spiced date gateau basque

spiced date & cream gateau basque

I think we are possibly still in the peri-New Year period where 2021 listicles are tolerated and somewhat relevant. For instance: last year I started an annual favourite album list which, given the constant content deficit this blog is under, is obviously being continued again this year.

As always, I never keep very up to date with music so these aren’t specifically my favourite albums of 2021, so much as my favourite albums new to me in 2021. Compared to my usual indecision, it’s usually strangely obvious to me what this list would entail as the albums that I listened to most over the past year spring to mind easily. The harder part is articulating what I love about them (and if I sound like I don’t know a thing about music, it’s probably because I don’t know a thing about music). But in my struggling lay terms trying grasp genre, emotion or theme, here goes a list.

spiced date & cream gateau basque
spiced date & cream gateau basque

1. i need to start a garden (2018) – hayley heynderickx

I Need to Start a Garden is three parts soft-spoken ballad, one part anthem of millennial angst. It wasn’t quite first love for all of these songs for me, but they grew on me tremendously, something which only makes me adore them even more. (Even the near-shout refrain of “Oom Sha La La” – not to mention, I have never encountered so relatable a rumination as “I’ve barely been to college/And I’ve been out full/Of all that I have dreamed of/The brink of my existence essentially is a comedy.”) My favourite album that I listened to this year.

favourite tracks: the bug collector, untitled god song

2. shelter as we go… (2017) – quantum tangle

This album effortlessly traverses the territories of haunting to sweet to righteously angry and determined, and stories of family, love, and colonialism linking ancestral and contemporary. The way that joy and pride and frustration coexist hints at the complexity of positive identity and community in an oppressive country. I also love an album where each song has its own distinct feel – and each of them is just lovely too.

favourite tracks: tiny hands, igluvut, ikersuaq (but really, all of them are my favourite)

3. i’ve felt all these things (2021) – anna leone

I first listened to Anna Leone’s debut EP which came out a couple of years ago and was immediately charmed by her music. I was so excited to see her first very album come out; it’s the most soothing set of songs I’ve listened over the past year, with delicate folky melodies and intimate vocals carrying the album.

favourite tracks: love you now, in the morning, still i wait

4. take the corners gently (2021) – steady holiday

Steady Holiday reminds me of melodic singer-songwriter albums from Emmy the Great and Zee Av. The tracks are about half slow, half fast, and lean wistful and nostalgic. It’s the heartfelt songs which I listen this album for: “Love me When I Go to Sleep” and “Living Life.”

favourite tracks: love me when i go to sleep, living life

5. foreigner (2020) – jordan mackampa

This is also Jordan Mackampa’s first full length album. It sounds as though his style has veered more pop-y recently, but still amazing vocals (and charming melodrama) regardless. This album is has plenty of flashy catchy tracks but it’s the more sincerely sentimental songs which are my favourite – the title track “Foreigner” particularly.

favourite tracks: foreigner, eventide, tight (a little cringy but so sweet!)

6. europhories (2021) – videoclub

This French electro-pop album is definitely a bit different from what I usually tend to enjoy but it’s only mildly electronic and also just very, very catchy?! The songs are sung in the most charismatic deadpan (I mean this as a compliment) and I’ve found myself listening to it many more times than I expected. The duo actually broke up (romantically) and disbanded (professionally) before I even discovered the album so sadly I think it’s the one and last from Videoclub.

favourite tracks: amour plastique (by far)

spiced date & cream gateau basque
spiced date & cream gateau basque
spiced date & cream gateau basque

I’ve been sporadically trying to make a gateau basque, a buttery filled cake from Basque, for a few years now and I’ve made some rather terrible ones. Generally, the recipes I’ve seen fall into two types – some use a softer dough which you pipe into layers both below and overtop the filling, while others use a stiffer dough which is rolled out like a tart crust. My first try was based on a piped version, but I didn’t like how thick the layers of pastry ended up too being: predominantly pastry without much filling. The cake was also too dry by the time it cooked through, though that was on me… After that I mostly switched to rolled pastry methods which more easily facilitated thinner layers for a higher filling:pastry ratio. I tried a stiffer dough that was very easy to work with, but which baked up too dry, crisp and cookie-like (at this point I also realized from this one that I should maintain a certain amount of sugar in the dough for tenderness.) Finally, I found I preferred a softer rolled dough formula – harder to work with, but which ended up more tender and cake-like than its dryer counterparts.

That being said, this dough is really soft. It becomes super delicate and prone to tearing as soon as it starts to warm up. It helps to be patient and roll out the dough onto parchment so you can slide it back into the fridge or freezer for when its cold-forged will begins to fade.

