desserts

in the breville: matcha green tea ice cream

I’ve been writing a lot lately about healthy living, but as I’m a firm believer in the saying, “everything in moderation,” here’s a nice, fatty post for you this week.

The best ice cream I’ve ever had was in San Francisco. Let me preface this by saying gelato is different from ice cream—in a nutshell, gelato has less fat and churns at alower speed, thus has less air incorporated into it (read the more in-depth explanation of ice cream vs. gelato from Serious Eats)—and I’ve definitely had some amazing gelato in Italy. I’m also not referring to the ice creams I can find in supermarkets across America (Lord knows I love Ben & Jerry’s). Today, I’m talking about ice cream shops I’ve discovered during my travels or even strolling around my hometown of Houston.

In my 2011 trip to SF where I ate my way through the Bay, a friend who loves food as much as I do took the hubs and me to Bi-Rite Creamery, a little ice cream counter inside the Bi-Rite Market. Who knew a bunch of grocers could produce ice cream so heavenly?

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beignets

At the beginning of summer, I’d cooked a special farewell lunch for my grad program friends: Cajun stuffed Cornish hens, dirty rice, and Brussels sprouts with candied bacon. For dessert, I kept with the Louisianan theme and served homemade beignets and Cafe du Monde New Orleans-style coffee with condensed milk, just the way Vietnamese people love to drink it.

While I grew up around Cafe du Monde’s ready-to-brew coffee grounds (which came in those notorious mustard yellow tin cans that afterwards became every Vietnamese family’s piggy bank/knickknack holder), I didn’t have my first beignet until college when I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I visited the brick-and-mortar Cafe du Monde and did what all the other tourists did: sat in the open-air cafe and sipped on steaming chicory drip coffee with the powdered sugar from the three beignets snowing all over my mouth and lap. It was a heavenly combination of flavors, and boy, all I can say is those French sure know their fried desserts.

Beignet, which literally means “bump,” is the French version of the American fritter. I love to eat them with powdered sugar and honey. They should be pillowy on the inside with a very light crunch on the outside. Before “MasterChef,” I always got my beignets from local shops. But then I learned how to make them from scratch, and there ain’t nothin’ like a beignet fresh out of the fryer. My friends gobbled them all up, their faces and fingers covered in white. If it hadn’t been for food coma written all over their eyes, they would’ve been mistaken for a bunch of cokeheads. Try these out, and let me know what you think. If the Blind can Cook it, you know you can too.

 

Recipe: Beignets

Ingredients

  1. 196 g AP flour
  2. 98 g Sugar
  3. 4.5 g baking powder
  4. 3 g Salt
  5. 95 g Milk
  6. 8 g lemon juice
  7. 83 g butter, melted
  8. 1egg
  9. 1egg yolk

Instructions

  1. Preheat oil to 350° to 365°F.
  2. In a mixer bowl, combine less than half the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Whisk together the milk, lemon juice, melted butter, egg, and yolk.
  4. Add the wet to the dry and mix on med. Speed until smooth.
  5. Lower the speed and add the remaining flour. Mix until just combined.
  6. Turn out dough on to a floured surface. Roll out to 1/4- to 1/2-in. Thick. Cut with a ring cutter.
  7. Drop beignets carefully into fryer. Once they rise to the surface, fry until golden brown.
  8. Drain on paper towel lined pan or wire rack. Serve warm with a sprinkling of powdered sugar on top and a side of honey.

Preparation time: 30 minute(s)

Cooking time: 20 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 6

my favorite cakes in houston

Wedding cake

From Leduc Gourmet Bakery

Since today is my birthday, I decided to do a post on where to find some of the best cakes in Houston. So here is the short list in no particular order:

  • Leduc Gourmet Baker located on Bellaire Blvd. between Kirkwood and Boone just west of the Hong Kong shopping center has some of the best Vietnamese-French cakes in the business and for a reasonable price, too. Since the French colonized Indochina some centuries ago, the fine French way of cooking has definitely left its imprint on Vietnamese cuisine, and this does not exclude the pastries and cakes which Leduc does a fine job of producing. Their most popular cake (and one of my favorites is a coffee cake with mocha icing topped with fresh strawberries and lined with almond slivers. I grew up with my mother buying a similar cake from another nearby bakery, and it always sends me on a nostalgic run every time I eat the stuff. John and I also ordered our wedding cake from Leduc; at $2.25 per slice, it was one of the better deals we could find for such a delicious cake. We got two flavors: (1) coffee cake layered with chocolate truffle and mocha butter cream (for the chocolate lovers), and (2) amaretto cake with raspberry jam filling (for the fruit lovers).
  • Whole Foods, the Austin-based grocery store specializing in organic products, makes a berry chantilly cake that is also super-delish. There are fresh berries on top with cream cheese icing, and the cake is ever moist. The best part is it’s made from all organic ingredients so you know you aren’t getting overly processed stuff in your system. My friend, Joanna, ordered the berry chantilly sheet cakes for her wedding, and I’ve never heard anyone not like the cake. Thanks, Jeanette, for first feeding me this cake for my birthday many years ago.
  • Take the Cake is a bakery that I haven’t had as much experience with but I’ve heard great things about it. I’ve had one cake from there that my cousin brought for Christmas lunch last year, and I do remember it was yummy. I’ve heard many like their Hummingbird cake (a springtime dessert with banana, pineapple, and pecan cream cheese icing–I know it sounds weird), so I might order it for my mama-in-law for our Mother’s Day/my birthday dinner this weekend.

