Friday, April 30, 2010

A Spring-y Cake


Are you tired of me going on about the spring yet? It was a really long winter! And spring flowers are the best! Isn't this tulip gorgeous? Tulips are one of my favorite flowers. More on flowers later, now, on to the food!


This is the Orange Sunshine Coffeecake from the latest issue of the Baking Sheet. Actually I don't know if this cake is springy exactly, since it's orange flavored, and citrus is a winter thing. But, nevermind, it's got a light, bright flavor that *I* think goes perfectly with this season! And, it's pretty (although, my drizzling skills leave something to be desired).


This coffeecake is made with a yeast dough, which is rolled out into a big rectangle and then covered in the filling--sugar, instant clearjel, cinnamon, orange juice, and a big pile of orange zest. The clearjel is a modified food starch which thickens without needing to be cooked. It's great for this filling, because it thickens it up and stops it from running all over the place (like it did the first time I made it, with regular cornstarch). You then roll it into a long sausage, form it into a ring, and then make cuts, about an inch apart and about 3/4 of the way through the roll (so you are not cutting the ring apart).


Okay, here's where the shaping gets fun--you turn the slices on their sides (still attached in a ring!), and every other slice gets folded towards the center. You can see now, why the clearjel is really important.


After baking, the cake gets a quick glaze made of confectioner's sugar and orange juice (and a bit of orange extract). I made this one a bit thinner than it should be, so it doesn't look as nice. Oh well, try, try again!

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite flowers from my trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden last weekend; the full set can be seen here.


Cherry blossoms--oh, so many cherry blossoms. I think they peaked a bit earlier this year; the Sakura Matsuri takes place this weekend I think most of the trees are past peak already. (Plus, really? No 2/3 train service this weekend? Gah. What the hell, MTA.)


And some more intensely red tulips.

Lavender Lilacs

Lilacs (you bet I spent ages standing there with my nose buried in them)!

Pink lilacs

More lilacs! Man, I love the garden. I think this weekend, I will try to make my way to the Bronx Botanical Garden. For a change, the weather is supposed to be nice on a weekend, woohoo!

Hey, we made it to Friday! :D

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spring colors


No time for lengthy posting today, but I wanted to share these two photos because they reminded me of each other (and of spring). Plus, it's gorgeous and sunny out today for the first time in DAYS, and I'm feeling the happiness of spring again. AND I'm getting my hair cut today (first time in a year, yeeee) so I think it's going to be a good day.

The macarons are from my friend's cafe; this is a new item for them and so some of us have been lucky enough to sample them. My favorites so far are the coconut (sooo good) and passionfruit, but I hear that they are going to start experimenting with red bean so I guess I'll have to wait to try that one! Actually I'm really hoping their macaron maker will let me watch the whole process sometime...

Happy Wednesday! I think we can start counting down towards the weekend now, no?

Monday, April 26, 2010



A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend fairly lengthy periods of time in Switzerland. I really enjoyed the trips I took there, I mean, what's not to like? Hiking? Mountains? Beautiful old towns everywhere you look? Chocolate?? Need I say more? There was also the Linde, near the Mister's apartment, where we drank many a seasonal beer (my favorite? The fruehlingsbier! Yum.) and had toooo few plates of apfelkuechlein. Oh my gosh, that was the best dessert ever. Wait, I have to show it to you:


Not a great photo, but mmmm. Apple rings, battered, fried, covered in cinnamon sugar, and served with ice cream? YES, PLEASE. Whoops, I'm getting sidetracked here! One of the other nice things about his place was Hausamann, an awesome bakery/cafe. It's right by the tram stop which means it's great for running in and grabbing a quick snack, but I always enjoyed perusing the racks of treats, and trying out my really, really rudimentary German on the ladies there. (And by try out, I mean, I was thrilled when I bought a Kartoffelbrot, and they understood me. Of course, they then asked me something else which I could not for the life of me understand. I think I realized like, 2 years later, that they had asked me if I wanted it sliced.) They have a nice little seating area inside, if you want a coffee and some cake, but I particularly liked their sandwiches (like the Fischli! A fish shaped fish sandwich? Yum.) and learned to buy one to take on the plane back to the States. (Don't ever ever eat the chicken "cordon bleu" on Continental. Trust me.) Another thing that I loved there? The Schoggibroetli! It's basically a soft, sweet bun studded with bits of chocolate and sugar chunks, and I have been craving them lately. Of course, there are no Schoggibroetlis to be found, so I had to try my hand at making them myself.