Gateau basque is usually filled with either a cherry jam or a pastry cream. I generally prefer the pastry cream filling, but I wanted to add an extra layer to this one, one which I felt wouldn’t detract from the sense of butter on cream on richness on butter: and that meant a layer of warmly spiced date paste. The date paste, an idea inspired by date ma’amoul, has a deep flavour, much like caramel (I now understand why date caramel is such a thing in vegan baking). As the paste is very thick, especially when chilled, I found the best way to get it into an even layer was to roll it out between two pieces of plastic into a circle just big enough to fit into the bottom of the cake. Together with the pastry cream and pastry, it’s a mellow and rich combination.

spiced date & cream gateau basque

spiced date gateau basque

  • Servings: one 7.5-inch diameter cake
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Pastry adapted from Mon Petit Four. Date paste adapted from Sohla El-Waylly. This is a fairly sweet recipe due to the sweetness of the dates and the sugar in the pastry (which I haven’t quite decimated as it has a bit of a tenderizing role), so I’ve kept the sugar in the pastry cream to a minimum.

special equipment: 7.5″ fluted tart ring (1″ tall)

pastry cream

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 14g cornstarch
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 240g whole milk
  • 1 tbsp butter

date paste

  • 150g whole dried dates
  • 1 1/2 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • pinch kosher salt

pastry

  • 85g butter, softened
  • 40g granulated sugar
  • 40g brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • finely grated zest from half an orange
  • 140g all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

assembly

  • beaten egg for egg wash

pastry cream

In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch, sugar and vanilla bean paste. Place the milk in a small saucepan and heat until steaming. Slowly pour the milk into the eggs, while whisking constantly to combine.

Return to the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat while whisking constantly. Watch for slow bubbles to rise to surface (you’ll need to briefly pause whisking to see this) and once the cream is bubbling, continue to cook for 1 minute more, whisking vigorously, to ensure the starch is cooked. Immediately transfer the cream to a new bowl and whisk in the butter. Cover and let cool, then place in the fridge to chill completely.

date paste

Cover the dates with boiling water and let sit 20 minutes to hydrate. Drain and pit the dates, and place the dates in the bowl of the food processor. Process until chopped, add the oil and spices, and continue to process until the dates form a smooth puree. Chill until ready to use.

pastry

Cream the butter and sugars together, then beat in the egg and orange zest until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until a soft dough is formed. Divide the dough into two pieces, one about 2/3 of the dough, and the other, the remaining 1/3 of the dough. Wrap each in plastic and chill completely in the fridge.

assembly

Lightly butter the tart ring. On a piece of parchment paper dusted with flour, roll out the larger piece of dough into a circle wide large enough to line the bottom of the tart tin. Aim for a dough thickness of about 0.5cm. This dough is very soft and delicate when it warms up, so if it has started to warm, slide the parchment paper onto a tray or cutting board and place in the fridge to chill again. Then use the dough to line the bottom of the tart pan. Tears are okay – just patch them up with a bit of extra dough. Trim any overhang.

The next layer is the date paste. Rather than spreading it, I found the best way to get a nice even layer is to roll out the date paste just like a piece of dough. The chilled paste will be quite firm, so use your hands to form it into a disc. Roll out the disc between two pieces of plastic wrap until to a round that fits in the bottom of the tart tin. Pull off the top piece of plastic, and place the round of date paste upside down into the bottom of the tart tin so that the bottom piece of plastic is on top. Peel off the plastic.

Next, dollop the chilled pastry cream overtop and spread into a smooth layer.

Now, place the final piece of dough on a piece of parchment paper lightly dusted with flour (you can add any extra dough from the first piece) and roll into a circle large enough to cover the tart, aiming for a dough thickness of about 0.5cm. If the dough warms up too much, slide it onto a tray or board and chill it again. Otherwise, drape the dough over top of the tart and trim any excess. Now place the whole cake into the fridge to chill while you preheat the oven.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove the cake from the fridge and place on a tray. Brush with beaten egg and use the tip of a paring knife to score lines over the top, being careful not to cut all the way through the dough. Bake for about 40 minutes or until browned. Let cool completely before slicing and serving.

lemon verbena & rhubarb fraisier (& tentimestea turns 7!)

lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier
lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier
lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier

Today, somehow, tentimestea turns seven!? Is it time for me and my blog’s seven year itch? (I’m not feeling it yet – but…)

Over these seven years, definitely a number of things of have changed (like the fonts – what a reversal from serif to sans) – and a few other things have stayed the same. For instance, I’ve had the same rather prescient blog tagline since I started my blog: tentimestea is indeed primarily about food, my cautious instinct was correct that there really ended up being no books, and the pretentious writing is right on point. Likewise, I’ve kept the same totally irrelevant about page mostly intact.

