cherry friands (& er, pokémon go)

My cousin is visiting, and perhaps the one thing you have to do here is go for a walk through the park. The pathways are as crowded as they ever get in the summer, especially in the early evening, with small groups that move steadily along in a twisting circuit around the park. There are teenagers, young adults, middle-aged families. Most of them carry their phone in one hand, some with a wire looped under their arm, presumably attached to an extra backpack-tucked battery. Occasionally someone might step off the path and onto the grass, disturbing the already plenty-ruffled geese to flick at their phone screen.

As you might expect, you hear a lot of “zubat” and “drowsee” and “pidgey!” “pidgey.” “pidgey…”

The Cousin was amazed. “You don’t see this where I live,” she said as we dutifully caught our respective pidgeys. “Never so many people playing at once.”

It’s something to do with such a close bundle of pokéstops in my city’s main easily accessible public public, close but separated from busy streets. Lit up with lure modules all day long, it makes for a massive and centralized congregation of Pokémon hunters.

It’s fun, but a bit overwhelming.prep workcreme de prunellefrothy egg whitessifting flourA summer volunteer project recently finished up, and as we all departed one of my fellow volunteers wished me not a wonderful remaining summer, but happy Pokémon hunting. It seemed to be my dominant characteristic in the group (perhaps the fact that I was comparing Pokémon stats with some of the eight-year olds we worked with contributed to that).

I’m feeling the need to justify myself right now, so a question: Why do I play Pokémon Go?

The answer: It’s awfully inconvenient.

An inconvenient game might be the best sort of game. It makes it tough for Pokémon Go to become that addictive, as you actually have to go outside and walk. I can’t stay home and play it all day (unless I were to live within range of a Pokéstop, perhaps). Instead, I need to go out, and Pokemon Go directs one towards local landmarks and public art, but whether or not the game really encourages visitors to appreciate said locations is debatable.

I watched Pokémon growing up too, though admittedly, only when I couldn’t watch Digimon.

(For those who claim that Digimon is a Pokémon rip off: perhaps, but some fundamental differences set it apart…

  1. Digimon has an actual, measurable and semi-structured plot line
  2. Digimon actually does play off the fact that Digimon are “digital” monsters—at least in the third season where we see an existential discussion over whether something digital can truly be your friend
  3. Digimon is all about character development, because digimon evolution is linked to, and, requires, the development and affirmation of your personality (as well as one’s emotional state). I always love me some character development)

 

I seem to be meeting more people that play Pokémon Go or are at least ambivalent towards it than I’ve met people that distinctly dislike it. Still, there are, undeniably, some downsides to the game. It can also become very distracting and lead to potentially unsafe behaviours. While focusing on a small mobile device for any reason is distracting, the dangerous difference is that Pokémon Go in particular leads to these behaviours when you are out and about and actively travelling.

There are also some incredibly inappropriate Pokéstops (see this or this or this). Now, retrospectively, these issues are being rectified, but this is instead of avoiding these problems in the first place.

The park has fairly innocuous Pokéstops though. They’re mainly art and bridges, and even a swing set, so they’ll continue bringing in the players, the cyclists and joggers will continue being smothered until they shift to the quieter (Pokéstop-free) pathways, and the pidgeys will keep on coming.

What are your thoughts on Pokémon Go? Has it changed the activity of communities and parks where you live?I’ve been vaguely turning over friands in my head for the past while. Eventually I decided to find a recipe, and was suprised by just how different they each seemed to be. Eventually I decided to try an approach I once saw on Poires au Chocolat: compare underlying ratios in each recipe.

They varied even more than I realised. In the tables below, values are in grams and ratios are unitless (except for the egg whites which are counted instead, and the ratio expressed in a horrible unit of egg whites per gram of butter).

