Friday, May 22, 2015

Boston Cream Pie

What is a lucky girl.  My daughter celebrated her 27 birthday last month surrounding by loving, caring and supportive people with multiple cakes from her company and organizations that she has been a volunteer for over a decade.  

I was planning to bake a cake so she could decorate herself.  Anyone remember the amazing totally Eugenian cake design in this blog at this time last year.  However, she was too busy with work, and school and preparing the Lotus dance for Vietnamese Student Association at UO's "Vietnam Once Upon a Time" show and I was busy too with work and being Mama paparazzi too.  But the urge to make a homemade birthday cake?

This cake is an America cake, born at the Parker House Hotel in Boston in the middle of the 19th century.The cake is required a little time to bake and melt the chocolate and you can finish it in a blink when the cake and pastry is cool.  No decoration skill needed I promise and if you have a favorite cake box use it.  
This recipe uses  hot milk sponge cake filled with pastry cream and chocolate ganache. 

Make a 9-inch cake, needs two 9-inchx2-inch round cake pan

  • The cake: Bake the day before or at least 2-3 hours before assembling
  •    4 ½ oz  ( 1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour plus extra for the pan
  •    1/4 tsp. table salt
  •    7 whole eggs, at room temperature
  •    1 cup granulated sugar
  •    1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  •    1/4 cup whole milk
  •    1 oz. (2 Tbs.) unsalted butter and extra for the pans
  1. Preheat oven to 350 of with a rack  in middle of oven.  Grease and flour cake pans.
  2. Heat milk and  butter over medium low heat until butter melts.  Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and cover to keep warm
  3. Separate eggs into yolks and  whites.  Beat egg yolk in medium high speed with an standing electric mixer fitted with beaters or a whip attachment for about two minutes. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar until very thick and pale about 6-8 minutes (or 10-12 minutes with handheld mixer).  Stop the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides to make sure sugar and yolks are evenly mixed.  When the beaters or whip is raised the yolks should fall and form a slowly dissolving ribbon into the mixture in the bowl. Beat in the vanilla.  Set aside or transfer to another bowl if you do not have an extra mixing bowl. Wash and dry the bowl and beaters/whip spotlessly. 
  4. Beat egg whites with salt on medium low speed until frothy about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium and beat until soft peak form ( peaks that curl softly at their tips when the beater is raised).  Gradually add sugar by tablespoon  about 1 minutes total.  Continue whipping the egg white until shiny and form stiff peaks but still able to curl slightly at the tips about 2-3 minutes.
  5. Use a large rubber spatula fold 1/3 of egg white to egg yolk mixture with a few broad stroke.  Rotate  the bowl a little bit with each fold. A few streak of white  remain is ok.  Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites.  Sift about 1/5-1/6 amount of  flour on the top of eggs mixture and gently fold in  until the flour is almost incooperated.  Repeat until folding all flour.
  6. Check the milk mixture temperature, it should be around 95 oF.  Rewarm briefly if needed.  Pour the warm milk along the side of the bowl and continue folding until the flour is completely incooperated and no streak of butter.  Pour the batter into prepared pan and bake until the golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few crumbs attached about 15-18 minutes.  Let the cakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes on wire rack.  Then remove from the pans and let it cool completely with the top up on wire rack about 2 hours.
Pastry cream:  Make the day before or at least 2-3 hours before assembling 
   2 cups whole milk   
   6 large egg yolks    
   ½  cup sugar   
   ¼ tsp salt
  1 tsp pure vanilla extract  2 Tbs unsalted butter

  ¼ cup cornstarch or 2 Tbs cornstarch and 2 Tbs all purpose flour
  1. Whisk egg yolks, sugar, salt and cornstarch in a heatproof bowl until very thick and pale.
  2. Bring the milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium high heat.  Slow whisk hot milk into egg yolk mixture.  Pour the egg-milk mixture back to the saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, use a spatula and stir constantly until the mixture start getting thick and lumpy at the bottom.  Decrease the heat down to medium low or low and continue stirring constantly with a spatula all over the bottom and sides until thick and glossy.  When bubble appears, cook briefly for 10 more seconds to cook out the flour taste.  Then remove from heat.  
  3. Pour, push and scrape the pastry cream through a sieve into   a medium bowl, press a plastic layer directly on the top and refrigerate until chilled and set about 2 hours or overnight.
Chocolate ganache
   6 ounces bittersweet or semi chocolate, chopped fine ( semi chocolate chips is handy too)
   1 Tbs light corn syrup
   3/4 cup (6 oz wt) heavy whip cream

Bring whip cream to a simmer over medium high heat. Pour it over chocolate.  Set aside for 1 minutes.  Whisk until smooth.  Let it cool down to pourable consistency about 20 minutes or a little longer in the hot weather.  It can sit longer a couple hours at room temperature to reach to spreading consistency for spreading.   It can be made in advance, store in the fridge and warm it back when ready to use.