In this manner my blog has come to be a mish-mash of nostalgia and sentimentality folded in with the newer fonts and occasionally properly exposed photographs – SEO and proper blog form be darned! Because after working on something for seven years, I suppose you do start to get attached to all the idiosyncrasies and random html widgets that were added into the sidebar which now, years later, I don’t have the heart to delete. It’s legacy! For posterity! or so I tell myself.

And so? One more year? Shall we?

lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier
lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier
lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier
lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier
lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier
lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier
lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier
lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier
lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier
lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier
lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier

I’ve been thinking about making a fraisier for a while (i.e. about three years). I’m so glad I finally did – it’s not nearly as scary as I thought it would be! Perhaps my biggest fear was the ring of strawberries along the edge not staying in place, or even worse, not being able to pull off the cake ring at the very end. Neither of those events came to pass as you can see (and on the ring removal side, it just takes a bit of warming up via blow dryer.)

Fraisier is a cake named for it’s fruit (la fraise) usually made of two layers of sponge enclosing cream and strawberries, and then topped with a layer of marzipan. It’s most recognizable for the ring of exposed strawberry halves.

This fraisier is a bit of a riff off of the original. Starting with the cake, I went with joconde, an almond sponge, instead of genoise. It’s one of my favourite base cakes – it’s stronger, moister and has a wonderfully rich taste, and in lieu of the marzipan, it provides a gentle almond flavour. For the filling, I infused the creme diplomat with lemon verbena and thyme for a fresh herbal taste, and packed the centre with tart roasted rhubarb. And as hinted, I skipped the marzipan – I love marzipan, but I do think the more-cream-on-top approach, one which I’ve seen a number of times (like here!) is a lovely balance of flavours.

For the ambitious, Tamal Ray recently shared a frasier recipe in the Guardian with a double strawberry ring, while the blog Freddy’s Harajuku has a full on double-decker frasier.

As for me, I can’t wait to try this again in different flavour variations!

lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier
lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier
lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier

past tentimestea birthday rhubarb cakes:

lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier

lemon verbena, thyme & rhubarb fraisier

  • Servings: one 6-inch cake
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Creme diplomat and general assembly features from A Baking Journey, joconde from Mary Berry via BBC, and the finishing step of spreading more creme diplomat on top from Ruth Tam via Instagram.

special equipment: cake ring 6″ in diametre and 3″ tall

joconde

  • 3 egg whites
  • pinch cream of tartar
  • 15g sugar
  • 100g ground almond
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 30g flour
  • 30g butter, melted and cooled

roasted fruit

  • 120g chopped rhubarb (chop into about 1.5cm dice)
  • 80g chopped strawberries (chop into about 1.5cm dice)
  • about 2 tsp sugar (or more to taste)

creme diplomat

  • 320g whole milk
  • 3 large sprigs lemon verbena
  • 3 large sprigs thyme
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 20g granulated sugar
  • 20g cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp gelatin, bloomed in 1 tbsp water
  • 180g heavy cream, whipped

assembly

  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 tbsp grand marnier (or kirsch)
  • strawberries
  • whipped cream

joconde

Preheat the oven to 425F. Butter two 9-inch cake tins and line the bottom of two 9-inch cake tins with parchment paper. Flour the sides.

Place the 3 egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and whip until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and sugar and beat until firm peaks are formed. Transfer to another bowl and set aside.

Place the almond, icing sugar and 3 whole eggs in the stand mixer and beat with the whisk on medium-high speed for 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Sift the flour overtop and fold in. Fold in the melted butter. Dollop a large scoop of egg whites over top and fold in to lighten. Then add the remaining egg whites and fold until incorporated.

Evenly distribute the batter between the two tins and spread into an even layer.

Bake for around 5-10 minutes or until golden and springy. Let cool, then store, covered, until ready to use.

roasted fruit

Preheat the oven to 375F. Toss the strawberries, rhubarb and sugar together on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring once at the 10 minute mark, or until the fruit is tender and has released juices. Let cool and chill completely.

creme diplomat

Heat the milk until steaming. Coarsely chop the lemon verbena and thyme, and add to the milk. Cover and let cool, then transfer the milk to the fridge to continue infusing overnight. The next day strain the milk, pressing to extract the milk from the herbs. Weigh the strained milk and top up to reach 320g.

Transfer the milk to a medium-small saucepan. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and salt. Heat the milk until steaming, then slowly pour into the egg yolks while whisking constantly to temper them. Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble. Cook for at least 1 minute (whisking vigorously) then immediately remove from the heat. Pass through a sieve into a bowl to remove any lumps and whisk in the butter and bloomed gelatin until both are melted. Cover and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Once cooled, whisk the pastry cream until smooth. Whisk in a dollop of the whipped cream to lighten, then fold in the remainder. Use soon.

assembly

Mix together the milk and grand marnier.