Recipe from: a splash of vanilla BBC What Katie Ate Donna Hay BBC (2) Dorie Greenspan (financiers) Food to Love Guai Shu Shu eat, little bird
butter 100 100 300 125 200 180 150 150 160
flour 50 25 100 125 75 90 75 50 100
egg white 4 3 10 5 6 6 6 5 6
icing sugar 160 125 370 200 200 200 240 150 225
almond meal 80 85 175 116 140 100 125 150 125
Ratios
butter 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
flour 0.5 0.25 0.333333333 1 0.375 0.5 0.5 0.333333333 0.625
egg whites 0.04 0.03 0.033333333 0.04 0.03 0.033333333 0.04 0.033333333 0.0375
icing sugar 1.6 1.25 1.233333333 1.6 1 1.111111111 1.6 1 1.40625
almond meal 0.8 0.85 0.583333333 0.928 0.7 0.555555556 0.833333333 1 0.78125

I ended up deciding to do something like this:

Average ratio Ratio of choice Recipe
Butter 1 1 100
Flour 0.490740741 0.4 40
Egg white 0.035277778 0.03 3
icing sugar 1.311188272 1.2 120
almond meal 0.781274691 0.8 80

But then changed things around once more while putting the friands together.

Eventually, with enough egg whites and butter and almonds, it would be interesting to try out a few different ratios and see what the results are. The ratios aside, looking up friands was incredible fun. It seems every recipe has a different flavour: macadamia and coconut and lime, rhubarb and vanilla, spiced, mango and pistachio, fig and walnut and spice, hazelnut and chocolate… It’s such a simple cake and very quick to bring together, which makes it amenable to experimentation.

It is quite the financier: the chewiness, the crisp crust, the buttery and tight crumb. But the connotations of friand gives it so much more freedom to be whatever you like (though it hasn’t stopped me with financiers…like this or this).

For once I used only all purpose flour (it was by accident!), and so the financiers turned out a bit anemic looking…and a bit bland. While I’m disappointed it also made me quite happy: this gives me good reason to keep on making everything whole wheat or part spelt flour.

These friands were quite an exercise in forgetting things: not only the whole wheat flour, but the crème de prunelle (similar to amaretto) was completely forgotten until only the last bit of batter was left. The swirl of rosehip jam was iffy–it too often landed up on the side of the friand instead of being swirled through, and didn’t particularly contribute either.

So in the end these friands were simple and plain, just a vehicle for big oven-softened black cherries.

cherry friands with rosehip jam (and perhaps some crème de prunelle or amaretto)

100 g butter

3 egg whites

45 g flour

105 g icing sugar

80 g ground almond

pinch salt

creme de prunelle or amaretto

rosehip jam

cherries

Preheat oven to 350. Butter 2 mini muffin tins (probably use 18-24 wells) or a around 12 small tins.

Melt the butter and set aside to cool.

Whisk the eggs until they are a bubbly froth, but not holding peaks. Sift in the flour and icing sugar, and whisk until combined. Stir in the almonds and then the melted and cooled butter. Stir in a few spoonfuls of creme de prunelle.

Put a bit of batter in each mold. Add a bit of rosehip jam, swirl with a knife, and top with some additional batter. Place a cherry on the top of each cake.

Bake for around 20 minutes or until browned and cooked through.

apricot and marzipan cake with kinako crumble

So, I think rabbits have taken over the city.

They sit there, docile and all nibbly in the school yards, on the campus (though we all know rabbits claimed campus as their own ages ago), and even the thin grass boulevards that rim concrete parking lots.

They seem to be everywhere.Actually, a while ago, it was the coyotes that reigned. A coyote warning sign (really, a submissive acknowledgement) was installed in park, and occasionally you would see them regally cross the road and head towards the river.

Haven’t seem them for a while since. It’s for the best–cities aren’t really for such large carnivores. Now, that I think about it, there are an awful lot of terrifying rabbits around. They scare me enough, anyways:

  1. David Lynch’s The Rabbits. 
  2. Frank (oh gosh)
  3. the animated version of Watership Down

This is probably how my hometown fell to rabbit domination.

But on a more serious note, living with urban wildlife poses a series of unique issues. Luckily, I have heard very little on conflicts with rabbits than with say, what I hear about raccoons and garbage bins. In fact, I’m quite certain that the culprit that bites all our tomatoes once and then tosses them to the side a devious squirrel with ideas bigger than its tail, not a rabbit.Now, for lack of better transition, onto the cake! This cake is another experiment with kinako of warabi mochi fame.

This time the kinako did feel a bit redundant, incorporated into a crumble on top of the cake. The crumble browns and toasts on top, already providing the toasted flavour, and so the combination of kinako + further toasting brings it to an almost burnt flavour.