Where do you get your favorite cake?

gingerbread cookies

Hello! Happy holidays! Welcome to the week of Christmas. Every day this week up until Saturday the 25th, I will post an entry featuring–of course–food. So let the blogging and cooking begin…

As with most desserts containing warm, rich spices of ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and/or cinnamon, gingerbread cookies are a tasty holiday treat. I usually like to bake these and snickerdoodles to give away during Christmas. I’m posting the recipe a few days before Christmas just in case you’d like to have them all wrapped up in pretty ribbon for your guests by the holiday.

The first time I ever bit into a gingerbread man was when I was in the seventh grade, and my friend, Jennifer, had baked a dozen as my Christmas present. They came neatly wrapped inside a paper box designed to look like a little gingerbread house. At first, I didn’t think I’d like the spicy cookies–I didn’t like much of anything with ginger in them, let alone dessert–but I was pleasantly surprised that the cookies were very delicious. In fact, the spices made them perfect for munching on a cold winter’s day. Gobble them up with a glass of milk by the fire, and you’ve got a true American Christmas. And as always, if the Blind can Cook it, you can too.

A photo will be posted as soon as I bake them and get John to take a picture.


Recipe: Gingerbread Cookies

Summary: An easy recipe that doesn’t require molasses. Originally from All Recipes. Number of cookies made depends on the size of your cookie cutter. Usually makes 15 to 30 cookies.

Ingredients

  • 1 (3.5 oz.) pkg. butterscotch pudding mix
  • 1.5 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1.5 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c. butter, softened

Instructions

  1. In a med. bowl, cream together butterscotch mix, butter, and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in egg.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, ginger, and cinnamon. Stir in the pudding mixture. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hr.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet.
  4. On a floured board, roll out dough to 1/8″ thickness using a rolling pin. Use a cookie cutter (I have both gingerbread man and mitten shapes) to cut into shapes. Place about 1″ apart on the cookie sheet.
  5. Bake for 10 to 12 min. or until edges are golden brown. Cool on a cooling rack. Decorate with frosting if desired.

Cooking time (duration): 45

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dessert

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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pumpkin cheesecake

Pumpkin cheesecake

Don't let the two pounds of cream cheese scare you away.



Ah…now finally we come to the dessert portion of our grand Thanksgiving holiday meal. Naturally, it’s often a pie of some sorts, pumpkin or apple. But this year, I also decided to put a twist on the dessert and make a pumpkin cheesecake a la Cheesecake Factory style. What better way than to use up all that leftover pumpkin from Halloween than to bake it in a dessert?

When I was younger, I loved cheescake, especially the chocolate covered kind from Olive Garden. But as I got older, I found the cake too rich and creamy for my taste. I came across this recipe, however, online through the Food Network website, and all the reviews said even though they didn’t like pumpkin or didn’t like cheesecake, this hybrid dessert was to die for, a full five stars. I’ve also never had the pumpkin cheesecake at Cheesecake Factory, but I figured John loves cheesecake, so why not try to make this fully from scratch using our homemade pumpkin puree instead of the canned variety?

A funny story on the side about the pumpkin puree. We had spent all that time as described in this post to create this pumpkin puree from a leftover Halloween pumpkin. But when we were at the grocery store the other week, we passed by rows and rows of canned pumpkin puree, all going for less than $2 each. If I calculated it out, we basically saved 50 cents an hour by making it ourselves. We are some damn cheap labor.

Anyway, back to the cheesecake. We used the food processor to ensure even mixing but forgot to add the spices until after we had already poured it out into a bowl. The hand-mixing post-spices was a mistake because not all of the spices were distributed evenly, and we would get an occasional mouthful of ground ginger or ground cloves in the end product. Regardless, I was very happy with my first attempt at making cheesecake and pleasantly surprised that if you use a pre-baked graham cracker crust, the recipe really wasn’t that tedious. Warning, though: this dessert is not for the weight-conscious. I guess you could try using fat-free sour cream and cream cheese. Let me know how that turns out.

