Cake Cake Cake

Eat all the cake!

So in two days I made three cakes.

Sunday, I made a genoise, and then Monday I made another Victoria Sponge, and then an almond cake, even though I didn’t get home until almost ten o’clock after our boss graciously had all the young people over for a really lovely dinner that ended with single malt scotch collection. Excuse me while I fall over from the delicious fumes alone.

The genoise was better than my first try, but still dense and dry, even sliced in half and brushed with liquor and filled with cherry preserves, and covered with classic vanilla buttercream frosting, which is just butter, powdered sugar, and a bit of extract and milk.

The Victoria sponge came out more crumbly and delicate that I remembered the first attempt, and it nearly fell apart when I cut it in half horizontally to fill with jam.I covered it with the classic buttercream, and it was a very messy, crumbly process.

Then I got to work on the almond cake, after soaking raw almonds in water for thirty minutes and slipping off their skins. Blanched almonds are rare and expensive here, so I do this whenever I make any almond-based baked good. I ground up 1 cup of the almonds in my food processor, and then slowly added 1 cup of powdered sugar. Slowly, because my food processor is mini and the capacity is just about 1 1/2 cups. Then I mixed in one egg yolk until it formed a nice little paste.

I used a David Lebovitz’s almond cake recipe that I found on tastespotting as I was perusing for ideas. Since I don’t have measuring utensils yet, all of the measurement on my end was complete guesswork, but it turned out not too badly.

I used the just-about 1 cup of almond paste, and mixed with 1 1/3 cup sugar (the recipe said or granulated sugar, but I used half granulated and haf powdered because the sugar I had seemed kind of large. Which is a weird thing to say about sugar but whatever. Grind the sugar and the almond paste in the blender. Then add a cup of butter, cubed and at room temperature, and cream it until fluffy. Add 6 eggs in, one at a time, and some vanilla. Sift together 1 cup of flour, 3/4 tsp salt, and 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, then carefully fold this into the wet batter. Bake at 325F (160C) for 65 minutes.

While it was baking I put together an Italian meringue lemon-honey buttercream, or rather, I tried to, because whipping eggs into meringue and then creaming butter with a crappy hand-whisk is exhausting, and I seem to have misplaced my cooking thermometer somewhere in the the three moves last month, but it came out tasting great.
1/4 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
6 cup of egg whites
I cup butter
1 tsp of vanilla extract
Lemon zest and a Tbs of honey for flavor

First, melt the sugar and water, and start whipping the egg whites. Once the egg whites form soft peaks, carefully and slowly mix in the syrup after its boiled for about 7 minutes.
Keep on whipping. It’s supposed to get thick and fluffy. Some directions say “when you have formed the ribbon” but I don’t really know what that means and it’s a little ludicrous, in my mind. Screw you and your egg meringue ribbons. I whipped until I thought my arm might fall off, and a meringue never really formed, but I got lazy so then I added the room temp butter and beat it some more. Once the butter was incorporated I added the vanilla, pinch of lemon zest and some honey. It’s supposed to be thick and creamy and frosting like. Mine was…almost frosting. Tasty and creamy, but a little too thin. Certainly you wouldn’t be able to pipe decorations with it, but good enough for the taste test. After the cake had baked and cooled, I cut it in half horizontally and filled it with the meringue buttercream and raspberry jam, stacked it together again, and covered it with more meringue buttercream.

Then I pulled the last piece of midnight chocolate cake out of the freezer to thaw, and we had a cake testing.

Table of cake. Clearly, there’s some work that needs to be done on the frosting.


The happy couple came over and we ate cake. The conclusion: Chocolate. Chocolate cake is delicious. I’m going to fill it fill Nutella and raspberry jam, try a chocolate lacquer glaze to make it really pretty, and make chocolate leaves by painting mint or something with melted chocolate.

Of the three white cakes, no one really liked the genoise. It was dry and dense, and the bride didn’t like the cherry preserve. Also, the classic buttercream, made with powdered sugar, is far too sweet for our palates. The Victoria sponge was good, but again the buttercream was a knock against it. The almond cake was addictive, the Italian meringue not as tooth-rotting-sweet, creamier and more flavorful. So there. I may invest in a egg-beater or at least a better whisk, and work on my frosting skills, but the cakes themselves are decided and delicious. Another month to become a perfect cake baker!

The winner! So very tasty.

