Strawberry Tiramisu

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Warmer weather means one important thing for me: summer fruits! Berries, melons, mangoes, and peaches galore! Don’t even get me started. Strawberries have come back in season, just in time for Mother’s Day desserts! This year, I decided to make some strawberry tiramisu (essentially a trifle) for my mom and mother-in-law. Asian people have specific taste when it comes to their desserts: they like them with reduced sugar compared to American desserts. Many desserts made by American and French bakeries are often cloyingly sweet-too intense for me. The thing is, we can adjust our taste buds to be able to appreciate sweet and salty flavors without overdoing our seasonings. Whenever I look up desserts recipes, I always adjust the sugar to 1/3 – ½ of what the recipe calls for. That usually gives me the perfect amount of sweetness without falling into a diabetic coma.

In California, May is not exactly the best month to enjoy fresh strawberries. This is the beginning of strawberry season, which means the berries are often more bland or sour. When I take a gamble and buy some fresh strawberries, I’m never sure what I’m going to get. Which is why I love having strawberry dessert recipes on hand so that I can repurpose the strawberries if they are not sweet enough on their own to eat by themselves. I often make strawberry jam from strawberries that are just under or past their peak ripeness. I come from a family that firmly believes in wasting as little as possible so we try to be resourceful when it comes to preserving our food and stretching it that extra mile.

The strawberry tiramisu recipe that I’ve prepared can easily be altered using other summer fruits, including blueberries, blackberries, peaches, or even mango. In writing this, I suddenly feel the urge to experiment with all these other fruits! Tiramisu can use different cream bases along with mascarpone. I personally love crème patisserie and anything custard-related really. So I combined crème patisserie with mascarpone to create a delicious pillow of creaminess to cushion the bite of the cake and tartness of strawberry. Hope you enjoy!

Cooking notes/tips:

When in doubt, always put less sugar than you think a recipe will need. You can always add more sugar, but you cannot take it away once it has been added. Think about the sweetness level of all your ingredients. I knew that the sponge cake I was using had a higher level of sugar, so I made sure to make my strawberry jam and crème patisserie/mascarpone cream mixture minimally sweet to create balance in this dessert.

Tiramisu is traditionally made with lady fingers, but prepared vanilla sponge cake or angel food cake can be wonderful substitutes.

I almost always make tiramisu the day before because you need time for the cake or lady fingers to soak up the flavorful liquid with which you have doused it.

Recipe
Serves 24
Cooking Time: 40 minutes
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients
2 loaves sponge cake
3 egg yolks
6 eggs
4 cups 2% milk
¾ cup corn starch
¾ cup sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 containers (24 oz) mascarpone
5 lbs fresh strawberries
½ cup white sugar
3 cups whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp powdered sugar

Directions

Strawberry Jam:

Wash strawberries and place in a large saucepan. Reserve 24 strawberries for decoration at the end. Add sugar. Turn on high heat and allow to boil and reduce for approximately 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. When liquid begins to reduce, lower heat to medium or medium-low. Continue simmering until jam begins to thicken.

Optional: use immersion blender to blend the chunks out of the jam

Allow to cool for approximately 20 minutes. Set aside.

Crème Patisserie:

Heat milk in a sauce pan

In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and corn starch together.

When milk almost comes to a boil, slowly whisk milk into egg mixture, one ladle at a time. This will heat the egg mixture. After egg mixture has become warm, add the rest of the milk and whisk into egg mixture.

Return the mixture to saucepan and heat on medium until it thickens to the consistency of a thin pudding. Whisk constantly to prevent curdling of egg mixture.

When crème patisserie is at the desired consistency, immediately remove from heat. Continue whisking and add in vanilla extract and mascarpone.

Transfer to a large clean bowl. Pass through a sieve when transferring to the bowl to ensure a smooth mixture (or at least pass the mixture from the bottom of the sauce pan through the sieve to prevent clumps from getting in).

Cover with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic to make contact with the top of the crème patisserie. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Tiramisu Assembly:

Find a large square or rectangular container that is at least 4 inches in height.

Cut sponge cake into ½ inch thick slices and place a thin layer of cake onto the container.

Spread a generous layer of strawberry jam on top of the cake layer.

Spread a generous layer of crème patisserie/mascarpone cream mixture on top of jam layer.

Repeat until there are at least 2 complete sets of layers. Top the last layer of crème patisserie with a generous layer of strawberry jam.

Refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Serve with fresh whipped cream and fresh strawberries. To prepare Chantilly cream, place whipping cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract into a mixer or mixing bowl. Whip for 3-5 minutes, or until soft peaks form on the cream.

Decorate to your heart’s content and enjoy with friends and family!