Use the 6″ cake ring to cut a 6″ round from each joconde. Place the cake ring onto a plate (it is convenient to place it on your intended serving plate). Put one circle of joconde down and brush with the milk/grand marnier mixture. Line the ring with halved strawberries, cut side against the ring. I needed about 13 strawberry halves, but it will depend on the size of your strawberries (mine varied from 4-6cm tall; try not to exceed 6 or so cm to ensure that the cake doesn’t get too tall!).

Transfer the creme diplomat to a piping bag fitted with a round tip (I used Wilton 2A, about 1cm in diameter). Pipe the creme between each strawberry and then pipe in a spiral to cover the bottom of the cake. Spoon the roasted fruit into the cavity created by the cream and strawberries, and then pipe more cream overtop to cover it. Spread flat and top with the second circle of joconde. Brush with the grand marnier/milk mixture. Finally, spread a final layer of creme diplomat over top and smooth out with an offset spatula.

Cover with plastic and chill overnight to allow the cream to set. The next day, if the cake is not already on your designed serving platter, move it – you can likely lift it up via the ring, but use a wide flat spatula on the bottom for additional support.. Then run a blowdryer (or even a blowtorch, if you have access to one!) along the outside of the ring for several seconds to slightly melt the cream and loosen the ring. Lift up the ring. I garnished with some piped whipped cream, strawberries, lemon verbena and thyme (as well as a single white begonia – they are edible! – the sole output from our struggling balcony plants).

lemon verbena and rhubarb frasier

lemon cream cake

lemon cream cake
lemon cream cake
lemon cream cake

There is a trifecta of celebration cakes that are my go-to’s for occasions with family: black forest cake, glazed lemon loaf, and this lemon cream cake. They are all cakes that we used to buy from bakeries, but if I’m around, I’ll now usually make it. The lemon cake, filled with lemon curd and covered with whipped cream is what we used to get for my sister’s birthday. I’ve made it many times and it’s finally now on the blog!

It is, as the recipe title suggests, a very straightforwards cake – and just as with the other two. When it comes to family celebrations, it’s better not to be too stressed with a pretentious bake. And somehow my family seems to not want for novelty despite having these cakes year on and year out (…maybe because my more creative bakes always need some trial and error!).

lemon cream cake
lemon cream cake
lemon cream cake
lemon cream cake
lemon cream cake
lemon cream cake

This cake is all about bright tartness with plenty of minimally sweetened lemon curd between the layers and light fluffy textures with a lemon chiffon cake and piles of whipped cream. The thing I love about chiffon cake with whipped cream is that chiffon cake stays soft and moist even when cold from the fridge, so it better handles the refrigeration required by whipped cream than a butter-based cake.

lemon cream cake

(utterly straightforwards) lemon cream cake

  • Servings: 7-inch round cake
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lemon chiffon cake

Adapted from Make Fabulous Cakes. It was a fabulous cake, which fit very well in two 7″ round springform pans.

  • 140g flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder (6g)
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • finely grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 90g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar, divided
  • 90g milk
  • 75g (90mL) neutral oil
  • 4 eggs, divided

Preheat the oven to 325F. Butter two 7-inch springform cake tins. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper and flour the sides of the tins.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a small dish, rub together 50g of the sugar with the lemon zest until fragrant. Measure out the milk and oil in a 2 cup liquid measuring cup, then add the yolks and whisk to combine.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and begin to beat with the whisk attachment until the egg whites are foamy. Slowly add in the remaining sugar and whip until stiff peaks form.

Make a well in the dry ingredients, add in the egg yolk mixture, and whisk until fully combined. Whisk one scoop of egg whites until fully incorporated to lighten the batter. Follow this with the rest of the egg whites, folding with a rubber spatula until just fully incorporated.

Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and spread into an even layer. Tap the pans on the counter in order to pop any large air bubbles. Bake for around 25-30 minutes or until an inserted skewer into the centre of each cake is removed clean. Let cool on a wire rack.

lemon curd

Adapted from All Recipes. This makes a very tart lemon curd so I note in the recipe a good time to taste it and add additional sugar as per your liking. You’ll have some extra lemon curd leftover, but that’s not exactly a bad thing!

  • 180g (3/4 cup) lemon juice
  • 90g granulated sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 113g (1 stick) butter

In a small saucepan (or, if you’d like to be very careful use a bain marie by placing a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water), whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, salt and eggs. Whisking constantly, place over medium heat and add the butter a bit at a time, allowing it to melt in. Continue to whisk constantly and gently cook until thickened; you’ll know it’s thick enough when the whisk begins to leave lines in the curd. For those that like temperature, look for 165C or higher to ensure the eggs are cooked. Immediately remove from the heat and pass through a sieve (in case there are any eggy bits) into a container or bowl.