Assemble the cake:

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and top with a wire rack.  Place a layer cake on the wire rack.  Spread the pastry cream in an even layer to the edge. Put another cake layer on the top.  Press down lightly.  Pour chocolate on the top and let it drips down to the side.  Refrigerate until the chocolate is set about 2 hours.  Before serving, transfer the cake to a platter and let it sits at room temperature about 30 minutes to 1 hour.  The cake can sit overnight in the fridge.

*Notes to make the birthday cake

The image idea from  "Rose's heavenly cakes" 

14 oz rolled wafers needed to wrap around the cake for the birthday cake.

The orchard flower is from Chau's bouquet for her birthday celebration on the stage from VAS's courtesy but any fresh flower can be used.

I just let the chocolate cool longer until no dripping and spread it all over the cake-more on the top. The rolled wafer cookie are broken in different height and adhere to the cake by pastry cream and chocolate glaze but if you plan to take the cake to somewhere, a ribbon should be used to keep the wafers intact. Mix a little bit red color with a few table spoon of pastry cream to make the candle light or you might use rolled candy, etc.  Put the red pastry in a bag and squeeze it out on the top of wafers. These disguised candles numbers and good for office if candles are not allowed because of fire hazard. My daughter told me her colleagues tried to count "the candles" to guess her age.  The amount of pastry cream and chocolate ganache is generous per America's Test Kitchen recipe and I think they can be reduced down to 2/3 if  you desired.

Mango and Kiwi Lassi with spinach

Lassi is a popular, traditional yogurt based drink from India, Pakistan, Sri lanka, and Bangladesh.   Mango lassi is the most popular drink at Indian restaurants.  The flavor and texture will vary depending on  more or less mango, yogurt, sugar, ice or milk  is used.  This combination of mango and kiwi lassi has a striking beautiful color but my daughter does not like kiwi lassi.

Mango lassi

 Make 1 drink 16 oz
1 large very ripe  mango. peeled and cut into small pieces
1/2 cup crushed ice (125gr)
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
Splash of milk or water (option)
1-2 Tbs of sugar

In a blender, blend  mango pulp and ice  until smooth.  Add yogurt and blend to combine well.  If it is too thick add a little milk or water.  Taste and add sugar to suit your sweet desired.   Pour into a tall glass and serve immediately with a straw.

*Notes:  some recipes flavor mango lassi with:
A pinch of ground green cardamom or ginger is blended with other ingredients and extra is sprinkle atop the drink.
A pinch of saffron warm in 1 Tbs milk 30 seconds in microwave is added atop the drink before serving.
Honey can be used instead of sugar.

Kiwi Lassi with Spinach

Make 16 oz drink
3 ripe kiwi
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup crushed ice (125 g)
1 handful spinach (1/2 cup packed)
Splash of milk or water
1-2 Tbs sugar to taste

Process like mango lassi. 

Braised Pork Belly with Eggs-Thit Kho Trung

This is a popular traditional dish of Vietnam.  This recipe is special because it is adapted from Masterchef winner, blind chef Christine Ha.  This was the dish she made for the judges at the finale.  I bought her book a few year back after it is published to learn her taste.  The unique taste makes this humble dish well known.

She is amazing and I do not think anyone else can do what she does.  However, everyone has different taste. In my opinion, the dish is sweeter than traditional braised pork in Vietnam at the first taste and she advises to adjust the seasoning, adding fish sauce or sugar if necessary before serving.  So the taste of the winning dish still remains secretly between her and the judges.