 

Bourbon Caramel Sauce

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These past few months, my life has been taken over by planning and preparing for my 2 weddings. I am happy to say that my husband and I have successfully tied the knot and we had wonderful celebrations with our beloved friends and family. Now that it’s all done with, we have been trying to clean up after the storm, literally and figuratively. We’ve needed time to clear our minds and our apartment of all the items that were left from our weddings. And now that we are comfortably settled, I am happy to be posting recipes of food that I’ve been cooking for us once again. That being said, it felt appropriate to start with something sweet since everyone knows us as “The Sweeties” and we are in the honeymoon period of our marriage. I hope that this recipes helps to spread sweetness (but not diabetes; it’s all in portion control, people) to those who try it.

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One of my favorite Food Network stars is Sandra Lee. She hosted a show called “Semi-Home Made with Sandra Lee.” I loved how she was a realistic cook in knowing that very few people have time and energy to cook everything from scratch. Sometimes you need help from the store, but there are ways to play things up and to put your own spin on prepared foods. I made this bourbon caramel sauce to accompany brownies that were made from a Ghirardelli brownie mix. I also use this sauce to pour on top of my bourbon caramel bread pudding.

Without further ado, I hope you enjoy this recipe. Caramel is actually really easy to make at home if you have the know-how and a little bit of patience.

Cooking Tips

If possible, use a sauce pan that is lighter in color when you’re making caramel. Dark pans make it more difficult to tell if the sugar has gotten to the perfect level of caramelization, which is crucial for making a successful caramel.

Be VERY careful when making any candy because you need to heat sugar to very high temperatures to melt it. NEVER dip your finger in to have a taste when you’re making this sauce or any candy because you will burn yourself.

Do not use plastic cookingware (e.g., plastic ladle) to stir the caramel. It will melt and ruin your caramel and cookingware. Instead, use silicone or wooden spoons for the job.

Recipe

Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
splash of Bourbon
1 tbsp butter
pinch of salt to taste

Place the sugar in a sauce pan and allow to heat on medium high heat. Allow the sugar to begin melting. If necessary, use a spoon to mix the remaining sugar crystals with the melted sugar for even melting.

Once sugar is all melted, turn fire to medium or medium-low heat and allow the sugar to slowly brown, approximately 3-7 minutes depending on your pan and stove settings. Watch very carefully.

Once sugar is light brown in color (the color of light brown sugar), immediately add in whipping cream. Slowly stir until the chunks of caramelized sugar have fully dissolved into the cream. Then add splash of Bourbon.

Continue stirring and cooking on medium heat until sauce just coats the back of a spoon or until it reaches its desired thickness. At the end of cooking, add in butter and salt to taste.

Allow to cool and then taste for seasoning. Add additional salt to taste.

 

 

Aromatic Tea Shortbread

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I do not consider myself a baker. At all. Actually, I pride myself in saying “I’m a cook, not a baker.” I remember many concoctions that I’ve put together that, in the words of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, were “underbaked,” “very close in texture”, that did not have all the “layers.” After binge watching 6 hours of the Great British Baking Show on Netflix, I felt empowered to venture into some baking for myself. I feel as though I’ve absorbed some of the baking skills of these talented amateur British bakers and I wanted to see if I could put myself to the task of having a “good bake.”

I happened upon a really great recipe for shortbread on Family Circle’s website (link below)

https://www.familycircle.com/recipe/earl-grey-shortbread/

This was such an excellent recipe to build off of, but I modified a few things to make it fit my own tastes and the tastes of my family who would be helping me to enjoy these shortbread biscuits. In Asian cooking, there is often minimal or moderate use of sugar. Sugar is seen as a nemesis of health and there is a level of shaming that happens when your older relatives catch you eating something sweet. Some people even take pride in saying “I don’t eat sweet things.” That’s actually quite a smart way to avoid unhealthy overconsumption if you think about it. Being the American-Born-Chinese (ABC) that I am, I cannot help but love my sweets, but in moderation of course. Thus, I modified this recipe to intensify aromatic flavors and balance sugar content. Most recipes I find for European-inspired sweets are often too sweet for my own tastes. I hope you enjoy this recipe and get a chance to experiment with your own aromatics and nuts in your shortbread this holiday season!

 

Cooking Tips

I found that grinding my spices with a mortar and pestle intensified the flavors more so than pulsing them in a food processor. Definitely go with a mortar and pestle for this step if you have one at home!

I used to make overly crumbly shortbread because I did not knead or work my dough enough. I found that working it a bit, helped my shortbread to help it build structure and not just crumble at the touch.

If you do not own a food processor large enough to make these cookies (neither do I), I found that using a pastry cutter is a great way to get the job done too. It just requires some elbow grease and arm power.

