2021 blog year in review

The blog year in review post is my chance to revisit some of my favourite posts from the year. As with last year, I’ve devised a series of 10 categories from which to highlight my favourite recipes in self-congratulatory fashion. (We’ll start with breakfast, then several courses of dessert, and maybe something savoury too, if we must.)

Everything granola is named in the style of everything bagel spice – as in, I didn’t limit to one or two nuts or fruits to make a defined flavour combo by which I would describe the granola. It’s all the generic granola ingredients in one: a few nuts and seeds, several dried fruits and a bit of ground spice. In other words, I could probably just call it granola. But then the title would be too short. So everything granola it is. Besides, I think the name also implies it is very open to substitutions galore: whatever nut/seed/chunky thing you have around, along with whatever assortment of dried fruit.

This recipe originates, though now heavily modified, from an Alton Brown granola recipe that I first started making in elementary school. Over the years I mostly stopped stirring (to get granola clumps!) and cut the sweetener aside from what is needed to bind the granola. More recently, I also started adding egg white, a trick from Deb Perelman, for extra binding. In other words, this recipe is a mildly sweet, but standard, clumpy granola. But still, let’s call it everything granola, okay?

For a more extravagant breakfasts, try the blueberry brunsviger.

Most years, to celebrate the questionable occasion of the blog becoming a year older, I make a rhubarb cake of some sort. The whole rhubarb theme was poorly chosen as my blog was started in midsummer at which point rhubarb season is mostly over… but what can I do now about my own thoughtlessness 7.5 years ago… Anyways, given I made this cake to commemorate 7 years of blogging, I am biased towards including it. But more than that, I also really loved it! Fraisier has been on my to-do to-attempt list for a long time. It’s always looked intimidatingly finicky to me, but my main fear (that I would not be able to unmold the cake) went unfounded and I found the cake came together quite tidily.

For this take on a fraisier, I infused the filling with lemon verbena and thyme and piled the centre with roasted rhubarb. It is a fantastic classic cake format for summer as it highlights the fruit makes for a moist and light cake. (I am very partial cakes that are only 25% solid cake.)

Chestnuts have a relatively mild flavour so the best way for it to come through is to use a lot of chestnut. I made this cheesecake following that approach, with a good portion of the cheese substituted for chestnut puree. And it makes the loveliest cheesecake – super smooth, soft and obviously chestnut-y. Together with caramelized persimmons, it’s a mellow and autumnal flavour combination. (I liked the caramelized persimmons so much that I ended up making them again for this houjicha ice cream with caramelized persimmons.)

There is nothing particularly exciting or creative about this – it’s really just a peach and almond tart. But it is a a classic combination for a reason and in the end I had to choose this as my favourite. I think it’s the small details here and there which made me love it. First, the tart shell, a pasta frolla, which I made with 100% white flour… I will keep making whole wheat tart crusts, because they are still quite lovely!, but every once and while the blankness of white flour, the complete lack of bitterness, and the way it browns golden and goes so seamlessly with sweetness… That and almond cream bolstered with amaretto (one of my favourite flavours), and topped with plenty of peaches and toasted almonds. It is not very exciting, but it is very delicious.

Runner ups: saffron poached pear & pistachio tart and burnt miso & star anise banana tarte tatin.

I generally find grapefruit a bit trickier to bake with than its lemon, orange or lime counterparts, in great part because grapefruit zest doesn’t have a very strong flavour. I thus have a sordid history of making grapefruit desserts which I think taste like grapefruit – maybe-ish – due to a suggestible and overactive imagination, but really which don’t.

The theme of this tart was grapefruit and I was determined for it to taste like grapefruit. That meant a grapefruit cream, grapefruit jelly domes, grapefruit posset domes, and candied grapefruit peel. And, thankfully (because I don’t know where I could go from here) it tastes undeniably like grapefruit. It’s quite rich and creamy and refreshing and a bit bitter.

Runner up: tarragon and lime posset tarts with black and blueberries.

