso mango pulp I've been using. It was actually a relief, I was afraid that I would like this puree so much (more than the pulp) that I would have to order online everytime I want to use it, silly me. Oh and I used creme fraiche this time instead of yogurt to add to the panna cotta. It wasn't planned really, the yogurt I was about to buy only comes in a big tub. Despite being cheap anyway, I would then have to use up the rest of it, I can't just throw it away, then that's when I spotted the creme fraiche. I've always wanted to try using it, I know it tastes like yogurt and a lot more expensive but I just had to satisfy my curiosity and plus, it was the perfect amount that I need, so no leftover I need to worry about :).

The macaron flavor combination was inspired by Vi at L'Atelier Vi. It was love at the first sight when I saw her post a while back, and since mango was the theme of the dessert, this fits really well. I used Pierre Herme's recipe that I had posted before and added cocoa powder to it. The end result wasn't as dark as I would have expected. I made Italian Meringue buttercream that I flavored with mango puree. While it was delicious on its own, however I could barely taste the mango flavor combined with the chocolate macaron. I definitely need to increase the amount of the puree next time, I'm still curious with this combination that I'm intrigued to make a cake with this two combination in the future, making sure that the chocolate won't overpower the mango.

Busy arranging before the birthday boy comes

Back to the dinner party, everyone helped making the food and the decoration and I could really say that we're all had a wonderful time together. J wanted to have a yellow-green-orange-white theme and I guess we achieved the theme without looking too colorful and still look elegant. The calla lilies were picked from my other brother's garden and it fits perfectly to the party. Calla lily is one of my favorite flower for its white and green color and especially the elegance that it has.

It was a very tiring day but I was so glad that it was a success! It was definitely different than the usual potluck or the get-together we usually have. I have everybody to thank for, for this dinner, so thank you guys for making it happen!


Happy Ending :)

Mango Panna Cotta Verrine
inspired by Cannelle et Vanille

Yogurt Panna Cotta:
200g heavy cream
45g sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
3/4 tsp. gelatin powder
1 tbs. water
100g whole milk plain yogurt (I used creme fraiche)

Combine the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla bean in a saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil. Meanwhile, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let it bloom. Melt it in a microwave for about 7 seconds to melt it. Once the cream comes to a boil, add the melted gelatin, stir and remove from the heat. Let cool in an icebath, stirring occasionally until it comes to room temperature. Add the yogurt or cream fraiche and mix well. Pour into the prepared glasses and refrigerate until set.

Mango Mousse:
150g mango puree
20g sugar (adjust depending on the sweetness of your puree)
1.5 tsp. gelatin powder
1 tbs. water
250g heavy cream, whipped to soft peak

Bring half of the mango puree and sugar to a gentle boil, add the melted gelatin (same method as above), add the rest of the puree and cool in an icebath. Fold in the heavy cream. Pipe (or use spoon) the mousse on top of the panna cotta and refrigerate.

Mango Jelly:
100g mango puree
15g sugar (adjust depending on the sweetness of your puree)
1/2 tsp. gelatin
1/2 Tbs. water

Boil the mango puree and sugar together, add the melted gelatin (see method above). Let cool in an icebath and spoon it on top of the mango mousse.

I double this recipe to make about 12-5.5oz glasses in the picture above. If you have fresh mango, you can put mango cubes inside the glasses too to provide textural balance. Unfortunately, mango wasn't quite in season yet here.

Chocolate Macaron:
use recipe here and add 20g cocoa powder to the dry mixture.