While still warm, taste the curd – if you would like it to be sweeter (this makes a rather tart curd as per my tastes), whisk in some more sugar while the curd is still warm and the sugar will easily dissolve. Cover and chill the curd completely.

assembly

  • 350g whipping cream
  • ~3 tbsp whole milk
  • optionally to garnish: another 100g whipping cream and lemon slices

Whip the 300g of whipping cream until just stiff, and add a couple tsp or so of sugar to sweeten to taste. Transfer a dollop of cream to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip ~1.5cm in diameter; leave most of the cream in the bowl.

Slice the two cakes in half. Place one piece down on a plate or turntable and brush the cut side with milk (this helps make the cake extra extra moist). Pipe a ring of cream on the top of the cake, around the edge to create a border. Fill with centre with lemon curd. Repeat two more times with the next two cake layers. Then place the final, fourth layer of cake on top. Covering the top and sides of the cake with the remaining whipped cream.

For garnish, whip 100g of whipped cream with 1 tsp of sugar (I find this helps keep the cream smoother for piping purposes) and transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large french star tip and pipe swirls of cream around the edge of the cake. Garnish with lemon slices.

Chill the cake completely, at least a few hours, so the lemon curd has time to firm up to make for tidier slicing. I think this cake is even better the next day once the moisture has had time to equilibrate between the lemon curd, cream and cake – it makes for a super moist cake (and slices super cleanly too!).

Updated Sept 2022.

black forest baba

black forest baba
black forest baba
black forest baba

This is a mashup of my two favourite retro desserts: baba au rhum and black forest cake – the result is, in essence, a very, very boozy black forest cake. The baba is flavoured with chocolate, soaked in a syrup of kirsch, rum and a bit of maraschino cherry syrup, and then served with plenty of whipped cream and a cherry kirsch compote.

Baba au rhum is classically a rich, yeasted cake soaked in a rum syrup. Recently I’ve been making babas based on the recipe in the Duchess Bake Shop book by Giselle Courteau. She dries out the babas for a couple days until they’re thoroughly desiccated and ready to absorb a startling amount of syrup. It’s a method that ensures the flavours of the syrup penetrate throughout the entire cake! I like to do an adaptation of her method by letting the babas dry overnight. They absorb quite a bit of syrup, but not quite as much as when I tried fully drying them out for days.

black forest baba
black forest baba
black forest baba

The syrup I made is primarily flavoured with kirsch, the classic cherry eau de vie, a spirit distilled from cherries and what I typically use in black forest cake. You could use all kirsch instead of part rum, but I like doing a mix. Mostly because kirsch is very expensive, but also because some rum in the mix tastes quite good to me! A touch of maraschino cherry syrup adds a subtle retro hint (though this is very optional and can be added to taste depending on your views on maraschino cherries).

As with any sugar-syrup soaked dessert, baba au rhum also has the potential to be very sweet. I’ve reduced the sugar quite a bit to control the sweetness, while still having plenty of flavour from the kirsch/rum/maraschino to not taste watery. (Any leftover babas should definitely be stored in the fridge as unlike a wonderfully super-sugared classic baba, they’re not preserved in sugar!)

I have come to realise that my family prefers a very alcoholic baba au rhum (my grandma especially has strong feelings about this). As do I – it doesn’t taste right unless there is the sharpness of the alcohol to cut through the cream and sugar. But if you’d prefer a less alcoholic version you can always simmer the syrup to boil off some or all of the alcohol while still leaving the flavour.

black forest baba

black forest baba

Baba dough adapted from the baba au rhum in Duchess At Home by Giselle Courteau.  

special equipment: small fluted pan – each cavity with a volume similar to a standard muffin cup (alternatively use 4 mini brioche tins or 4-6 muffin cups)

chocolate baba dough

  • 1 tbsp lukewarm water
  • 1 scant tsp instant or active dry yeast
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 65g all-purpose flour 
  • 10g cocoa powder
  • 45g soft butter

kirsch syrup

  • 1 1/4 cup (300g) water
  • 70g granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp rum
  • 1/4 cup kirsch
  • 1-2 tsp maraschino cherry syrup (optional – just if you like the taste!)

to serve

  • 120g cherries, pitted and quartered or halved
  • kirsch
  • about 70g softly whipped cream (unsweetened, or sweetened to taste depending on your preference) + extra for the side if desired

For the babas, mix the lukewarm water and yeast together in a small bowl with a pinch of the sugar. (Even if using instant yeast, still be sure to do this step to pre-dissolve the yeast before adding it to the dough. I find sometimes the yeast will not dissolve otherwise.) Allow to sit until it bubbly. Then combine this with the remaining ingredients apart from the butter, stirring with a wooden spoon until a soft and sticky dough is formed. 