Black forest cake is a family favourite and retro classic – cherries, chocolate and plenty of kirsch. Anything black forest-themed tends to be very well received by my grandparents and so were these. They’re very straightforwards but surprisingly good: cherry kirsch compote, chocolate kirsch pastry cream, thick swirl of whipped cream which you could add a bit of kirsch to as well (enough kirsch yet?) and a cherry on top.

It was difficult deciding – runner ups are the ispahan cream puff or caramelized banana & houjicha cream puff, depending on if you’re feeling summery or not.

This ice cream is rather like a mint chocolate chip ice cream, but that does gloss over some differences. First, the stracciatella part, where melted chocolate is drizzled into the ice cream while it is being churned (or where egg is drizzled into broth and cooks up in strands – either way). This creates thin, snappy shards of chocolate which melt quickly in the mouth. Texturally it’s an improvement over chocolate chunks or chips which harden into pebbles in the chill of the freezer, and flavourwise, the quick melting means that the flavour of the chocolate is tasted sooner and more accessibly than chunks. I also love the background fruitiness from the cherries. Adapted from a Stella Parks recipe, the base is thick with roasted pureed cherries. Roasting the fruit before pureeing it into the ice cream removes excess water and prevents the ice cream from becoming crystalline. Some fruit lose their oomph when roasted, but not so much cherries which stay fruity, sweet and tart.

For some reason I love hot cross buns. And different hot cross bun variations are a way to extend my hot cross bun love into multiple batches of hot cross buns. This particular batch was inspired by saffron-infused Lucia buns: a saffron and cardamom dough studded with raisins and candied orange peel, and topped with a pastry cream cross. These buns also took a few batches over a couple years to get them where I wanted – slightly less aggressive use of cardamom, more and more fruit, reworking of the pastry cream. I honestly thought these buns would end up boring, but they’re actually so pleasant between the soft dough, spices, fruit and cream.

This is one of my favourite savoury pastries that I’ve had and I was chuffed that I was able to make an approximation of it for myself. Puff pastry, salty cheese filling, split and folded over boiled eggs and a sharp green harissa. I love it for snack or lunch or picnics and still warm or reheated or even cold. It’s hard to mess up when it lovably hits all the boxes flavourwise (salt fat acid heat).

Since this list is being made around the holiday season, of course we need a festive category. Last year it had to go to fruitcake, but this year the cookie box gets it. At this point the holiday cookie box has weathered a few different winter holidays – left in the lunchroom, brought a New Year’s party, packed up into bags or mailed, scaled down for an at-home covid christmas. Regardless, I usually design the cookie box around a couple of constraints. First, I usually go for dry and crumbly type cookies (i.e. the shortbread as opposed to the chewy cookies) that won’t dry out and go stale in a day, letting them be stored for longer. Choosing cookies of similar moisture content also allows different types of cookies to be stored together – if you include a moist cookie, it will dry out while surrounding crisp cookies will soften. It’s also best to keep to more robust cookies which can handle being in the mail.

As well, there is also a convenience to a cookie box! (Relative convenience, let’s say.) When you stick to the types of cookies that don’t dry out, cookie box baking can take place over an extended period of time, letting you get started early. Besides, as each recipe doesn’t take too much time, I find I can make one every weeknight evening which spreads out the work to be more manageable. I also find cookies are fairly easy to scale down to smaller batches (ex. to 1/2 stick butter), meaning it’s not too much of an ingredient investment to make multiple types for variety or experiment a bit. Store all the cookies separately and then put them together for gifting or bringing!