But it is a good tasting cake, and the topping had quite a crisp texture. The marzipan that I made was a bit too soft, and so upon mixing and baking quite a bit of it coalesced into a marzipan-apricot lump at the bottom of the cake. Luckily, it is a delicious lump and so I am still very for marzipan in cakes. apricot and marzipan cake with kinako crumble

Cake is adapted from the apricot and chocolate marbled cake in Scandinavian Baking by Trina Hahnemann, an incredibly beautiful book. Crumble topping is vaguely based off of this recipe. 

marzipan

45 g ground almond

30 g icing sugar

heavy cream or egg white

crumble

25 g butter

20 g flour

15 g kinako

15 g brown sugar

10 g slivered almonds

cake

160 g butter

85 g sugar

2 eggs + 2 egg yolks

100 g a.p. flour

40 g spelt flour

1/4 tsp salt

a few pinches baking soda

5 small apricots, sliced

For the marzipan, combine the almonds and icing sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until fine. Add a bit of heavy cream or egg white, bit by bit, until the mixture just forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and chill.

For the crumble topping, whisk together flour, kinako and brown sugar. Cut the butter into small pieces and rub into the flour mixture until it forms clumps and no lumps of butter remain. Gently mix in the almonds.

For the cake, preheat the oven to 350F. Line the bottom of an 18-cm/7″ springform pan with parchment paper and lightly butter the sides.

Pit and slice the apricots. Grate the marzipan. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time (or one yolk at a time), beating each time until fully incorporated. Whisk together the flours, salt and baking soda. Stir into the butter. Lastly, gently fold in the apricot slices and grated marzipan.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the top evenly with the crumble mixture.

Bake until well browned and an inserted skewer is removed clean (it will be tough to tell because of the marzipan–I think I overbaked mine, so be careful…though all the butter will keep the cake from drying out too much!), around 40-60 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack.

 

biscuits & creamed swiss chard

biscuit and creamed swiss chardswiss chardWe all sometimes end up playing detective. Not just in school and work, but it’s for the little things, like, as I recently commiserated with an aunt, the source of strangely consistent patterns of holes or stains on shirts.

This time, it was when I was going to make a cake and I reached for the pickle jar containing what I thought was the spelt flour. Then, for some strange reason (I must have been possessed), I decided to read the label. (Read the label? Me?)

It was the whole wheat bread flour. Pushed to the very back was where I found the jar of spelt flour.

“Ah,” I said.

Maybe that explains some things about these stumpy little biscuits–the use of bread flour instead of spelt flour (what I thought I was using). It’s not just my awe-inspiring bread-creation powder resurfacing.

Maybe one day I will make a nice scone or biscuit. One day. And then there will actually be a nice scone or biscuit post on the blog. herb and spelt biscuitherb and spelt biscuitsbechamelAs for what prompted the concoction that is this blog post: I have yet to try biscuits and gravy. It doesn’t sound very good to me–really, it sounds rather dry. But it is something you hear about, and it is a thing unto itself. I think it reasonable to conclude that really, it must be good.

So, I’ve been thinking about biscuits and gravy recently, and then I thought: Swiss chard. creamed Swiss chard.

Creamed Swiss chard with biscuits?

Ah. Biscuits and creamed Swiss chard.biscuit with creamed swiss chardcreamed swiss chard with biscuitscreamed swiss chard and herb on biscuitWell, it didn’t exactly work. Maybe because my biscuits were not very tall and fluffy (bread flour, and surely also because I mishandled them) or maybe because the creamed swiss chard that I was certain would encompass the richness and textures of biscuits and gravy did not actually do so.

Rather than the biscuit, I would just go for a thick slice of toasted and buttered grainy bread. (I did in fact, and it was quite nice). The creamed Swiss chard is delicious and overly rich and a perfect repository for both garden Swiss chard and garden herbs. I can always use new ways to eat Swiss chard, and this particular way overwhelms the assertive Swiss chard flavour in lovely heavy cream.

Now about the biscuits: surprisingly, they were quite moist actually (all the herbs?), and did not dry out and become tough by the next day as I’m used to for biscuits. At the same time, they were also stout and a bit doughy.