Pasta Carbonara

So I’m in the process of getting my visa changed from business to work, and that entails a few hoops to jump through. You need your original college diploma, a letter stating you’ve had two years of experience working full time outside of China, your residence registration slip, 6 passport photos, an invitation letter from the company, and a health certificate.

Now, you can only get this health check from the government mandated health factory. It’s somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. Possibly by Zhongguancun? I don’t know, really, the cab ride was well over an hour and I kept falling asleep and losing my bearing. Luckily the visa girl from the office came with me or I’d have been useless. It’s also important to note that this health-factory is only open from 8:30-10:30 on weekdays, because really efficient companies can function only working 2 hours a day, when they generate profit by overcharging foreigners who have no other choice.

You can’t eat for 12 hours beforehand. After I ran ten miles (on a treadmill, which makes it seem like an eternity) yesterday, I came home, ate a Powerbar, and promptly passed out before I could make myself a big dinner, so not eating breakfast was a hardship this morning.

We entered, filled out a form, paid the fee (RMB 650), and then started the process. You’re given a sheet with 6 or 7 slots and rooms numbers and a bunch of bar-code stickers. And you run around to these rooms and sit for 30 seconds while each doctor or nurse or health technician does their thing. I had my blood drawn, my ears and eyes and mouth perfunctorily checked, my blood pressure taken. I have no idea what an ECG accomplishes, but I entered the next room, was told to lie down, a grumpy middle aged woman brusquely pulled up my shirt and attached clips around my ankles, my left wrist, and a bunch of suction-cup like nodes to my chest and ribs. This was unpleasant and tickled, and I giggled, which warranted a very harsh shushing from her. Twenty seconds later, onto the the X-ray room, where I was pushed up against a metal square, told I wasn’t close enough to it and pushed again, and then x-ray. These people have no bedside manner at all. Then up to the “surgical check” room, where a man ran his hands over my face and spine and checked my weight before checking off the box. Really creepy, and I’d been trying to stop myself from laughing ever since the ECG, this didn’t help the giggles at all. The last room was a sonogram, at which point I couldn’t hold it in and had to laugh while the lady prodded me with the ultrasound paddle and uncomfortably cold gel. At least that lady cracked a smile.

All in all, it took half an hour. Health factory. If I had been a robot getting diagnostics checked it couldn’t have been quicker. This was only amplified by the very upbeat and cheerful communist-propaganda-1984-reminiscent song piping out through the speakers, the words of which I couldn’t really understand, except that there was definitely counting. In my head, I decided it was singsong telling me ONE! let the woman stab your arm with the needle of dubitable hygiene, TWO! let the creepy man rub your face and not accomplish anything medical! THREE! comrade, do your part and stand against the wall while they shoot x-rays through you! FOUR! sister comrade be cheerful in harmonious duty to the health of the mother land and her wonderful citizens but DO NOT LAUGH while they poke and prod you! lalala! You need to be self critique for not taking this seriously!
My translation…could be wrong. Or completely on the mark.

In an effort to use up the last of the bacon in one go, I made carbonara sauce. This recipe is for two generous servings. I’ve never actually ordered or eaten spaghetti carbonara before, but a post about it popped up on thekitchn.com and I was intrigued. My final thoughts are that it’s a simple, pretty decent dish but not one I’d make too often, also it can’t be very healthy for you. Salty fatty pork, cheese, egg and pasta: all winning ingredients.

4 oz. bacon, cut into little cubes
2 eggs, room temp
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
Pasta
Black pepper

Cook the pasta, preferably spaghetti. In the mean time, whisk egg and cheese together. Fry the bacon until crispy, then set aside.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain, reserving about 1/4 cup of the water. Toss the pasta in the bacon pan with the water, then add the egg and cheese. Mix this up well, the residual heat of the pasta will cook the egg, and it will make a creamy sauce.
Season with fresh cracked black pepper and serve.

Creamy bacon parmesan pasta goodness

Bacon Jam

Bacon. Jam.
Bacon Jam.
Jam made out of bacon.
I’m…going to have a crisis.

Anyway, after a slow start I made it out to Sanyuanli yesterday and bought all sorts of edible things. I spent a few minutes to prepare for the week, putting chicken breasts and legs into ziploc bags individually with different marinades.

My regular go to chicken marinade is soy sauce, honey, cooking wine, a little minced ginger, oyster sauce. I also made a Middle Eastern cumin-honey marinade with lemon juice, water, cumin, coriander, turmeric, honey and a dash of soy; a Mediterranean marinade of lemon juice, olive oil, and herbs; and hot and sour with lemon juice, a dash of vinegar, honey, sugar, soy sauce, minced ginger and Sriracha. Those are all tucked into the freezer for easy thawing and cooking over what I can only assume will be a busy week. I also made a giant batch of bolognese sauce, most of it to be frozen for rainy-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-cook days.