Say you care about opinions other than solely mine (but why would you?), I also have the top 10 by page view (and I like all of these too!):

  1. tiramisu tres leches
  2. strawberry rhubarb cheesecake bars
  3. chestnut cheesecake with caramelized persimmons
  4. lemon verbena & rhubarb fraisier
  5. black sesame & persimmon paris-brest
  6. black forest cream puffs
  7. orange fennel almond biscotti
  8. rhubarb & ginger eton mess
  9. ataulfo mango & fennel seed mousse cake
  10. chocolate prune & whiskey ice cream

2021 was also a second year of pandemic no one hoped we would have, a vaccine equity catastrophe, an onslaught of natural disasters, humanitarian crises, tragic discoveries, a disregarded opioid epidemic, bigotry resurgences AND also the birth of mutual aid funds and grassroots organizing efforts to support communities. Wishing everyone a better year in 2022, and beyond just the wishing, remember we have the opportunity to make things better, too.

See also the 2020, 2019, 2016 and 2015 blog years in review.

houjicha, kinako & peach tiramisu

houjicha kinako peach tiramisu

Maybe I have developed a bit of a tiramisu obsession. I love the flavours of coffee and marsala, but also the format of a well saturated cake component with plenty of thick cream – and it lends itself well to other flavour profiles too. Which means I can make even more tiramisu!

And I think this one is particularly lovely – it has both the toasty flavours of houjicha (roasted green tea) and kinako (roasted soybean powder), layered with fresh peaches and a mascarpone cream.

houjicha kinako peach tiramisu
houjicha kinako peach tiramisu
houjicha kinako peach tiramisu
houjicha kinako peach tiramisu

I put this together much like one would a regular tiramisu. Begin with a layer of ladyfingers soaked in houjicha – I think it’s a great substitute as it has the body of coffee, but with a gentler tea flavour. After that, scatter a layer of diced peaches and cover it all with a marscarpone-based cream. Finish with kinako, which is often served heavily dusted over different varieties of wagashi, generously sprinkled overtop.

I made mine in a 23x32cm (~9×12″) oval saute pan (area of about 577cm2) ; alternatively, you could make this in a 9×9″ square pan (area of about 480cm2 so layers will be a bit thicker). If you have a deeper dish for a double layered tiramisu, you may need to double the recipe.

houjicha kinako peach tiramisu

houjicha, kinako & peach tiramisu

  • Servings: 23x32cm oval pan
  • Print

Mascarpone cream adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction, with technique for cooking the eggs borrowed from Stella Park’s semifreddo.

mascarpone cream

  • 2 large eggs
  • 35g sugar
  • 200g mascarpone
  • 2 tbsp marsala
  • 200g heavy cream, whipped

houjicha soak

  • 60mL hot water
  • 1 tbsp houjicha powder

assembly

  • 2 peaches, peeled and chopped into 1-1.5cm cubes (200g chopped peaches)
  • ~2 dozen homemade ladyfingers (see recipe below; you’ll need fewer if storebought larger ones)
  • kinako

special equipment

  • 23x32cm (~9×12″) oval pan – the closest standard pan is probably a 9×9″ square tin, or use whatever you have and spread the components thicker or thinner

for the mascarpone cream, whisk together the eggs and sugar in a glass bowl. Set over a saucepan of simmering water and stir constantly with a rubber spatula, heating the eggs until they reach 165F. They’ll appear syrupy and quite warm to the touch.

Transfer the eggs to the bowl of a standmixer and whip until they become pale, opaque, more voluminous and cool, about 10-15 minutes on medium-high to high speed. The eggs should be thick enough to mound up when dropped from the whisk. (As it’s a smaller volume, it’s a bit tricky to really whip them up with the standmixer – they’ll likely only be doubled in volume instead of quadripled.)

Cream the mascarpone and marsala together in a large bowl. Fold in the whipped cream, then fold in the eggs. 

for the houjicha soak, whisk together the hot water and houjicha powder.

to assemble, have a 23x32cm (~9×12″) oval pan at hand. Dip both sides of the ladyfingers in the houjicha soak and use to cover the bottom of the pan. Break the cookies into pieces as needed to fill in all the gaps. Scatter the chopped peaches evenly over the cookies, then dollop the mascarpone overtop. Spread into an even layer with an offset spatula. Place in the fridge for at least couple hours or overnight. Just before serving, dust the top generously with kinako.

savoiardi (ladyfingers) 

Makes about 3 dozen 9cm savoiardi. Adapted from As Easy as Apple Pie, with some adjustments to the method. 