I started with a basic sweet yeast dough, let it rise once, and then kneaded in some finely chopped chocolate and a handful of pearl sugar, then set it aside to rise again.


This is how it looked after about an hour; good rising! I love the way yeast dough smells. After the second rise, I formed the dough into buns, and left it to rise for a 3rd time. Actually I think that was probably overkill, and you could probably just mix the chocolate in during the first rise, and the second rise will be after you form the buns.


Just before baking, brush the buns with butter and sprinkle more pearl sugar on top. Pearl sugar is great! It doesn't melt, looks pretty, and adds a nice crunch, and when you actually fold it into dough, you get little pockets of sugar. Yummmmmy.


20 minutes later? Schoggibroetli! Looks good? I can tell you they SMELLED great.

Schoggiebroetli, take 1

Tasted great, too! Actually, I must pat myself on the back--these are pretty close to the Schoggibroetlis I remember. I would just switch up the chocolate and use one that was slightly less bitter next time (maybe 60% instead of 72%). Also, I would be more careful and knead the chocolate in more evenly. But oh, these do take me I want to take another trip to Zurich. Besides, there are those lovely Luxemburgerlis waiting for me....

What's your favorite food memory from a trip? Tell me :)

Schoggibroetli (Swiss Chocolate Buns)
2 3/4 cup bread flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast (or one envelope)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup warm milk
1 egg
2 tablespoons butter, softened (plus another tablespoon, melted for brushing the buns)
about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips, or finely chopped chocolate from a bar (or to taste)
1/4 cup of pearl sugar, plus more for the top of the buns

Combine flour, yeast, sugar, and salt, and whisk briefly to combine. Add the water, milk, and egg, mix until a dough starts to form. This is easiest in a mixer, but can also be done easily by hand. Just prepare to get messy! Knead the butter in until thoroughly incorporated, then turn out onto a lightly floured countertop and knead until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky. Pat the dough out into a rough square, and sprinkle the chocolate chips and pearl sugar evenly over the surface. Roll up, and knead again briefly, just to make sure all of the chips and sugar are incorporated into the dough. Place in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled (1-2 hours, depending on how warm the room is).

When the dough is risen, deflate it, and form 18 evenly sized buns. Arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving about an inch and a half between each bun, and cover with a damp tea towel. Allow to rise until puffy and almost doubled, which should take about 40 minutes to an hour. Preheat oven to 350 F. Melt a tablespoon of butter and brush the tops of the buns, then sprinkle a bit of additional pearl sugar on. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the buns are nicely browned top and bottom. Remove to a rack to cool; they are most delicious when they are still slightly warm, but are also good microwaved for 15 seconds or so.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Hong Kong Post 3: Ocean Park, Going to the Races, Samurai!!


Before I get to Ocean Park and Happy Valley, here is a photo of me and Akira Kurosawa.'s just a statue (obviously, since he passed away some time ago). Actually my trip coincided with a traveling exhibit celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth; this exhibit runs through the end of this year, and you can find more information on where it will be here. In addition to screening his films, the exhibit has many of Kurosawa's personal effects as well as, most exciting to me, actual props and costumes from some of his movies!


I think this was used in Ran. By the way, pardon the darkness of the photos, the lighting was quite dim.


Really intricate embroidery on a kimono used in one of his movies. I don't know much about textile design and really nothing about embroidery, but this looks really, really expensive.