You have a couple options as for how to incorporate the butter. I did a slap and fold method by hand, but you could also use a stand mixer (it just might be a bit challenging due to the small amount of dough).

For working with the dough by hand, scrape the dough out onto the countertop. In order to not incorporate any additional flour you’ll just need to relax and allow the dough to stick to your hands and the counter and everything. I promise it will be okay!

Begin by developing the gluten a bit more. With one hand on either side, pick up the half of the dough closest to you and fold it in half by laying it over the half of dough further from you. Have one hand at the top border of the dough and one hand at the bottom border of the dough and pick up the dough again, turning it 90 degrees so your hands are once again on either side of the dough. (I mean to pick up the dough the best you can – you might be leaving quite a bit of it on the counter.) Then slap it back down on the counter – keep your hands on the dough, stretching the half of the dough towards you so you can fold it in half by laying it over the half of dough furthest from you. Then pick up the dough again and repeat this process of slapping and folding, rotating the dough 90 degrees each time. After a few minutes of this, you’ll be ready to add the butter. Note that this dough is quite weak due to the relatively high proportion of cocoa powder, so just try to get it to a stretchy state and don’t try for the windowpane test. 

Spread a bit of soft butter on the dough like you’re thickly buttering a piece of toast and then proceed to do the slap and fold technique – eventually the butter will work its way into the dough. Once it is incorporated, spread a bit more butter on the dough and repeat. Continue until all the butter is incorporated.

Scrape the dough off the counter (use a bench scraper if you need to) and transfer the dough to a bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, butter 6 cavities of a small fluted pan (alternatively you could use 4 mini brioche pans or 4-6 cavities of a muffin tin).

You have two options here too. Option 1: transfer the dough to a piping bag with a large opening. Use this to pipe a dollop of the dough into each of the 6 cavities, using a pair of kitchen shears to cut each portion of dough after it is piped out of the piping bag. Or, you can do this by hand. Divide the dough into 6 pieces (each piece will likely be around 27g). With wet hands to prevent the dough from sticking, shape each piece into a ball, placing it smooth side down into the fluted cavity.

Either way, cover the tray with plastic wrap and allow to rise until puffed and filling out each cavity, around 1to 1 1/2 hours.

Closer to the end of the rise, heat the oven to 375F. Bake the babas for around 15 minutes or until very baked through. Tip the babas out of the pan onto a wire rack. Let the babas cool and leave them out on the counter overnight to dry out; after that, put them in an airtight container.

For the kirsch syrup, place the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar, then remove from the heat.

Stir the rum, kirsch, and maraschino syrup into the syrup. This is also an opportunity to taste and adjust to your preferences! Feel free to adjust the amount of kirsch and rum as desired. If you prefer the alcohol cooked off, at this point you can bring the syrup back to a simmer (my family prefers it as is).

Let the syrup cool until just warm. (If you’ve made the syrup ahead of time you can rewarm it slightly on the stovetop.) Dip the babas into the warm syrup. Dip each side of the baba for a few minutes, or 5-6 minutes in total. When you pick up the babas, they will be quite heavy. If you feel a hard, unsaturated area still in the baba, leave them for longer.

Set each baba fluted side up on a wire rack set over a tray and allow to drip dry. If you start running out of syrup, you can collect the syrup in the pan below the draining babas and add it back to the saucepan. You can also transfer the remaining syrup to a bowl with a smaller diameter so the level of syrup is deeper and able to better submerge the last baba. If not serving right away, you can store these in the fridge. Bring back to room temperature before eating.

For serving, begin by preparing the cherries. Combine the cherries with a splash of kirsch in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until cherries are tender.

Transfer the unsweetened whipped cream into a piping bag fitted with a very large round tip and pipe a dollop of cream on each baba. Put a piece of cherry on top. Serve with more cherries on the side and extra cream, if desired.

Updated August 2022.

strawberry daifuku mont blanc cakes

strawberry daifuku mont blanc

strawberry daifuku mont blanc
strawberry daifuku mont blanc
strawberry daifuku mont blanc

Mont blanc is traditionally a chestnut and cream dessert. The components vary, but it is always easily recognized by its pathognomonic piped spaghetti-like strands of chestnut cream – there is a piping tip specific for it (which I recommend acquiring if you plan to make mont blanc a regular thing as trying to do this with a single or tri-hole tip is… terrible.)

Mont blanc was enthusiastically adopted in Japan in 1945, where it seems to have gained more traction than in its French home. And as is the great thing with adopted foods, they come into their own in their own ways. While I love the chestnut and cream profile of the original, I can take a cue from the strawberry, sakura, sweet potato, and matcha versions that abound to try something different as well.