  • 43g all-purpose flour
  • 20g potato starch or corn starch
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 50g sugar, divided
  • Pinch salt
  • pinch cream of tartar
  • 7g milk

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 3/4 baking sheet with parchment paper (or use two regular half baking sheets).

Whisk together the flour and cornstarch in a small bowl. 

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a standmixer along with half of the sugar (25g), salt and cream of tartar. Whip until stiff peaks are just formed (if anything, aim a little under – very firm, approach stiff). 

While the egg whites whip, in a large bowl whisk the egg yolks and remaining 25g sugar with a handwhisk until very light, fluffy and doubled or tripled in volume. Whisk the milk into the egg yolks.

Whisk a dollop of the egg whites into the egg yolks to lighten, the fold in the remaining egg whites with a rubber spatula. Sift the flour mixture over top. Fold in gently until just combined.

Fill a piping bag fitted with a 1.2cm round tip (I used Wilton 2A – you can also pipe them bigger if you prefer!) and pipe strips of batter about 9cm long on the prepared trays. 

Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool, then store in an airtight container.

grapefruit, rose & cardamom loaf cakes

grapefruit rose cardamom loaf cakes

I don’t know whether there is a grapefruit rose soap, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the flavour combination subconsciously entered my head via a soap. I mean, it sounds pretty soapy – in a good way. (I always find myself wishing that displays of fancy handcrafted soaps were edible. Oatmeal, honey and goat’s milk soap? I’d eat that for breakfast any day. Especially if it wasn’t actually soap.)

These soap bars cakes are also actually grapefruit cakes. I’ve tried making “grapefruit” cakes a couple times before following a similar approach as I would with a lemon cake – throw in some zest – and always ended up with a very plain cake. Because I am very susceptible to the power of suggestion and have an active imagination, I could taste grapefruit if I waved my hands and thought hard enough about it… but that doesn’t help others taste the flavour.

Continue reading “grapefruit, rose & cardamom loaf cakes”

2020 blog year in review

The blog year in review is an opportunity for me to highlight my personal favourite recipes that I posted during the year. And it has been quite a few this time – sixty?! to be precise – and for the first time ever in my six years of blogging, I’ve actually posted at least once every month of the year.

I’ve put together a series of 10 categories in which to highlight recipes, ranging from the cake of the year to the festive recipe of the year. It’s a bit like an awards show night except it it is administered by me, all the entries were written by me, it was judged by me and announced by me. Wow, is that not the great thing about a single person blogging enterprise?

Continue reading “2020 blog year in review”

blueberry lemongrass & mint tarts

blueberry lemongrass mint tarts thumbnail
blueberry lemongrass mint tarts thumbnail
blueberry lemongrass mint tarts thumbnail

The potential importance of reading a variety of news sources didn’t occur to me for a long time – at one point I thought it was sufficient I wasn’t reading the Canadian equivalents of Fox News (i.e. Rebel Media and potentially the Toronto Sun). But we know Canada is a country of systemic racism and all the other -isms. By definition, that extends to newsrooms where it has an impact on who is in the newsroom, as well as on what news is reported, what news is not, and how the stories are conveyed.

What people hear, see and read in the news drive the public consciousness and narrative. And when that news is being reported through the lens of whiteness and internalized oppression, it becomes distorted.

Hadeel Abdel-Nabi, The Sprawl
Continue reading “blueberry lemongrass & mint tarts”

peach, lemon verbena and gin ice cream (& alt food media)

peach lemon verbena gin ice cream

A couple of months ago, a slate of toxic workplace features came to light at Bon Appetit: people of colour, particularly Sohla El-Waylly, being pushed into unpaid video appearances for token “diversity,” unequal pay and support, and plenty of microaggressions. The Bon Appetit story is not exactly surprising – it falls in the tradition of white-led food media (ex. see Peter Meehan’s reign at Lucky Peach and the LA Times food section).