A sketch done by Kurosawa. There were lots of display cases full of awards and various honors conferred upon him, but, as I said, the lighting was very dim, and so I have very few photos. But that is unimportant--the exhibit was really, really fascinating and I felt very honored to have been able to see it. (And as a side note, it was located in kind of a weird spot--a strange little gallery space in an office building. This was early on in my trip so I was still getting used to these massive sprawling high rise buildings which are combination mall, residences, office space, food court, etc.)


I had really wanted to go to HK Disneyland, but on reading a bunch of reviews, it sounded like Disneyland is a lot smaller than WDW, and it sounded like it wasn't worth the admission price. So we went to Ocean Park instead, and had a great time! That's Whiskers above, the mascot. It's really easy to get to Ocean Park by bus--you can pick up bus 629 at Admiralty MTR and it'll drop you off right at the entrance. You can also buy your admission tickets at the station; you can't miss the booths, trust me. For more detailed directions (and other options), check out their website.


Ocean Park is an amusement park with the requisite ferris wheel and terrifying tower of doom (neither of which we rode), but look at how gorgeous the setting is! We did ride a log flume (super fun) and a roller coaster that was perched on the edge of the cliff. It was probably the most terrifying roller coaster that I've ever been on, because I kept thinking about how far we would fall if the coaster went off its tracks.


My favorite was actually the cable car ride, which connects the upper and lower parts of the car. It's a pretty long cable car system, and along the way you are treated to some stellar views, like the ones below.


Enormous hunting bird, hunting.

Nice view

The ocean!


But besides rides, Ocean Park also has an aquarium, and a jellyfish exhibit. I like looking at jellyfish, they are very soothing. I mean, to watch--I would not like to be stung by one.


And they also have pandas! I learned that pandas basically do two things--eat, and sleep. Oh, for the life of a panda. Although I would probably not have enough time to travel if I were a panda.

Red Panda

And, just as cute as giant pandas, the red panda! He looks almost like a red raccoon, and has the most beautiful fur. I just want to pet him. (I didn't, don't worry.)

Fish Lantern

There was also an exhibit (temporary, I think) of exotic goldfish. No, I'm not talking about the ones in the photo above (although, they sure are exotic!). It was a REALLY interesting exhibit with some pretty detailed information on the different types of goldfish that had been bred through the years, and it was also beautifully designed. I just wish more of my photos had turned out, but the only one that did is this one:

fancy goldfish

To think these all originated from boring old carp. Enough of fish, on to another kind of animal!

GOGO Number 10!

Yeah, we went to Happy Valley to see the horse racing! Wednesday nights seem to be pretty hopping at the race track, and we had such a good time the first time we went that we went back a second. Admission is 10 HKD, and they obviously get a lot of tourists because they are very well set up with a big information tent right by the entrance, where they will help you figure out how to fill out your betting slips. Minimum bet is 10HKD, and drinks and snackies are available (at not too extortionate prices) so this is a highly recommended activity in my book. We bet on number 10 in the race above, and everything was looking great but he fizzled out in the end. It's okay, number 10, there's always next time!


This race track is serious business! Look at how crowded it is! We wandered around on the ground level mostly and you could really tell the tourists from the serious gamblers.

Anticipation, anxiety, dread?

Like this guy. I hope he won. Seriously though, after a while, I stopped watching the races, and started watching the lifetime gamblers. These were guys with like, 3 cell phones and ear pieces who were reading the racing form like their lives depended on it. Who knows, maybe they did! I don't think any of them watched the races, either, they were too focused on making their picks for the races. Obviously a world removed from me, who picked horses based on their names (Spicy Shrimp!). Anyway, we did win 14 HKD or something like that, so, awesome.

Future jockey?

On our way out, I wanted a photo of myself posing with this fake race horse, but this cute kid was busy playing on it. So I took a photo of him instead. Maybe he'll be a jockey one day...