Then I got started on the bacon jam, a recipe I found on pinterest and needed in my mouth immediately. Nom.

1/2 Lb bacon
1/2 onion
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 cloves garlic
1/4 brewed coffee
3 Tbs cider vinegar (or white vinegar and a dash of apple and lemon juice)
A generous splash of bourbon.

Bacon


Cook bacon until just crispy. Set aside to cool, and chop into 1 inch pieces.
Pour off most of the bacon grease, then soften the chopped onion and garlic until the onion is translucent.
Ad vinegar, sugar, coffee and bourbon. Bring this to a boil and then add the bacon. Lower the heat and let this simmer for an hour and a half. Stir frequently, and if you’re dealing with a Chinese gas stove, turn the heat off every once and a while because even the lowest setting makes it boil.

Letting it all cook down


Transfer this all to a food processor and blend it up. Store in the fridge.

bacon jam


I tried some and it was delicious. A little on the salty side, since I used my super-salty homemade bacon, but I think it will go really well with a creamy Brie on crusty bread. Maybe with some more caramelized onions.

Accidental Lentil Soup

Where I work is a very western, financial area. Shiny new buildings, tons of cafes and western restaurants, boatloads of ex-pats. So sometimes you can kind of forget that you’re in China. Not all the way, of course, but on a beautiful sunny spring day with no pollution, it can sort of slip to the back of your mind. Until, of course, you’re sitting in a cab at a red light and a man come sup to the window selling things, and in one hand is a live, wriggling box turtle for sale, and in the other, a fistful of car-phone charging cables. Then, well, then you are rather abruptly reminded that you are, in fact, in China.

So I have moved into my apartment slowly but surely. I have a list of things that I need to buy RIGHT NOW in order to make it habitable, and a list about 4 times as long of things that I should probably buy in the next month to make living comfortable (but that I can survive without), and a list of things that I dearly want but don’t really need. And since I’ll be living on about $250 dollars for the next three weeks, it should be fun to see what happens.

I subsisted on take out, Gung Ho pizza, and Nature Valley bars for the first two weeks of moving in, plus a few dinners that I had made and frozen before moving. But after two trips to IKEA, some whiskey fueled furniture assembly, and a whole lot of cleaning products, I finally have a space where I can cook, even if my pantry is nowhere near stocked.

Taking a look at my “pantry” i.e., the pile of food and consumption related goods in the corner waiting to be put away, I found a forgotten bag of lentils, and chicken in the freezer. I found chicken in the freezer which I let thaw and marinade in a mix of soy sauce, sugar, minced ginger, and cooking wine, before baking at 375F for 45 minutes. Quite tasty.

I chopped up a small onion and garlic, and let that soften in olive oil. I also chopped up a hunk of the homemade bacon still kicking around in my freezer. After the onion became translucent, I added the bacon, let it cook, added the lentils, and then poured in enough chicken stock and water to cover the lentils by a few inches. I added freshly ground black pepper, but no salt since the bacon was salty enough. Basic cooked lentils should take about 25 minutes on a simmer to fully cook while still holding their shape, at which point you drain, remove the onion slices and serve or mix into a salad or whatever, but either I wasn’t paying attention and let them cook for too long, or the lentils were really old…when I checked them, they had completely disintegrated. I accidentally made soup! And with the onion and bacon in there, it was a pretty tasty side dish with the chicken.

Simple soup starter ingredients


I planned to go to Sanyuanli and Dongjiao last weekend, since that effectively depleted all the edible things I owned. But then I came down with stomach flu. I woke up with a raging fever and in my delirium, had to struggle and tie my extra bed sheet to the window as a makeshift curtain because the sun was being a total bitch. And then for the next 8 days I was completely useless. I tried to make myself chicken soup from scratch, and while it was delicious, nothing would stay down and so I survived on gatorade for the first three days and gatorade and jello for the next four days after that. I do not like not eating, I do not like sitting in bed without the energy to move while it’s a beautiful weekend, and I do not like being sick while having to work because there are important projects that can’t wait for you to get better. Also, having stomach flu and having to be the point person for not one but TWO cocktail receptions is just…vicious.
The only good thing about the last ten days was that on Sunday I went to see The Avengers with Bambi

All I can say is…AMERICA. And I really want there to be a Tony Stark. Or rather, I really want Robert Downey Jr. to be as snarky and irreverent and awesome in real life, even if he has to hire a team of writers to constantly feed him witty repartee. And that 95% of the theater audience could not possibly comprehend why it was so humorous.