The coconut soda "coco-rico" brand is sweetened with 40 g sugar (about 3 Tbs and 1 tsp ) in each 12 oz can.  It is used by most Vietnamese here including my mom.  You can find it at oriental store.  We use pure coconut water to cook this dish in Vietnam.   Coconut water is the clear liquid inside fresh coconuts.  Some is sweeter than others but it is definitely not as sweet as coco-rico.  If you can not find Coco-rico brand, buy other brand  but adjust sugar later for the taste.  The coconut water will turn into caramel color when it is cooked down with time so no caramel  needed here.

Pork belly is used in her recipe but pork butt or shoulder can be used.  The skin and fat adds flavor and body to the broth.  The blanching enhances the flavor and browning helps to add color as well as keeps the meat intact during braising.  In the time frame of the show, she must use the pressure cooker to achieve the tenderness of pork.  The pressure cooker actually give the pork a darker caramel shade too.  If you do not have a clay pot, the pork can be cooked in the same saucepan.  If you use pressure cooker, use it to blanch, , brown and braise the pork as a saucepan.  Follow the manual instruction, cook at high pressure for 30 minutes with the lowest possible heat setting ( medium low or low) to maintain pressure.  When the time up, remove the pot from heat and follow the natural release method.

Braised pork is served with cooked rice and other side dish as raw veggies (cucumber, tomato, lettuce, Vietnamese herbs), pickled veggies( green mustard, daikon, carrot), boiled/steamed veggies, etc.  or use  in spring rolls, sandwich.  We do not eat a lot of meat in daily meal.  Believed it or not when I was young, one or two pounds of meat would be plenty for a big family to eat in one day.

Make 6 servings:

2 ½ lbs pork belly
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper and extra for garnish
2 cans (12 oz) coconut soda (prefer Coco-rico)
1/4 cup fish sauce plus additional if desired (I add 1/4 cup total 1/2 cup three crab brand)
3 garlic cloves, minced about 1 Tbs
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled
2-3 green onion, thinly sliced
6 cups cooked jasmine rice
Veggies to serve:  cucumber, tomato, lettuce, herbs, broiled broccoli, spinach, etc.

  1. In a large saucepan, bring enough water to cover pork to a boil over medium high heat ( about 3 cups). Add pork and cook about 3-4 minutes.  Remove pork belly, rinse and drain well.  Wash and dry the saucepan.  Cut pork into 1 inch cubes.
  2. Return the saucepan to stove, add oil over medium high heat.  When the oil is shimmering, add the pork, stir occasionally until the pork is slightly brown all sides.  Lower the heat down to medium if needed to achieve the golden brown.  Transfer the pork to a clay pot and add pepper, coconut soda, fish sauce, sugar, garlic, shallots, onion and eggs.  The liquid should cover both pork and eggs.  Add water if needed.  Bring it back to a boil.  Then lower the heat to low or medium low, cover.  Simmer for 1 hour, check to see if pork is tender enough to pull apart easy with chopsticks or a fork.  If not, cover and check in 15-30 minutes.  Taste and add more fish sauce or sugar to suit your taste. Sprinkle ground pepper and green onion before serving.   This dish is always served hot or warm.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Blueberry Muffins

This recipe is adapted from Best Blueberry muffins of Jen Segal and  Americastestkitchen Best Blueberry muffins.

8.5 oz (2 cups) all purpose flour, spooned into the measuring cup  and leveled off.
2 tsp baking powder, double acting
3/4 tsp salt
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1.5 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)
1/2 cup milk
2 cups fresh blueberries, gently washed, drained well
2 Tbs turbinado or sparkling sugar
One 12- cup standard muffin pan  with paper liners or grease with oil and flour
  1. Preheat oven 375 oF with a rack in upper middle position.  Line the muffin tins with paper liners or grease with oil and floured. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.
  2. Beat eggs and sugar in another bowl until well combined about 45 seconds.  Then slowly whisk in butter, milk and vanilla, almond extract.  Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture.  Add 1/2 blueberries in the mixture and mix until all ingredients just incorporate  together.
  3. Spoon the batter into prepared muffin cups. The batter should fully filled muffin cups.Gently place the remaining blueberries over filled cups.  Sprinkle sugar over the batter. 
  4. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Let them cool in the cups on a wire rack for 5 minutes.  Transfer the muffins to the wire rack serve warm or at room temperature.  