Oh, before I forget, I meant to include this in my last post, but I forgot to (scatter brained, that's me)--there is an excellent little teaware museum in Hong Kong Park that is WELL worth the hour or two that it'll take you to go through it. Really fascinating stuff, even if you are not a tea drinker. It's located in the Flagstaff House--admission is free, and I guarantee you will leave knowing 100% more about clay and teapots than you did before going in.

Thus concludes Part 3 of my Hong Kong adventures! Next time...Lamma Island.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Happy Birthday Fat Bob

Happy birthday Robert Smith

Well, I had Part 3 of my Hong Kong trip drafted and ready to go, but it is being pre-empted by something far more important, someone who shaped my teenage years and taught me (at various stages of my life), how to look tragic, how to put on makeup, and most importantly, how to recognize good music.

Yeah, that's right--happy birthday Robert Smith! May you live a long life! I'm sorry I piped your face on kind of wonky and that this doesn't reeeeeaaally look like you. Although, I think the hair is kind of cool?! And Disintegration was the best album ever!!!

I leave you with apt lyrics:

Cake icing and decorating set
Special offer
Only 3 pound 30
Save 1 pound 52 on recommended retail price
Give your cakes and pies a professional look
With this superb
Decorating set

I'm not meant to be here
But so what?
And nobody's
Nobody's taken your place
Nobody's taken your place

Each set includes
A turntable
A nine inch icing bag
With six high definition nozzles and adaptor
With a fifteen inch food decorating bag
With three piping nozzles
Please send off this leaflet
Post it today

And if you knew
Nothing could replace you
If you were sane
Your heart wouldn't ache
But so what?
So what?
So what?

Order now
Allow twenty one days
For deliver
This offer closes
31st December 1979

British sugar bureau
When I told you what I
And I

And I wouldn't ask you to pretend
That we were one
And still another time
Forget all the lies forgive me the wounds
And all the world was used to love
And yes we'd still be happy in another time
But so what?
So what?

So please send me icing and decorating sets
I enclose a cheque and postal order number

So what?
So what?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Butter (maple) Tarts


Oh, the dangers of reading foodblogs--I don't know about you guys, but I am constantly reading other blogs and going "oooh, that looks good, I have to make that." So, of course, I've amassed this huge collection of thinks with recipes I really really want to try which just languish in my bookmarks list, collecting cyber-dust. But once in a while I see something that looks so good that my brain (or my stomach?) won't stop bugging me about it until I try it out. This is one of them!


I first saw these over at Carly's Comfort Zone (go look at her photos, because try as I might, I just cannot get these to photograph well enough to show how truly sticky-delicious they look). They reminded me a little bit (appearance-wise) of a sugar pie that I saw while I was in Vancouver last month, and the ingredients list reminds me of pecan pie (and in fact, you can add pecans to this). And cream cheese tart dough? Hell yes. I am a firm believer in cream cheese pie doughs; that cream cheese, besides providing fat, also gives a nice tangy bite to the crust, which is a nice contrast to the sweet filling.

inside gooeyness

Doesn't that look gooey and delicious? As I mentioned above, I changed up a couple of things in the original recipe, including using maple syrup in place of corn syrup because I didn't have any, and I did have a jug of lovely maple syrup from Vermont. (Which makes this even LESS Canadian, if you ask our friend who believes the only good maple syrup comes from Canada. Fighting words!) I also reduced the butter and used white whole wheat flour instead of all purpose. I don't think that hurt the recipe any, and I felt slightly less guilty! These are perfect to go with a cup of tea or coffee, especially when they are still warm. Thanks for introducing me to these, Carly!

(Maybe Canadian) Butter Tarts, adapted from Carly's Comfort Zone

Tart Crust:
2 cups white whole wheat flour (or all purpose, or a mixture of regular whole wheat and AP)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
6oz cold cream cheese
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
2 tbsp ice water

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup maple syrup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

For the crust, combine flour, salt, and baking powder and whisk briefly. Grate in the butter on the largest holes of a box grater (it helps if you freeze your butter, actually). Add the cream cheese, cut into small chunks, and mix quickly, until the mixture looks like corn meal. It's okay to have chunks of butter and cream cheese, just not huge ones. Sprinkle the ice water over and toss quickly until the dough comes together. Form into a smooth ball, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes.

