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Matcha and Chocolate Mochi Bundt CakeMar 10, 2012

If there's any world culture that knows how to translate the flavors of Spring into food, it has to be the Japanese. A few years ago, my family traveled to Japan to see the cherry blossom bloom and follow it from Kyoto on the southern end of Honshu island up to Tokyo farther North. In Japan, they not only recognize the changing of seasons, they celebrate it: we were lucky enough to be in Kyoto during the Spring festival, when the evenings are a-glow with paper lanterns, and Japanese nationals in traditional kimono show up in droves to write their prayers on little scrolls at the Buddhist temples. And everywhere you turn, they revel in the beautiful pink blossoms that shower the streets with food and pastries honoring the season that signals new beginnings.

We scarfed (yes, scarfed . . . because we're Japanese Americans without a clue about the social graces of those born in Japan) down delicate pink mochi treats and sweet rice wrapped in salt water-soaked cherry blossom leaves. Chirashi came sprinkled with fluffy pink denbu (sweetened cod flakes). Little flower-shaped senbei crackers were tinged green with matcha powder and strewn with shaved toasted nori. And despite it being a 40ºF and rainy March, we intensely felt the turning of a seasonal page and tasted it with nearly every meal.

We haven't quite hit the Spring Equinox, but thanks to some unseasonably warm weather here in San Francisco, my mind is already focused on starting anew. I rediscovered the bundt pan I inherited from my grandmother, and with some mochi flour and matcha powder, I set about recreating those flavors and feelings from our travels.

Ready to celebrate a new season? Check out the recipe at YumSugar.

[La Maison du Chocolat] All About ChocolateMay 22, 2012

mieko14 reblogged this from Sesame's World of Macarons and added:
My macaron-obsessed sister-in-law sure knows a thing or two about these delicate French pastries. She's on a mission to sample the best that NYC has to offer before she moves to Seoul next week, and I am more than happy to follow her adventures (and can't wait to see the amazing treats she finds in Korea!).

 

Just a couple of weeks ago, my friend got assigned to another flight to NYC, so we had a nice, long date. We started off the day by eating ramen at Menkui Tei, and after doing some shopping, we decided we needed something sweet. My friend told me that after our experience at Ladurée, she got hooked onto macarons. Of course, that meant we had to have macarons. I yelped the nearest macaron shop, and since I hadn't tried this place before, we began to walk to La Maison du Chocolat.

The one we went to was at the Rockefeller Plaza, although there is one at Wall Street and another in the Upper East Side.

 

Apparently, this store's specialty was chocolate, so I was curious as to what kind of macarons it would carry.


Rows of macarons!!! I couldn't resist this scenery and took a picture, but a lady came up and told everyone, "No photography please." Meh.

 

I bought a box of 6, which cost a total of $16.50. That's $2.75 per macaron.

I got passion fruit, coffee, caramel, pistachio, raspberry, and lighter dark chocolate.



The colors are really pretty! Earthy colors, fitting to a store whose specialty is in chocolates.

What's unique about these macarons is that the fillings are all chocolate. However, they have incorporated various extracts into the chocolate according to its flavor - for example, the chocolate filling for the caramel macaron tastes like caramel. Also, I don't know if this is because the filling has melded and seeped into the macaron hats, but the hats have a strong flavor too.

Well, here goes the tasting!

First off, the lighter dark chocolate. Wasn't too unique, so I don't have much to say.


Next, coffee!! This was one of my favorites, as it had a nice, rich coffee flavor that wasn't too bitter nor too sweet.


Rasberry. I love berry-flavored chocolate, so this was also pretty good.


Passion fruit. Not a big fan of passion fruit - it has a sort of bitterness that I can't get used to.


Pistachio. Didn't taste much like pistachio, so it was a bit of a disappointment, since I love pistachio macarons.


Caramel! This was pretty good. I loved how the chocolate filling tasted like caramel and had a sort of gooey texture that is unique to caramel.


OVERALL


The macarons of La Maison du Chocolat were nice quality and tasted good. However, the store doesn't carry a great selection of flavors. I'm not talking about HOW MANY flavors, but the VARIETY. But then again, this place specializes in chocolate, thus the flavors are centered around that and the macarons are all filled with chocolate.

Besides the whole texture of the macaron hats, which is key to a great-tasting/feeling macaron, the fillings are what essentially delivers the flavors. So in that sense, I've become an anti-fan of chocolate ganache, which, with its strong flavor and sweetness, covers up other flavors. While La Maison du Chocolat incorporates different flavored chocolates to fill their macarons, chocolate is what you taste the most. As much as I am a lover of chocolates and macarons, I sort of got tired of eating these macarons.