Until the void in my heart (left by the absence of biscuits and gravy) is filled, I will fill it with this analogous biscuits and creamed swiss chard. Because, despite any misgivings about the dish itself as an analogy it works.biscuits and creamed swiss chardchard and biscuits is pretty catchy… will be the name of my next blog, and I will finally have conquered my nemeses, chard and biscuits

Makes biscuits aplenty and creamed Swiss chard sufficient for 4 persons equipped with healthy appetites for cream. 

herb biscuits

Adapted from the New York Times. Makes around 10 biscuits.

120 g a.p. flour

100 g whole wheat or spelt flour

1 tsp salt

some ground black pepper

1 generous tbsp baking powder

5 tbsp cold butter

small bunch of chives

a few sprigs of tarragon

a few sprigs of sage

small handful thyme sprigs

small handful parsley

50 mL runny 2.5% yoghurt

150 mL milk

Whisk together flours, salt, pepper and baking powder. Cut the butter into small pieces, toss in the flour until coated, and rub in with fingertips until the flour mixture is crumbly, and some butter is still visible in small pieces.

Pick the thyme leaves from the stem. Finely chop the chives and tarragon. Finely slice the leaves of the sage and parsley. Toss the herbs into the flour mixture and mix gently. Using a fork, mix in the yoghurt and milk until just combined.

Turn the dough out onto a flour surface and knead just a few times. Press out the dough until it is around 1″ thick and let rest, covered with a bit of plastic wrap, for half an hour.

Preheat oven to 425F while the dough rests.

Press out a bit thinner, around 3/4″ thick, and cut into circles with a glass. Gently reroll the scraps until all the dough is used.

Bake for around 12 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom.

 

creamed swiss chard & assembly

Bechamel and creamed greens adapted from The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson. 

2 tbsp butter

1 slice of red onion

8-cm length of garlic scape

1 1/2 tbsp flour

100 mL heavy cream

150 mL milk

white pepper

grated nutmeg

1 large bundle of swiss chard

3 tbsp crème fraîche

1 small handful chives

a few sprigs of dill

sliced radish

For the bechamel, heat up the butter in a saucepan. Finely chop the red onion and garlic scape and cook in the butter until softened. Then add the flour and whisk until cooked. Gradually whisk in the milk and cream, whisking until the flour is completely incorporated and a slightly thickened sauce is formed. Season with salt, white pepper and a bit of grated nutmeg.

For the creamed Swiss chard, bring a pot of salted water to boil. Cook the Swiss chard until the stems are just getting tender and then remove and cool in a bowl of ice water. Squeeze out the excess water and chop roughly.

How much bechamel you need will depend on how much Swiss chard you have and how creamy you like your creamed greens, so start off by heating up half the bechamel in a small saucepan. Add the greens and stir, adding more bechamel until all the greens are nicely coated and somewhat swimming in sauce. If it is too thick, a bit of milk can be stirred in to thin it out. Cook until everything is heated through, taste for seasoning, and then stir in the crème fraîche, some finely chopped chives and dill.

To assemble, heat up some biscuits in the oven (unless you have coordinated such that they are fresh!). Split the biscuit in half, top with some hot creamed Swiss chard, some additional chopped herbs and sliced radishes.

black forest cake

Last time I made this cake was around a year ago. I even blogged about it. It’s worth a second blog though, and this time in a new and rather improved form.

Black forest cake is definitely a summer cake. It’s light (despite all the cream! or should I say because of all the cream) and can hold plenty of fruit.

Though, being so well-suited to brandied or preserved cherries, it makes for a wonderful winter cake too.

I guess it is an all seasons sort of cake after all.The sweetness level in this cake is minimalist, which is all you need, and keeps it refreshing.

It’s so easy for sweetness to add up when you have a cake with multiple components–it’s happened to me before. However, the only added sugar is in the chiffon cake. The cream and cherries are unsweetened, and the cake is brushed with plain kirsh instead of a syrup.

This cake did suffer from an overly high cake:cream ratio…though I also really like cream, so this is based off my own standards.  

black forest cake

chocolate chiffon cake

Adapted from my mum’s recipe. I found the cake layers a bit thick–cake to cream ratio was too high–so I would consider making a quarter of the batter into cupcakes so as to have thinner cake layers.  