Ovens are finicky and fickle creatures. Every oven has its own temperament. I find that my oven runs hot, so when certain recipes call for a certain temperature, I make sure that I watch my time closely. I always have to rotate my pans as well, because I have hot spots in my oven and rotating ensures even cooking all around. Experiment with your own oven and see if you can tame the beast that it is to make it work for you and your baking/cooking.

 

Recipe

Time: 45 minutes
Yield: 24 cookies
Ingredients
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1/8 cup confectioners sugar
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp water
2 tbsp of aromatic tea leaves (matcha, earl grey, chai)

Using a mortor and pestle or spice grinder, grind aromatic tea until they become a fine powder. Pass through a sieve to ensure that no large chunks of tea end up in your cookies. Note that this step of grinding your tea is not necessary when you have matcha powder because it already comes in a fine powder.

Combine dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse together with butter until the butter is well incorporated into the flour. There should be no large chunks of butter left.

(Optional: For matcha cookies, add 1 cup chopped walnuts and 1 tbsp honey to dough)

Add in water and continue to pulse until well incorporated.

Pour out dough onto a clean floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes. This step helps to create gluten, which well help the shortbread have a nice structure instead of crumbling to the touch.

When the dough has come together, roll into a thin log about 1.5-2 inches in diameter. Cover in saran wrap and place in the refrigerator/freezer to set for 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut dough into even 1/4 inch thick slices and place onto a baking sheet, leaving some (but not much) space in between.

(Optional: For matcha cookies, cover the log in a thin layer of brown sugar before cutting cookies)

Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes until the edges are just starting to brown. Then increase heat to 375 degrees for the last 3-5 minutes of baking.

Rotate your baking tray in the oven to ensure even baking if you notice a hotspot in your oven.

Watch cookies closely at the last few minutes and remove from the oven when the edges are golden brown. Try not to “overbake.” =P

 

Piña Colada Yogurt Parfait

IMG_8598.jpgDesserts! Er…I mean yogurt for breakfast! Let’s be honest, I have been craving cakes, desserts, and ice cream like mad lately because of my new healthy habits. Since they are not a regular part of my diet, I cannot justify having ice cream for breakfast. But luckily, I CAN have this piña colada yogurt for breakfast and it is every bit as satisfying, rich, and creamy as ice cream is. The trick is using full fat yogurt. Oh-my-goodness! I feel like I have been lied to all my life by Yoplait and their low-fat or non-fat corn-syrup-laden grossness. I have now completely boycotted flavored yogurts and now I will never turn back. Flavored yogurts are often filled with way too much sugar and lots of unnatural ingredients that I cannot pronounce. And the amazing thing is-you can make your own fruit flavored yogurt for a fraction of the sugar and calories, and it will taste even MORE delicious than that pre-packaged crap we are tricked into purchasing. Here’s something that I learned through my cooking experiments with sweets- there is a point at which we reach a sweet spot of tasting sweetness in our food. After that point, even if you add more sugar, it does not necessarily increase your satisfaction or even pleasure with the sweetness. Instead, it becomes overly sweet and cloying. Unfortunately, many of us have had our taste buds trained by the food industry to crave overly sweet foods. But don’t take my word for it. Give it a try yourself and sweeten your own foods to your liking and see if you can taste the difference.

Another bone I want to pick with the dairy industry is: why do you keep making everything low-fat or fat-free? We know you just fill all that emptiness with sugar instead. I have discovered full fat plain yogurt and I am NEVER going back. My goodness, the rich delicious flavor and mouth-feel are incomparable to any fat-free yogurt I’ve ever had to eat. The great news is that this delicious base becomes the canvas on which you can paint using the full palette of natural seasonings and fruits available, from vanilla extract to brown sugar, honey, and fruit. The world is your oyster. So, it is through this re-awakening of my love of yogurt that has inspired this piña colada yogurt parfait. It can be your breakfast, but seriously it makes a mean dessert if you are trying to avoid ice cream. Hope you give it a try and enjoy this easy yet delicious recipe!

Cooking notes/tips:

If you are making this yogurt parfait ahead of time, make sure to omit the pineapple until you serve. I’ve noticed that the pineapple emits bitterness throughout the yogurt when it is soaked in it for too long.

Always choose fresh-squeezed lemon and lime juice when you can, especially if you do not plan to heat up/cook your dish. You can really tell the difference in terms of freshness of flavor. Bottled juices are probably fine for marinades since there are many other flavors and you will be cooking the flavor out, but nothing can replace the zesty bite of freshly squeezed citrus!

Ingredients
1 cup full fat yogurt
½ cup chopped pineapple (frozen or fresh)
1 tbsp honey or brown sugar
1 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
pinch of lime zest
juice of ¼ lime

Directions
Mix ingredients together and serve cold! It’s that easy!

Adjust honey and brown sugar to taste. Or omit for a healthier yogurt dish.