But still, these are good macarons to have if you are craving something chocolatey! The next review will be on the macarons from Cha-An!

Sneak preview:


Lemon Mochi DoughnutsJul 09, 2011

As I've espoused before, I do love a good doughnut. I mean, how can you say no to fried dough? But at-home creations can be awfully messy, and I tire of wiping oil spatter off everything within a 6 foot radius of my stove. So I picked up a doughnut pan at Sur La Table, imagining the possibilities of circular delights fresh from the oven. I found a delectable recipe for vanilla-sugar mochi doughnuts as well as one for lemon honey creme mochi, but with a pantry bare on specialty ingredients (save mochiko — of course I have a few boxes of that lying around!), I set to work on a lemon mochi doughnut that could be made from basic pantry staples. For the recipe, read on.

Earl Grey Macarons with Honey Buttercream FillingApr 09, 2011

Inspired by the visit from my sister-in-law, I set out to make a batch of macarons all by my lonesome. Flying solo didn't seem like such a scary thing until I was actually in the midst of whipping the egg whites, and then all of the insecurities began bubbling to the surface like the air in the froth I was creating. Is this bubbly enough to begin adding sugar? Is it glossy enough? Are these peaks stiff, or should I beat it just a minute longer? Well, my friends, I'm sorry to say that these were by no means perfect. They were more the consistency of meringue than chewy macarons which tells me I needed to press more air out of the batter and possibly add a little more almond meal. But they were tasty, so expect v2 to follow soon! For the recipe, read on.

MacaronsApr 07, 2011

Relationships often have early omens that signal whether they are meant to last. When I met my husband in college, it was clear that our mutual love for Star Wars (I know, I know -- nerd alert!), amusement parks, late night runs to Jack in the Box, and practice of couch potatoism were harbingers of a long life together. But oddly enough, what sealed the deal was meeting his parents. It happened at an elegant Chinese banquet restaurant over the largest meal you have ever seen. His dad took charge ordering for the four of us, and soon four 5-course meals appeared followed by five or six additional heaping platters. We had so much food, the waiters couldn't fit it all on our table. We had so much food, boxing it up in doggie bags seemed like a futile effort. We had so much food, his mom got violently ill later that night. I knew I was in love with him, but I guess I kind of sort of fell in love with them, too.

Then I met his sister, and all of the pieces fell into place. She shares my love of baking (though she shares their dad's scientific curiosity and patience, whereas I am impatient and want it to work the first time), and within the last few years took up the task of creating the perfect macaron. Mind you, she has been a full time grad student living on her own in NYC, so where she finds the time I have no idea. But her creations are lovely, and while she was visiting this past week, she taught me her fine art.

Macarons are highly temperamental, and every macaron maker has their own advice on ingredients and temperature, but everyone will agree that it's all about the technique. From the consistency of the meringue to the airiness of the batter, the only way you can expect a result anywhere resembling a macaron is to master proper folding and piping. But one taste, and I knew that this, too, was a relationship worth pursuing! For a recipe and photos of our creations, read on.

ManjuMar 25, 2011

Today I met a friend for lunch at Mifune in Japantown, and after my meal of tempura udon needed something sweet. There's a new cupcake shop in the center that I passed earlier on my way to Kinokuniya Bookstore, but I consider it a travesty to crave sweets in Japantown and not pay a visit to Benkyodo Co. This business opened over a century ago, surviving the WWII internment camps and the slow erosion of Japanese-owned businesses in and around Japantown. Its main attraction is manju -- sweet, pounded rice cakes often filled with sweet bean paste and traditionally served with tea. My parents began bringing me here when I was very young, and I have been manju-crazy ever since.

Despite the end-of-days monsoon we are experiencing here in San Francisco, it is spring -- technically -- so I was delighted to see sakuramochi! Pretty in pink, this little cake is a perfect representation of blooming cherry blossoms and will always remind me of our trip to Japan last year. Spring was particularly cold there, so despite arriving in Kyoto in late March, we had a very difficult time finding sakura in bloom around the city. When we finally came across one in Maruyama Park one drizzly afternoon, it was as though nature celebrated with us because the sun burst out from behind the clouds! Suddenly, I understood why these magnificent trees are such a national treasure. I imagine that this year's emerging sakura flowers must give many Japanese hope in light of the horrible events of the past few weeks.