And this concludes our edition of the Thanksgiving series. You can whip up any of these recipes for Christmas, too. Remember, if the Blind can Cook a fabulous feast, so can you.


Recipe: Pumpkin Cheesecake

Summary: Original recipe from Food Network‘s “Almost Famous” collection, which calls for a crust made from scratch

Ingredients

  • 3 (9″) pre-baked graham cracker crusts
  • 4 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, softened
  • 2.25 c. white sugar
  • 1/4 c. sour cream
  • 1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
  • 6 lg. eggs at room temp., lightly beaten
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2.5 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/3 c. toasted pecans, roughly chopped (optional)

Instructions

  1. Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Beat the cream cheese with a mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until just light, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beaters as needed. Beat in the sour cream. Then add in the pumpkin puree, eggs, vanilla, salt, and the spices. Beat until just combined. Pour into the crusts.
  3. Bake until the outside of the cheesecake sets but center is still loose, about 35 to 40 min. Then turn off oven and open door briefly to let out heat. Leave cheesecake in oven for 30 more min. Let cool on a rack. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hrs. or overnight. Serve with a sprinkle of pecans.

Variations

My version of this recipe makes three 9″ pie-sized cheesecakes. If you prefer to make one thicker, larger cheesecake, use the same ingredient measurements but refer to the original recipe linked above to make the graham cracker crust from scratch. With busy lives, though, I figured who had the time? Too bad I can’t say my cheesecake is 100% made from scratch since the crust wasn’t, but hey, the pumpkin was.

Cooking time (duration): 50

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dessert

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles

I like 'em soft.



Last but not least, we come to our final third course: a simple dessert that can be highly addictive. A college friend, Jeanette, gave me this recipe years ago after she baked some, and we just couldn’t get enough. Snickerdoodles are similar to sugar cookies but what sets them apart is their use of a cinnamon-sugar coating. Cinnamon reminds me of wintertime, and thus, comfort food. It also made for the perfect third course because its smaller portion and lighter taste provided a nice balance to our heavier first two courses, not to mention it’s the thing Karen always requests from me. Naturally, I had to give her what she loves for her birthday dessert. They were popular with everyone else, too. They were sliding off the plate even before dinner was served.

In the ten or so years that I’ve had this recipe, I’ve always wondered where the term snickerdoodle came from, but I never bothered looking it up. Till now, that is, when I actually have a reason to dig up some information.

My husband said he once baked snickerdoodles for school when they had a colonial history unit, so he claims snickerdoodles have been around as early as the 18th Century. After browsing around online, I found his statement to be true: the snickerdoodle originated from early America and was likely adapted from European recipes after they settled in the New World. According to the every so reliable Wikipedia resource, the origin of the name is unknown, although some claim the word is either Dutch or German while others say it was, like many other New England cookies, named on a whim. Whatever the origin, I’m just glad it finally reached me. It’s simple to bake and keeps well so could be made in large quantities and given away for the holidays.


Recipe: Snickerdoodles

Summary: Recipe from Jeanette

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. shortening
  • 1.5 c. white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2.75 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. white sugar for coating
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon for coating

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a med. bowl, mix together butter, shortening, 1.5 c. sugar, and eggs. In a separate lg. bowl, blend together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Then combine mixtures until fully blended.
  3. In a sm. bowl, combine 2 tbsp. sugar and 2 tsp. cinnamon. Shape dough by rounded tablespoons (approx. golf ball size). Roll balls in mixture to coat. Place 2″ apart on cookie sheets.
  4. Bake 8 to 10 min. until set. Transfer cookies to cooling rack.

Quick Notes

This recipe yields 24 cookies. The serving size is 2 per serving.

What is cream of tartar, and why is it used in this recipe? It is a byproduct of wine-making. Grapes are a natural source of tartaric acid, and after fermentation, they leave behind a deposit of tartaric acid inside the barrels. This mixed with potassium hydroxide creates an acidic salt: cream of tartar. In baking, baking soda is the leavening agent that works faster than yeast. But it needs 2 parts of the acidic cream of tartar mixed with 1 part baking soda in order to produce the gas bubbles that lighten and raise the dough as soon as it is moistened.

Variations

Now if you want to forego 2 products and just use 1, note that 2 parts cream of tartar mixed with 1 part baking soda creates baking powder. I used to wonder what the difference was between baking soda and powder, and there you have it. Baking powder is the acidic and basic mix of the 2 ingredients thereby becoming the leavening agent in baking.