In this case, I based mine around strawberry daifuku, a whole strawberry typically encased in anko (sweetened red bean paste) and wrapped in mochi, a combination first premiered by Wahei Osumi in 1985.

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coconut, matcha & strawberry layer cake

genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake

What is a weed? If one cared to ask the right people with the right intonation (and maybe a single, raised brow), it could elicit a plethora of answers – do we consider intention, indigeneity, utility?

My favourite is a succinct and pragmatic definition from an expert with the local horticultural society: a weed is anything that you don’t want growing there. It’s a definition that allows for flexibility, including both intention and allowing some spur of the moment impulse. Hence the reseeded spinach crowding out other seedlings, yes, can be a weed. And, alternatively, something you didn’t intend to grow, but that you’ve become rather fond of, can stay.

For instance, bright pink, miniature peony-like poppies first began appearing in the community garden a few years ago, and each year they grow more numerous. This year they’ve gone rogue – you can find them spindling up through the canopy of potatoes, growing alongside peas, and in some plots, even an entire patch.

genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake
genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake
genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake

They’ve given our typically homogenously green and slightly drab plot a startling amount of colour. And so I can’t say that I haven’t done my part to enable the takeover – and given their ubiquitous presence in the garden, perhaps some others have been doing the same. In adolescent form, they sprout as tufts of sage-toned ruffled leaves, ones that I’ve grown familiar enough with to avoid pulling out. The buds hang their heads like streetlamps until they bloom and curve upwards; later the petals drop, and by now most of them have become woody pods which release their seeds with the slightest shake. Last year we may have also helped out by sprinkling poppy seeds all over our plot.

By some measures, and perhaps in some numbers, they are a weed, but they do seem to have “weedled” their way into our hearts (I never ever make puns so I am ever so slightly proud. But yes it’s probably best that I don’t try again…)

genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake
genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake

I’ve been wanting to try a floral layer cake (inspired by Constellation Inspiration – see this, this or this – whose sense for florals is so impressive, she wrote an entire book on it!). I realised that the storm of garden poppies was my chance to work with an abundance of flowers, and especially flowers that are not either pansies or herb flowers. While the colour of the poppies is a bit garishly sweet-sixteen/barbie-theme, as I was working with what we had in the garden I couldn’t be that picky! (Edit: in a more recent re-test and re-photograph of the recipe, we actually weeded the garden a bit much and only had a couple slightly withered – but still blinding barbie-pink – poppies. So most of the white flowers are balcony-grown begonias (which are edible!). Another advantage of balcony plants: they tend to have less bugs in them…)

Flower arrangements are pretty fun if you have access to them – I randomly piled flowers on the cake and it seemed to turn out okay! The cake itself is a fun combination: coconut cake, strawberry compote, and a matcha cooked flour frosting. The strawberry filling is cornstarch-thickened compote – the cornstarch gives it a bit of extra thickness so it isn’t too runny for a cake filling. Meanwhile the pale green matcha colour is lovely against the white and pink flowers, and I do always love matcha flavoured desserts. It’s a slightly reduced sugar frosting, but with enough sugar to balance the bitterness of the matcha for a mildly sweet and buttery frosting.

Update notes: updated July 2022.

genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake

coconut, matcha and strawberry cake

  • Servings: one 16cm or 6 1/2-inch cake
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coconut layer cake

Based on the coconut cake from Sally’s Baking Addiction. I love her recipes!

  • 137g cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 60g greek yoghurt, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 127g coconut milk, at room temperature
  • 85g softened butter
  • 90g granulated sugar
  • 75g (2 ½) egg whites, at room temperature
  • 40g unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350F. If using 16-cm diametre cake tins, line the bottom with parchment, butter the tin and the parchment, and lightly flour. If using 16-cm diametre cake rings, butter and flour the rings and then place them on a piece of buttered parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate cup or small bowl, whisk together the yoghurt, vanilla extract and coconut milk.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light. Add the egg whites a bit at a time, whisking in each addition until smooth. Add the flour mixture and the coconut milk mixture to the bowl at the same time and stir until just combined. Lastly, mix in the shredded coconut.

Divide amongst the three tins/rings and spread evenly with a small offset spatula.

Bake until an inserted skewer is removed with a few crumbs clinging or clean, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Once cool, place the cakes in the fridge so the layers are less delicate when assembling the cake.

strawberry filling

Adapted from this Food.com recipe.

  • 250g chopped strawberries
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar if your strawberries aren’t very sweet – if they are quite sweet, I find no sugar is needed
  • 8g (1 tbsp + 1 tsp) cornstarch

Place the strawberries, sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan along with a tbsp of water. Heat up the mixture over medium to medium-high while stirring and crushing the strawberries with the back of a spoon. As the mixture becomes more liquidy, bring the mixture to a boil and let boil for 1 minute while stirring to cook the starch.