As I’ve been reading about these events, this passage from an article in the Atlantic stood out to me (emphasis added by me):

Regarding the industry’s whiteness, it might be tempting to dwell on questions of representation, or to wonder who ought to occupy the top positions at legacy publications. But as years of examples have shown, the work of challenging biases in food must dig deeper. After all, hiring a handful of people of color at these outlets doesn’t fundamentally alter the media landscape at large. Too often, such staffing shifts represent decisions made with optics in mind, which tends to mean that new voices are elevated but then not empowered, or that sufficient resources aren’t put toward substantive changes in coverage. Challenges to the dominant framework often come from outside legacy institutions altogether.

That and this quote from the infinitely quotable J Mase III:

In this time of COVID-19, Black Uprising and economic shift, a lot of white institutions that have been gaslighting Black folks for years will fail and fall into irrelevance. Let them.

Continue reading “peach, lemon verbena and gin ice cream (& alt food media)”

houjicha & persimmon dorayaki

persimmon houjicha dorayaki

This is day 9 of a series celebrating local Toronto businesses!  Recent events have put many local businesses in a difficult position and unfortunately, it’s not clear when this situation will come to an end. For ten days I’ll be posting recipes inspired by some of my favourite local businesses as my own way of celebrating what they bring to our communities. While we may not be able to visit our local bakeries, cafes and restaurants right now, this is a way of keeping them in mind, and a reminder to support them again once there is a chance.

Okay, so one more café (my guilty pleasure).

Ninetails Coffee Bar is a newer addition to the Bloor Koreatown strip serving coffee, matcha and Japanese sweets to a cheery backdrop of pop-y Beatle’s covers and doo-wop. Their freshly made dorayaki are generously-sized and sandwich one of three fillings – anko, custard, and matcha custard. My previous dorayaki experiences have all emerged from imported plastic packaging, where I had assumed the perfectly shaped pancakes were due to the magic of food manufacturing technology. However, the pancakes at Ninetails are actual embodiments of perfection as well: circular, evenly deep brown, and branded with a small nine-tailed fox. They’re firm, honeyed, surprisingly tender, and sport a bouncy chew unlike an American style pancake. Against that backdrop, I am most partial to the thick soft swirl of custard cream as a filling. (On the savoury side, they also happen to have an avocado toast of miracles – thick-cut crusty bread piled with an eqi-thickness of avocado, toasted sesame oil, furikake and shichimi togarashi.)

persimmon houjicha dorayaki
persimmon houjicha dorayaki
persimmon houjicha dorayaki

Fresh dorayaki has been a revelation, as has been the creativity of their fillings beyond anko. It gave me some inspirational leeway to brainstorm other dorayaki filling flavours. I filled these ones with a houjicha pastry cream and a very end of season persimmon compote. It’s a mellow, comforting combination.

persimmon houjicha dorayaki
persimmon houjicha dorayaki

houjicha & persimmon dorayaki

  • Servings: 5 dorayaki
  • Print
Makes five 3 1/2 – 4″ dorayaki (10 pancakes).

pancake

Pancake recipe from Cooking with Dog.

  • 2 eggs
  • 60g sugar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 50mL water
  • 120g cake flour
  • 1-2 tbsp of water

Whisk eggs with sugar and honey, and beat for 3 min (i.e. listen to one song while you do this) until light and thick. Dissolve the baking soda in 50mL water and whisk into the eggs.

Sieve the flour overtop, and whisk until just combined. Cover and let the batter rest in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.

Add 1 tbsp of water at a time to make batter flow fluidly (see the original recipe for a video which gives you a sense of the desired consistency).