Cooking time (duration): 40

Meal type: dessert

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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caramel apple dip

Granny Smith apple

Introduced to the U.S. in 1972

In my 31 years of life, I have never carved a pumpkin. I’ve lived a deprived existence. This Sunday, however, a few of us are getting together and doing just that. Not only are we making jack-o’-lanterns, we are going all out and making caramel apples too. (I would bob for apples but my occasional lockjaw will prevent me from winning at that game, and if you know me, I must be excellent at everything I do.)

With Halloween being around the corner and the start of autumn, I have been seeing a lot of caramel apple recipes everywhere. Today I got the “Recipe of the Day” email from Food Network, and guess what? It was for Perfect Caramel Apples. I decided, however, to take the portion-controlled route and look for a caramel apple dip instead in which we can dip slices instead of entire humongous apples on a stick (which may make me sick). So although we won’t be making this until actual Halloween on Sunday with “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” playing on the TV in the background (I have all the holiday Peanuts DVDs and like to watch them on their appropriate holiday as tradition).

The recipe calls for Granny Smith apples (as pictured), which are so named after Maria Ann Smith who founded them in Australia in 1868. They are tart, juicy, and crisp: suitable for baking and used in salads since they take longer to brown than other varieties. The Beatles even adopted the Granny Smith as the logo for their Apple Records label. I personally find them a little too tart to eat raw, preferring fuji or gala apples, but the color is just oh so pretty.


Recipe: Caramel Apple Dip

Summary: Original recipe from All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 6 apples, preferably Granny Smith, sliced
  • 16 individually wrapped caramel pcs., unwrapped
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar (optional
  • 1 sm. pkg. chopped or crushed peanuts (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a med. saucepan over med.-low heat, melt caramel with water, stirring frequently.
  2. Once caramel is melted, add cream cheese to saucepan and stir frequently until well-blended. Add brown sugar as needed to achieve desired sweetness. Add crushed nuts, remove from heat, and serve with sliced apples.

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dessert

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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croissant bread pudding



The third and final course from Jade and Uyen’s birthday dinner was a rich croissant bread pudding. Bread pudding is a warm, eggy dessert, so for all you egg lovers out there, this is the dessert for you. It is an easy dessert to make–it just takes a long time in the oven. I had some trouble separating the yolks from the whites but managed okay in the end. I think that the bread pudding could’ve tasted a little more yolky and sweet, but Jade liked that it wasn’t too sweet. This is because I used brown sugar instead of white. Next time, maybe I’ll double the amount of sugar if using brown. And if you’re wondering what to do with all those leftover egg whites, try putting it on your face for a healthy egg mask. (I’m not kidding–that’s exactly what I did.)

I got this recipe from my trustworthy Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I love Ina Garten’s recipes!” And remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

Recipe: Croissant Bread Pudding

Summary: Original recipe from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Ingredients

    • 3 extra large whole eggs
    • 8 extra large egg yolks
    • 5 c. half & half
    • 1/4 c. sugar
    • 1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
    • 6 croissants, preferabbly stale
    • 1 c. raisins

Instructions

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    2. In a medium bowl, whisk together whole eggs, yolks, half & half, sugar, and vanilla extract. Set aside custard mixture.
    3. Slice croissants in half horizontally. In a 10″ x 15″ x 2.5″ oval baking, distribute bottoms of sliced croissants. Then add the raisins, then the tops of the croissants brown side up, making sure raisins are in between the layers of croissants or else they will burn while baking.
    4. Pour the custard over the croissants and let stand for at least 10 minutes, pressing down gently so croissants soak up custard.
    5. Place the pan in a larger one filled with 1″ hot water. Cover the larger pan with foil, tenting it in the middle. Cut slits in foil to allow for steam to escape. Bake for 45 minutes. Then uncover and bake for another 40 to 45 minutes or until pudding puffs up and custard is set. Remove from oven to cool slightly before serving.

Quick Notes

Placing the pudding inside a larger pan with water is using the double boiler method. This prevents the pudding from burning where it touches the glass container. That way, you get more pudding and less charred mess. This double boiler method is also used for melting chocolate or preparing fine sauces over the stove.

I prepared the custard mixture the day before and refrigerated it covered overnight to minimize prep time on the day of the dinner. This left time to concentrate on other foods that could not be prepared ahead of time.

Variations

I substituted brown sugar in this recipe which made it less sweet. If you want it sweeter, either use white sugar or add more brown sugar. Also, I don’t normally add raisins when making this dish since John prefers no raisins.

The croissants can also be substituted with brioche or egg breads.

Cooking time (duration): 105

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dessert

Culinary tradition: French

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