80 g cocoa powder

260 mL boiling water

130 g all purpose flour

50 g spelt flour

140 g sugar

11 g baking powder

1 tsp salt

5 large egg yolks

100 g oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 c egg whites (6-8 egg whites)

cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 325F. Line the bottom and sides of 3 7″/18 cm cake tins (preferably springform for ease of removal) with parchment paper.

Mix the cocoa powder and boiling water until smooth. Let cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, salt and baking powder. Separately, whisk together the egg yolks, oil and vanilla, and then combine with the cocoa powder mixture.

Whip the egg whites until foamy, add the cream of tartar and continue whipping until they reach stiff peaks.

Add the cocoa powder and egg yolk mixture to the flour and beat until smooth. Fold in a large spoonful of the egg whites completely, then fold in the remaining egg whites, maintaining as much aeration as you can.

Evenly divide the batter between the three pans.

Bake for around half an hour. An inserted skewer should be removed with only a few crumbs clinging. I then let the cakes cool in the oven, holding the door ajar with the aid of a wooden spoon handle.

 

assembly

1 very generous bowlful cherries, pitted and halved

kirsch

a lot of heavy cream

Mix the cherries and a few tbsp of kirsch and allow to sit in the fridge overnight. The next day cook together in a saucepan until the cherries are softened and the juices are nice and thick. Let cool completely.

After they have cooled, slice off the top of two of the cake layers to make the surface flat and even. Brush with some kirsch. Do not slice the remaining layer–keep that for the top of the cake (and perhaps do not brush it with kirsch either…I wonder if the whipped cream might slip off).

Whip the cream in a bowl until billowy and stiff.

Place one layer on a plate, spread with a generous amount of whipped cream, and top with half of the cherries. Place the next layer on top and repeat. Place the final layer. Spread with whipped cream and pile some more whipped cream onto the very centre of the cake to add height. Here you may want to chill the cake to help everything set.

Pile some strawberries and cherries onto your lovely pile of whipped cream. It does tend to gradually fall, so I would place the strawberries and cherries right before serving.

And I assure you, it is impossible to cut a nice piece from this cake that will stand and hold its ground.

black sesame and kinako cookies

The first (and only) time I had warabi mochi, it was still warm. Small scoops on a plate, still jelly-like and delicate, covered with a generous pile of kinako. The kinako was powdery, lightly sweet and wonderfully toasty.

Two things to take away: first, there is a world beyond what I know of mochi, and second, it can be important and eyeopening to eat mochi freshly made, and let’s add a last one: kinako.

Lovely, lovely kinako. Roasted soybean flour, a bit peanut buttery but better (but I am biased because I don’t really like peanut butter that much). And just how often are interesting ingredients in powdered form? It’s so liberating! There are so many possibilities which don’t require messy steps like infusing your milk or butter or making doubtful substitutions and loose purees which make your batters go strange and bake up oddly. It’s not overly acidic or overly sweet either.

Gosh, the last time something this great happened was cocoa powder. Here is one application of kinako, though unforunately not a fabulous one. Either I have been chronically overbaking these cookies (both batches!) or there is just something about ground sesame versus other ground nuts. I’ve loved the flavours–they are warm and heavily toasted and rich–but the cookies themselves have been so very very dry, which is only exacerbated by all the powdery coating.

These cookies are based off of whatever you like to call them: Mexican wedding cookies, Russian tea cakes, I used to call them snowball cookies (though now they’re more like dirtball cookies). They are usually tender and coated in powdered sugar which somehow condenses into this sweet and slightly moist coating around the cookie.

In this variation, the nuts have become black sesame and I’ve used kinako for the coating.

The kinako helps keep the sweetness down of a cookie rolled in sugar, though the 1:1 is still quite sweet, enough to complement a bitter tea. I would consider, for those of you with less of a sweet tooth, rolling only in kinako.

These cookies go very nicely with some green tea. In fact, I would highly recommend the tea, if only to mitigate choking hazard.black sesame and kinako cookies

I think they taste very good, but they are also very dry. Adapted from Epicurious. Makes around 20-24 cookies. 