Heat a nonstick pan over medium or medium low. Once heated, pour a bit of oil into the pan and rub in a thin layer over the pan. When making the pancakes, pour the batter from a few inches above the pan in one spot to allow the batter to spread out into a circle on its own. I found it took around 35g (3 tbsp) of batter to make a 3 ½” diameter circles. Cook the pancake until you can see bubbles appearing under the surface, then scoot around the edges of the pancake with the spatula to loosen before flipping. Cook for another 30 seconds or so on the second side or until the pancake is springy and the bottom is golden brown.

Set the pancakes on a tray and cover with a damp kitchen towel to soften the surface and keep them from drying out. Repeat until all the batter is used. It will make about 10 pancakes.

houjicha pastry cream

  • 2 tsp houjicha powder
  • 1 tbsp boiling water
  • 240g whole milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 15g cornstarch
  • 35g granulated sugar, or more to taste
  • a pat of butter

Have a sieve set over a bowl for when you’re done the pastry cream.

Whisk together the houjicha powder and water until smooth and no lumps remain. Place the milk in a saucepan and whisk in the houjicha mixture.

Whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch and sugar in a small bowl.

Heat the milk until steaming, then pour into the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly to temper the egg. Return to the saucepan and continue to cook, whisking constantly (or stirring constantly with a rubber spatula) until the pastry cream begins to thicken and bubble (you will need to briefly pause your whisking to check for bubbling – it will look like a slow sort of “burp”). Cook for 1 minute at a bubble, whisking vigorously, to ensure that the cornstarch is cooked.

Immediately remove from the heat and scrape into a sieve, passing it through the sieve to remove any lumps and into a bowl. Whisk in the butter. Cover, let cool, then chill completely. When ready to use, whisk to loosen the cream.

vanilla persimmon compote

  • about 100g fuyu persimmon, peeled and cut into dice
  • sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste

Peel the persimmon and cut into chunks. Place a small saucepan with a small splash of water, a sprinkle of sugar and the vanilla bean paste. Simmer, stirring, until the fruit is tender and the liquid is reduced and syrupy. Let cool completely.

assembly

Match each pancake with another close in size. Dollop some pastry cream on one of the pancakes and spread so that it is thicker in the middle than along the edges. Press some chunks of persimmon compote into the pastry cream and top with the matching pancake. Chill for a bit before eating which allows the pastry cream to firm up a little bit and makes them easier to cut without the pastry cream squishing out.

Notes on making dorayaki:

  • 1. Making consistently sized dorayaki – for this recipe you can use a 1/4 cup scoop filled about 3/4 of the way. What I find helps me make even more consistently sized dorayaki is to measure out the same amount of batter into a small bowl and then use that to pour the pancakes. For this recipe, measure out 35g of batter into a small bowl and repeat with each pancake (keep using the same bowl). The first pancake add a few grams extra as some batter will remain in the bowl.
  • 2. Oiling the pan – I find it’s better to use a bit more oil the first time and get a not so nice looking pancake (use it on the bottom of a dorayaki). It gives the pan a chance to be seasoned so the subsequent dorayaki don’t stick.
  • 3. When to flip the pancakes – In my first couple batches, I found I tended to end up with very thick dorayaki, even with proper batter consistency. I realised that it was because I was waiting too long to flip the pancakes over – I would wait until bubbles had appeared, risen to the surface and popped all over the surface of the pancake. Rather, I found it is best to look for the bubbles to appear under the surface, but not quite reach the surface and pop – then flip the pancakes over for a still fluffy pancake, but with more manageable thickness!
  • 4. Making thin dorayaki – another way to ensure you have thinner dorayaki is to use a thinner batter (which is what I did in the batch photographed). If you add about 4 tbsp of water to the batter (instead of 1-2) so that it is the consistency of thick cream, it ensures you make thinner pancakes, but there are some drawbacks to the texture – not quite as bouncy and tender as usual! As for when to flip: the batter bubbles very easily when it is this thin, so flip the pancakes where bubbles are clearly visible across the pancake.

Update notes: Updated November 2021.