Victoria Sponge Cake

As part of the cake baking practice, I made this Victoria Sponge cake, and brought it to a friend’s birthday potluck at Great Leap Brewery. It disappeared quickly, so I think it’s a hit. The only problem is that the sponge cake may not be very stackable.

My original plan was to make two cakes, one to bring to birthday dinner and one to bring to work, but obviously, because nothing ever goes according to plan, that didn’t happen. I was expecting the cake to rise up much more than it did, perhaps because I used a square baking pan instead of a round cake dish, the cake remained thin and flat, too short for me to even think about slicing it horizontally in half to spread with jam. It would have been a disaster. So I merely stacked the two finished cakes on top of each other, and decided that the office can suffer a week without baked goods. Those people are seriosuly spoiled. Not only did my predecessor bring in cupcakes on a weekly basis, but the day after I brought in the kumquat cakes, people were nosing around my desk asking if I had brought in anything else (I really hope he was joking…daily baked goods are a pipe-dream, mister!).

Bake to the sponge cake. So, start out by letting your butter soften.
1 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup flour.
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk

Cream together the softened butter and confectionary sugar. Then beat in the eggs one by one. Sift flour and baking powder together, and then gradually mix that into the butter. Lastly, stir in the milk and vanilla. Then, pour the batter into a 8″ round cake tin and bake at 200C for 20 minutes. I lined the baking dish with oiled tin foil for easy removal and cleaning. After allowing it to cool, if your cake is tall enough, carefully cut it in half and fill with jam, custard, whipped cream, fresh fruit, or whatever your heart desires. I used the black cherry preserves I had on hand.

Golden fluffy Victoria Sponge Cake with raspberry jam


I left it unfrosted, which was perfectly delicious, although for the wedding I will be experimenting with buttercream frostings.

Last week, I made the dark chocolate cake that I wrote about a few months ago. This time, I ran out of normal sugar and substituted half of it with powdered sugar, but otherwise followed the same process. I think the powdered sugar may have actually been a bag of crack? Because seriously, people would not stop eating it! I left it on the table in front of my desk, and coworkers kept coming back for more…my boss ended up just eating cake for lunch! I think I’ll definitely be making this for one of the cakes at the wedding, and I might experiment with a hazelnut cream filling.

I also tried to make a genoise, but something went horribly wrong and it came out as dense as a brick and quite dry. My second attempt to be chronicled this weekend.

New Apartment

I keep meaning to update with a post about cake. Several cakes, in fact, because I’ve offered to bake a friend’s wedding cake and this, of course, requires two months of practice cakes. But what with the new job and finally finding a new apartment after a catastrophic adventure in trying to live in a hutong only to discover that they never finished the construction that they guaranteed by a certain date, plus two surprise and sort of actually really stressful family visits, and a good amount of whiskey, I haven’t really found the time or effort. Also, my kitchen implements right now consist of a pot, a a pair of chopsticks, a penknife, and a rolling pin, because I’m really, really good at packing. Obviously.

So my new apartment is going to be awesome, and personal dance parties will be starting once I find some curtains (neighbors don’t need to see that), only I spent all my money at IKEA and somehow ended up without a single bookshelf, which is what I went there to buy in the first place. And most of my stuff is still in two other apartments because I can only carry a backpack or a suitcase at a time. So I promise entries about cake and other delicious things eventually as soon as I’m not spread out between three apartments, have all my stuff put away, and am actually in a position to start cooking again.

And living by myself for the first time! Not going to lie, I have already freaked out about the flooding sound the bathroom makes when the apartment next door flushes their toilet, freaked out that someone was breaking in at 4 in the morning only to realize the noise was coming from a street cleaner out on the road, freaked out about the noise made when the hot water turns on, and swept and mopped the floors so many times I’ve lost count. Because I want everything to be clean before I put my stuff away (because the apartment will never be as clean again) but then every time the landlady came by to install something or fix something (which was many, many times) the people would never take off their freaking shoes and tracked in dust and plaster dust everywhere and then i had to clean again. And I hate mopping floors with a passion. I really need to find an a-yi. But I digress. Cake. Next time. I promise.