110 g butter at room temperature

24 g powdered sugar

72 g all-purpose flour

65 g whole wheat flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp vanilla

25 g ground and toasted black sesame

additional powdered sugar

kinako (roasted soybean powder)

Cream the butter with the powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Whisk together the flours, salt and 24 g powdered sugar and add, in three additions, to the butter. Lastly, mix in the black sesame. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill completely, a couple hours or so.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400F. Take a walnut- to hazelnut-sized pieces of dough and roll into small spheres. Place on a sheetpan lined with parchment paper. Bake 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom and just about firm.

Sift together an equal quantity of kinako and powdered sugar into a shallow dish to coat the cookies.

Let cookies cool couple minutes before rolling until coated in the kinako-powdered sugar mixture. Place on a wire rack, let cool completely and roll in the coating once more.

kimbap

Kimbap makes me think of a few things: a perfect sort of balance, generously filled and filling enough to be a whole meal, and of course the fragrance of roasted sesame oil. Roasted sesame oil could be a perfume or cologne, and would keep the wearer, and everyone within whiffing distance, perpetually hungry.

No recipe to share for this–it’s up to you, but for reference, I’ll direct you to the wonderful Maangchi. Otherwise, enjoy an excessively excessive quantity of photos.

(Contents: Egg seasoned and cooked with sesame oil, blanched spinach with soy and sesame oil, imitation crab, cucumber, green onion, pickled daikon, carrot cooked until it just tender. Rice is flavoured with sugar, salt, sesame oil and vinegar. Don’t be afraid when filling–it holds more than you expect!)ingredients for kimbap

flowery strawberry and rhubarb victoria sponge (a tentimestea second birthday cake)

tentimestea came about during that quintessential teenage experience: the dead end summer job.

The whole day was centred around the lunch rush where the line would stretch back twenty people. It wasn’t a matter of moving fast enough to get rid of the line, it was a matter of simply pushing through it. As quickly as possible, of course.

Typically the ship was manned by only three of us. It was the same three of us every day, in a little stall, air infused with deep frier oil and sweat. It only takes one mistake from one person to make everything to fall off track.

Perhaps it was the intense atmosphere or my own uncertain movements, but I tended to make mistakes. Or be slow. Thus, I rightfully became the target of some antagonism.

Combining one of my coworker’s antagonistic attitude and little things which meant I would stay a little later after closing, I began to feel a bit antagonistic right back. It was hardly Scapegoat Coworker’s fault that I struggle with my job and of course never got paid overtime past closing (and it was only after closing that I had a chance to get all the cleaning and packing up done for the day). It’s hard to be enthused for this sort of job, particularly when you discover that the fast pace of fast food and the responsibility of the cash thrust solely upon yourself, a bit sooner than you are comfortable with, is not your thing. Unhappy coworkers don’t help.

Scapegoat Coworker, contrary to this unweildly epithet, had a short name, perfect for using as a reference spoken with some amusement and exasperation. Let’s call him Bill. Every subsequent coworker of mine is given that nickname.

“How’s Bill?” my parents will teasingly ask whenever work of any sort comes up. Until I figure out that, just as first impressions predicted, they are indeed an absolutely a great person and we switch to using their actual name.

Gosh, sorry Scapegoat Coworker. Your probably undeserved reputation continues, but as with everything, it’ll fade. There will always be a Bill around, but I’d expect perhaps we just got off on the wrong foot and need to both sit down and talk again.pansiesstrawberriesstrawberriesslicing sponge cakerhubarb jampiped whipped creamplacing strawberries on top of the cakeBut that was just a longwinded (and meaty) aside. I decided I needed something else to occupy myself and make the summer feel like it was contributing to more than just my meager savings. That is where tentimestea came in.

While it took a while for me to settle in, and even now posts don’t come as regularly as they could, the blog has contentedly sat itself right into my life for the past two years.

I don’t quite think of myself as a food blogger (I don’t announce it too proudly to everyone, anyhow), but I do think of myself as someone with a food blog on the side. cake decorated with edible flowersThings have changed from even just one year ago. (In fact, I can hardly believe that I’m still here.) Some things have gone from slight dread in anticipation to quite simple routine… what I want to talk about is the pastry cream.

Milk and cream, eggs and cornstarch. A bit of sugar. Some flavours, at the very least a bit of vanilla. I don’t have it down to perfection, but I can usually churn out something acceptable.