Friday, May 8, 2015

Green Avocado Smoothie-Sinh tố bơ with chuối and spinach

This recipe is based on Catherine's Snickerdoodle Green Smoothie.  She uses 1/2 avocado and 1/4 cup almond milk and no condensed milk.  The spinach  is blending beautiful with others' flavor and adding a rich green shade to the drink. My current Oster blender is not powerful enough so some spinach residues seen here but they barely affect the drink texture. 
 Believe it or not Snickerdoodle cookies is the very first cookie recipe I have made for my kids here.  

Make about 16 oz drink

1 handful spinach about 1/2 tightly packed cup
1 frozen banana
1 small avocado
1/2 cup whole milk
2 Tbs condense milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  

Chipotle's Guacamole

It is a great joy for avocado Guacamole lovers.  To my friends in Vietnam, Chipotle is a chain Mexican restaurant in America and other countries specializing in burritos and tacos.  The original recipe is at their website here.  However, my daughter likes tomato more than Jalapeno pepper so we add a chopped plum tomato instead of Jalapeno pepper with an extra pinch of salt.

2 ripe Haas avocados,
2 tsp lime juice
2 Tbs chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/2 chopped jalapeno pepper including seeds
Corn tortilla chips to serve

  1. Choose the right avocado.  It should feel squishy yet firm (like the palm of your hand) and be green color on the inside.
  2. Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. Be careful.
  3. Scoop avocados and place in a medium bowl.
  4. Toss with lime juice
  5. Add salt and use a fork mash to a smooth consistency is achieved.
  6. Fold in the remaining ingredients and mix well.
  7. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.  Do not add too much salt because the chips are salty.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.  It is best to serve fresh the same day it is made but left over can be stored in the fridge in an air tight container with a plastic wrap pressed firm and directly on the surface or a thin layer of water up to 3 days.  Pour water out  and stir it up when serving if use water.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bánh Bông Lan Trắng-Angle Food Cake

There are two kinds of white cake with and without fat.  This one has no fat.  It is easy to make but we need a tube pan with removable bottom and a serrated knife to cut the cake.  The pan is ungreased and after baking it is inverted to prevent the cake from falling on itself.  I found mine at Goodwill nearly twenty years ago and I still see a lot of them there occasionally.  If you want to buy one, pick the thick sturdy not the flimsy/slimsy one.  Make sure no trace of egg yolk in white. Break a single egg over a small bowl before adding the white to a big bowl.

1¼ cup cake flour -4¼ oz/128 gr
1½ cup granulated sugar-10½ oz
12 large egg whites-1½ cup
1 tsp cream of tartar
1//4 tsp salt
2 tsp pure vanilla extract.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 oF.
  2. Grind sugar in a food processor until superfine about 1-2 minutes.  Divide into 2 parts.
  3. Sift flour, salt and 1/2 sugar together 4 times. Do not skip this step:  it helps folding easier.
  4. Place egg white and cream of tartar in a beating bowl of an electric mixer with paddle or whisk attachment.  Beat egg white on medium speed until frothy about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium high and slowly sprinkle the remaining sugar until the white forms soft peaks-the top of mixture will look like the ripple on the back of sea shells about 6 minutes.  Add vanilla and continue beating until a stiff peak meringue about 30 seconds more.  Try not overbeat.
  5. Put flour/sugar mixture into a sifter or strainer set on a piece of paper.  Gradually shake the flour mixtures over the meringue about 4-5 additions.  Folding gently with a large spatula after each addition.  The dry ingredients do not have to disappear completely after each addition. Do not stir the batter.  Continue folding until incorporated.
  6. Carefully scrape the batter into the ungreased tube pan.
  7. Bake in the preheat oven 35 minutes, until the cake is golden brown on the top and the top cracks appear dry.  Insert a toothpick halfway between the center and outer wall.  It should come out dry.  If not bake and recheck in 5 more minutes. 
  8. Remove the cake from oven and immediately invert on a cake rack.  Let cool completely in the pan at least 1.5-2 hours.  Use a sharp thin blade knife, insert down the side and sweep around the pan in 3 strokes.  Do the same around the center tube.  Lift the cake from outer rim.  Use the same knife with blade slightly stilt downward, run the knife under the cake while turning the center tube.  Invert the cake onto a cake rack and transfer the cake to a serving platter.
  9. Serve plain or with fresh fruit and a dollop of whipped cream or a topping (will update soon). Store leftover cake at room temperature under a glass dome up to 5 days.