After dough is chilled, preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 12 cup muffin pan, or line with muffin liners.

Roll the tart dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/8"-1/4" thick. Cut out approximately 3.5" rounds and press rounds into the prepared pan. (I ended up with a fair amount of dough scraps, which I re-rolled and cut into small cookie size rounds. Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon sugar and bake. Good snack with fresh berries!) Refrigerate while you prepare the filling.

For the filling, combine all the ingredients and beat until well combined. Spoon filling into the pastry lined cups until almost full. Bake until the piecrust is browned and the filling is bubbling; in my oven, that took about 25 minutes. Cool slightly, and then serve with hot tea or coffee.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hong Kong Post 2: Tourism!


It's been over a month two months (holy cow, and over a month since I started drafting this post) since I came back from Hong Kong and I think I'm still experiencing the post vacation blues! At least I have photos and memories to console me! So I may not be too chronological about this, but I'll talk about a few things that we did, like visit the Edward Youde Aviary, which was a GREAT bird exhibit. You walk around on wooden bridges and see all sorts of amazing birds. The one complaint I had is that their handout did not include all of the birds that live in the aviary, which led to a lot of conversations like this:

Me: Oooh, what's that one?
The Man: *consults handout*....I don't know, it's not on here
Me: Oh. What's that one then? etc.


But even though we may not be more knowledgeable about bird species, we did get to see some awesome things, like this pair of courting birds (I think they are pigeons of some type).


And this beauty just calmy sat there and let us snap away. Actually, Hong Kong Park in general is a really nice place to spend a few hours, and we visited it several times during my trip. There was lots to see, like a pond with a whole lot of cute turtles sunbathing.



And there are also art installations, including a series of riffs on social networking sites, like this one. I found this funny (AND TRUE).


I also started to see that Hong Kong is the land of forbidden activities. And someone in the parks services apparently hates dogs, because they don't seem to be allowed anywhere! But apparently the releasing of fish and terrapins is the biggest problem.


HK Park is near the marriage registry, and I thought this sign was cute.


Oh, and here is one of my favorite buildings, the Lippo Building--it is supposed to look like koalas climbing up the side of the building.


On another day, we went to the Botanical Gardens (which is also where the zoo is) and saw a nice greenhouse display, mostly of orchids. I can't remember what these were, but they are really interesting looking! I love tropical plants.


This spiky flower is in the cactus family, I think. Man, who am I kidding--I have no idea. I just think it's a nice color. I am (obviously) no botanist!


But I know this is an orchid, and I know it's gorgeous.


Of course, you can't go to Hong Kong without going to the Peak (its full name is Victoria Peak), and there are several ways to get there; for tourists, the most popular is probably by funicular. When my brother was in Hong Kong (just a few months before me), that's what they did--they took the funicular up and then walked down. We, on the other hand, are FIERCE--we WALKED up. That photo above is at one of the intermediate tram stops. It looks steep, but I guarantee you that that doesn't even begin to tell you how steep it actually is! There were parts where I felt like I was doing the Smooth Criminal dance, that's how far over I was leaning. I'm not complaining, mind you--I enjoyed the walk (once I caught my breath) and it was a beautiful day. I just had my mind blown by the people who were RUNNING up the hill. RUNNING. Overachievers.


But look at how great the view is! (There are some facilities at the Peak including restaurants and some kind of observation deck you have to pay for, but there are plenty of free look out spots.)


And another view.


Even this stone lion is happy we made it. After we had our fill of the view, we hopped on the tram back down to Central. That tram is damn near a roller coaster--again, SO STEEP. So steep that you are almost lying on your back at some points.

This is definitely a must-do if you visit Hong Kong. Just make sure you pick a clear day!

Next time: Kurosawa exhibit, going to the races at Happy Valley, Ocean Park!