It takes some time to become familiar with something–and unfortunately, because I like to jump around a lot with baking, I don’t become familiar too often. Maybe pâte à choux, pâte sucrée, a couple types of cake…

In fact I’ve changed my attitude towards pastry cream. Before I thought of it as a useful medium for all sorts of things, but not something that I really enjoyed. That started to change as I made more pastry creams and some were occasionally quite nice.

Then I tried a very, very simple cake, the frasier from Aoki Sadaharu (here’s a picture of it). It was so simple, but the cream in it was not only buttery and rich, but so light, it seemed to melt. Was it a lightened pastry cream? Crème mousseline? Something else?

The categorization maybe doesn’t matter too much. You can use butter and sugar and milk and cream and eggs in all sorts of combination, and the slight differences and techniques produce endless renditions. It’s something to love about baking. There is so much to find even with the simplest and basest ingredients.cake decorated with flowersNow, onto a bit of a review of the last year: While I’ve improved, it hasn’t been as much as I hoped.

Disasters still happen with equal frequency. What has changed is that sometimes I’ll give things a second try…and make them slightly less disastrous.

I tend to obsess a bit on the visuals. While photography and presentation has improved, it’s still not there. Chronic underexposure (dark photos can be done beautifully, but mine come across as rather dull instead of atmospheric) and distorted perspectives constantly plague my photos. Sometimes my photos are boring and sometimes I throw in too many needless bits until it’s messy. But I’ve also been much happier with the photos I take.

One of my future goals is to develop my voice as a blogger. I don’t have much of one. (The blandness of this declaration has just confirmed that.) But this requires answering a couple questions each time I write a post. What should I write about? How?

Though I do think my voice comes across quite clearly on this point: I love the combination of cake, fruit and cream. This whole blog could become nothing more than simple butter cakes and ripe fruit and piles of softly whipped cream and I would still be very satisfied…though at some point I might wonder why I keep blogging the same thing.

The problem is that this the simplest and most assuredly wonderful combination. If you are ever time- (or idea-) pressed for a dessert, the Victoria sponge cake is the way to go.

So: to endless cakes and the assurance that sometime in the next year I’ll be putting up more cake/fruit/cream combos, happy blogiversary to you dear bloggity tentimestea!

(Is this when you realize you could probably describe yourself as a blogger? When you give your blog pet names?)   a flowery strawberry and rhubarb victoria sponge

As with last year, this tentimestea birthday cake is rhubarb-y, but not quite as rhubarb themed. 

floral cake

100 g butter

60 g sugar

2 eggs

100 g whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking powder

salt

1 tbsp dried jasmine flowers

1 1/2 tsp chamomile

1/2 tsp dried rose petals

milk

rhubarb jam

a couple large stalks rhubarb

5 green cardamom pods, cracked

sugar, to taste

lilac cream

100 g heavy cream

40 g creme fraiche

lilac sugar, to taste

assembly

strawberries

For the cake, cream the butter with the sugar until light, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Separately whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Crumble the dried flowers between your fingers and whisk into the flour.

Gently mix the flour into the butter mixture until just combined. Beat in milk until it reaches a consistency which allows the batter to drop from a spoon.

Place two greased 12-cm cake rings on a parchment lined pan. Evenly divide the cake batter between the two rings. Bake in a 375F preheated oven around 20-30 minutes or until an inserted skewer is removed clean.

For the rhubarb jam, chop the rhubarb into small pieces. Combine the rhubarb, cardamom pods and a bit of sugar in a small saucepan and cook gently until the rhubarb begins to exude juice. Continue cooking and stirring until the rhubarb breaks down and cooks to a jammy texture. Add sugar to taste. Remove the cardamom pods once the jam has cooled (keep track of how many you have as they can be a bit hard to find).

For the lilac cream, whisk the cream until it is thick and billowy. Whisk in the creme fraiche and continue to whip until it forms soft peaks. Whisk in lilac sugar to taste.

To assemble, slice the top off of one of the cakes to level the surface. Spread with rhubarb jam. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip with lilac cream. Pipe dots of cream around the edge of the cake on top of the rhubarb jam. Pipe more in the middle. Set the second cake layer on top and spread with the remaining lilac cream. Pile strawberries on top as well as some edible flowers if desired.