Today I painstakingly selected a few different kinds of manju and mochi, and just as I walked out of the shop with my purchases, the sun very fittingly crept out from behind the fog. To see descriptions of what I bought, read on.

Azuki-filled Mochi Cupcakes with Green Tea FrostingMar 10, 2011

This week, my neighbor Jamie invited me to a Real Housewives-style lunch (sans crazy drama and plastic surgery) at her house with a couple other ladies from the block. Our other neighbor Cathy offered to whip up some of her delicious egg rolls and noodles, Jamie supplied her precious Lupicia tea, and since Jamie has her hands full chasing around her adorable 10-month-old daughter, I figured I would chip in with dessert. But what do bring that would be tasty next to Cathy's delicious Chinese delectables and Jamie's wonderful tea?

One of my favorite Japanese treats is daifuku manju: sweetened mochi (rice cake) filled with an (sweet bean paste) that is intended to be eaten with tea. I used to love to stop at Benkyo-do in Japantown for a manju sampler: white mochi with red koshi-an (smooth bean paste), pink mochi with white koshi-an, green tea mochi with red tsubushi-an (chunky bean paste). Lately, I have been intrigued with how to infuse my favorite Asian flavors into traditional western pastries, and since cupcakes afford so much flexibility with ingredients and textures, they seemed like a good starting point.

I wanted the cupcake to mimic the sensation of biting into chewy, soft daifuku manju, so I knew that the cupcake batter needed to contain mochiko flour, and the an would need to make an appearance, too. But I also love the flavor of green tea with manju, so I figured: why not use some matcha powder to whip up some green tea frosting? After tracking down a few recipes online, I had a good base to start with. I made my own an, but you can find it premade in Japanese grocery stores (though it tends to be on the sweet side...if you make your own, you can control the sugar). For the recipes, read on.

Matcha Green Tea FrostingMar 10, 2011

I have found that frosting is a great way to infuse certain ingredients into a pastry that do not fare well with heating or baking or to add additional layers of flavor to a dessert. Matcha (finely milled green tea) works great as a flavoring agent in baked goods, but it comes through great in frosting, as I found with this recipe. It is on the sweet side, so I might try this again as a cream cheese frosting.

Adapted from Cupcake Bakeshop

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream or half-and-half
  • 1 tbsp. matcha powder
  • 3 c. confectioners sugar, sifted

 

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip butter until fluffy.
  2. In a small bowl, mix cream and matcha until well combined.
  3. To the electric mixer, add 1 c. sugar and beat until combined. Scrape down bowl, then add 1/3 of the cream-matcha mixture. Beat to combine, scrape down bowl, then add another cup of sugar. Continue alternating until you have used up all of the remaining ingredients. Turn the mixer to high, and whip until frosting is light and fluffy.

Mochi Cupcakes with Koshi-an (Sweet Red Bean Paste) FillingMar 10, 2011

Mmmmmm-mochi. There's something about the chewy, sticky rice cake that makes me want to hum a little ditty. Of course, the OG mochi that we stockpile at New Year's is unsweetened, and I like to toast it and dip it in a shoyu-sugar mixture. Most folks know as its more marketable tea go-with incarnation: daifuku manju. As I learn more about wagashi (Japanese sweets served with tea), I have found that there are so many ways to work with mochi and mochiko rice flour. So where to start? Cupcakes became the introductory lesson. For the recipe, read on.

Koshi An (Smooth Sweetened Azuki Bean Paste)Mar 10, 2011

Sweet bean paste is an acquired taste. I have been eating it since I was very young, so I never went through that initiation phase. But for those to whom an (as it's called in Japanese) is a new thing, if you can get past the intense sweetness and textural hurdles, you are in for a real treat. It's best paired with some type of pastry (preferably rice-based), but I'm sure there are combinations out there that are yet to be invented. I prefer smooth bean paste (koshi-an) to the kind with the bean skins left on (tsubushi-an), a preference I think is akin to smooth vs. chunky peanut butter. You either like it or you don't. However, it really depends on the context of the dessert. In some cases, only the chunky variety will do.

Bean paste can be red or white, and the red variety can be bought pre-made at many Asian grocery stores. I've found it to be too sweet, so making my own allows me to control the sugar. To save a little time, you could buy the canned beans and skip the parboiling step (step 1). Some recipes called for soaking the beans over night, but as long as you parboil 3-4 times, I don't think that soaking is necessary. For the recipe, read on.

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