The filling will go from cloudy to more clear and deeper red as the starch cooks. Transfer to a dish, cover and chill completely.

matcha ermine frosting

Adapted from Stella Parks ermine frosting recipe.

  • 170g milk
  • 28g all-purpose flour
  • 70g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp coarse kosher salt
  • 160g butter, softened but still slightly cool (if you can’t be bothered – I’ve found straight room temperature is fine too. The icing may be slightly less voluminous but still fluffy!)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp matcha whisked into a smooth paste with 2 tbsp boiling water

Place the milk and flour in a small saucepan and whisk until smooth and no lumps remain. Place over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened into a pudding-like consistency, around 5 minutes.

Transfer to another bowl and whisk in the sugar and salt until dissolved. Cover and let cool to room temperature.

Beat the butter in the bowl of a standmixer with the paddle until light, around 5 minutes. Beat in the pudding, a spoonful at a time, and then the matcha paste. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Switch to the whisk attachment and whip on high speed until light and fluffy, a few more minutes.

assembly

Trim the tops of the cakes to level them if needed. Transfer about 1/4 cup of the icing to a piping bag fitted with a ~1cm round tip (I used Wilton 2A).

Place one cake layer on a turntable or plate. Pipe a ring of icing around the edge. Dollop half of the strawberry filling in the centre and spread into an even, thin layer. Top with a second cake layer and repeat the icing ring and strawberry filling. Place the final cake layer on top.

If there is any remaining icing in the piping bag, add it back to the rest of the icing. Dollop icing on top of the cake and along the sides. Use a large offset spatula to smooth the icing over the cake. Garnish with flowers and strawberries as desired.

Store in the fridge, but allow the cake to warm up to closer to room temperature before serving.

genmaicha, coconut & strawberry layer cake

blueberry layer cake

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Currently in Toronto there is motion that has been put forth by Councillor Josh Matlow and seconded by Kristyn Wong-Tam to reduce the police budget by at least 10% and invest in community resources. Mayor John Tory then submitted his own motion (which as mayor, appears directly on the agenda) in order to bypass defunding of the police, taking the sympathy of councillors that may have otherwise supported the motion to defund. Unfortunately, this is not an acceptable compromise and one that will likely lead to an increase in police budgets if body cameras are implemented. Read Anthony Swan’s breakdown of Tory’s motion here and act now by referring to his page here. 

Again and again advocates have been hitting a wall of reluctance to defund the police by those in political power. Why do people have such differing opinions on defunding the police? I found one answer articulated by Sandy Hudson’s (co-founder of BLM Toronto) article in the Huffington Post –  much of it has to do with different communities have fundamentally different experiences and relationships with police, first of all in the quantity of interactions, and secondly in the nature of those interactions.

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black sesame & chestnut layer cake

a light black sesame and chestnut layer cake –  as simple as possible with sponge cake and whipped cream

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Today we are keeping it simple with only two steps to what is best described as a very fulfilling experience. Step 1 is to find a low traffic hallway – most promising are uppers floors or the dead-ended hallway adnexa. Step 2 is to seat yourself down with your back against the wall and enjoy the wonders of having such an expanse of space to sit (you can cross your legs or even stretch them out if you’re really feeling ambitious) – as well as to pile up the requisite winter combo (i.e. the coat + the mitts + the hat + the scarf + …) that the weather requests you carry with you everywhere. Feel immensely comfortable – until your back begins to ache a bit – because while simple, it is one of life’s finest pleasures.

Somehow, until yesterday, I think it’s been years since I’ve sat on the floor in front of my locker. I keep the instructions general to facilitate sitting on the floor even in situations without lockers, but while secluded hallways are good, it is the locker that is essential for peace of mind. The proximity of the locker gives you a sense of belonging and ownership over the four vinyl floor tiles that you occupy. As inconvenient as it may be for locker neighbours and passer-bys in the case of narrower hallways, you can feel steadfast in your randomly assigned administrative-given right to root yourself in place. (I imagine that even if an adjacent locker is not yours, if you have enough self-confidence to project the possibility that it could be yours to those passing by, that would also suffice).

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persimmon, walnut & browned butter roll cake

apparently i am channelling all the autumn vibes: a toasted walnut roll cake filled with persimmons and browned butter cream  

persimmon & walnut roll cake with browned butter creampersimmon & walnut roll cake with browned butter cream

A little while ago I posted my first try at making browned butter cream by emulsifying together browned butter and milk using a Bel cream maker. The resultant cream tasted intensely of browned butter, and the combination of caramelization and creamy richness reminded me of a dark salted caramel. Of course I had so many other ideas of how else to try using it!

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