Baking Through the Alphabet: T is for Tiramisu Cake Roll

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If you follow me on Instagram, you know I’ve been baking a lot lately.

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Brownies, cookies, granola bars, breads, cakes. Brown butter everything.

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There’s definitely something therapeutic about being in my own apartment kitchen space with every drawer and cabinet door open, flour and sugar spills on the counter, a sink full of dirty dishes, an oven preheated to 350 degrees, my Kitchen Aid running, and the music on and me dancing while trying to read and do as the recipe says. I’m in my zone.

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I’m not necessarily stressed when I bake. I think sometimes it’s just the thought of bringing pastries to my friends that makes me happy. Sometimes it’s the joy of being able to serve and love others with something tangible.

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But…sometimes I feel like it’s the only thing I have control over. I pick and choose my recipes based off of techniques I know or have studied and ingredients that I have on hand or are easily accessible. I have a general idea on what the outcome will be. As long as I know the technique and have the right ingredients, then it should be okay. Sometimes when life gets messy and unorganized, it’s helpful to be able to follow a set list of instructions.

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But life is different. There are no instructions, there are no guarantees, and there is no perfection. In some situations, there is no confidence in myself that I’ll reach a certain place. There is no guarantee in this naive mindset of mine that I’ll be a certain person, that life will pan out in this direction, that this issue will be resolved with this plan. There is no science behind it.

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And at the same time, I love it. I love the challenge because it grows me. I love the stresses, the memories, the experiences, the happiness, and the tears, because they all mold me to be my fullest potential. I love it because I know that I have Christ. And I remember Habakkuk 3, because even if the worst happens, God is still good. Even if the worst happens, God will carry us. Even if the worst happens, God’s grace is sufficient. Even if the worst happens, everything will be ok.

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The first and last time I made a cake roll before this one was when I was in middle school. I attempted to make a chocolate cake roll with my mom. We had no idea what stiff peaks were and how to “gently fold.” I’m pretty sure “stir until there are no more lumps and stir a little longer to be safe” was a motto. We ended up with a giant chocolate cookie. It wasn’t good.

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Since I’m now ten years older and wiser (hah), I figured it was time to give it a shot. I strayed away from the typical tiramisu trifle with ladyfingers (because it involves zero baking) and landed on a concept of a cake and a tiramisu. I gathered my ingredients, spent half an hour at Bevmo staring at the tiny bottles of liquor and figuring out what Amaretto was, and set off on this tiramisu adventure.

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The cake came out well. It was soft, sweet (but not overbearing), and spongy, reminding me of the Asian sponge cakes I ate while growing up. It soaked up the espresso syrup nicely and paired well with the cream. The cream was slightly sweet, and the mascarpone definitely reminded me of the flavors of a traditional tiramisu. I either didn’t roll the cake tightly enough or the proportions were off, but I thought there was too much cream with my cake, so use your judgment when you’re assembling the cake. But not gonna lie, I’m pretty sure I finished this entire cake alone. Don’t worry, I scraped off the cream…so that makes it okay, right?

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Tiramisu Cake Roll
Adapted from Diethood
Makes one cake roll, serves 10-12

Ingredients

For the Cake:
1/2 cup cake flour
5 eggs, separated, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

For the Syrup:
1/2 cup brewed espresso
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Frangelico or Amaretto

For the Filling:
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon Frangeico or Amaretto
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
Cocoa, for dusting

  1. For the cake: Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly spray a jelly roll pan (not a half sheet pan, as that is larger) with baking spray, and line with parchment paper. Spray parchment paper with baking spray as well. Set aside.
  2. In a mixer, beat together egg yolks, vanilla, and 1/2 cup sugar at high speed until thick and pale yellow. Add half of the flour to the yolk mixture, and fold gently. Add in the rest of the flour, and fold it in gently. Set aside.
  3. In another mixing bowl, beat the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar at medium speed until soft peaks form. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar; beat until the whites hold stiff peaks. Don’t overbeat.
  4. Fold 1/4 of whites into yolk mixture, and repeat until the remaining whites are thoroughly folded in.
  5. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the melted butter and 1/2 cup of the prepared cake batter. Fold the butter mixture back into the cake batter until throughly combined.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and spread it evenly, making sure it reaches the corners. Rap the pan on the counter once or twice to get rid of the air bubbles.
  7. Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, or until the top of the cake springs back when touched.
  8. Sift powdered sugar over the cake, and cover the cake with a thin tea towel that’s larger than the pan. Place a larger baking pan over the towel, and invert the cake and parchment paper onto it. Gently peel back the parchment paper.
  9. With the towel, roll up the cake from short end to short end with the tea towel inside. Let it cool completely in the towel.
  10. For the syrup: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the espresso (I used concentrated instant coffee) and sugar, and bring to a boil. Stirring continuously, boil until the liquid is reduced to 1/4 cup. Remove from heat, and stir in the Frangelico or Amaretto. Let it cool to room temperature.
  11. For the filling: In a large bowl, beat together the mascarpone, sugar, cinnamon, and Frangelico/Amaretto until combined. In another bowl, beat the heavy cream until it holds stiff peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture until combined.
  12. For assembly: Gently unroll the cooled cake on a baking sheet. Keep it on the towel.
  13. Brush the unrolled cake with the espresso syrup. With an offset spatula, spread the whipped cream filling evenly over the cake, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Without the towel, roll the cake from long end to long end, leaving it seam-side down on your serving platter. Dust with cocoa powder. Cut, serve, and enjoy!

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Until next time,

Soli deo gloria, and happy reading, eating, and baking!

Baking Through the Alphabet: S is for Strawberry Hand Pies

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I started this blog over three and a half years ago. It’s been a slow run, but it’s coming along.

I told myself that I’d be as transparent with my readers as possible. Because if my goal is to tie together baking with my life and how Jesus has impacted it, I can’t really do so without being honest and open to a certain extent.

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So here it is: breakups aren’t easy.

But sometimes…they’re necessary. It’s easy to be angry and bitter. It’s okay to be emotional and to cry. It’s okay to not be okay.

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What did I gain from this? A lot. From learning how to be empathetic, to not being judgmental, to being more patient and encouraging, to being more open, to taking things easy and not stressing out. From learning the necessity of prayer, to not being so nit-picky, to learning how to actually take care of the person in front of you instead of trying to plan five million steps ahead. From learning the importance of trusting in God (which is a continual struggle), to having Christ as the center of your relationship, to seeking wise counsel, to being a partner. From learning to strive for godliness together, to learning how to make each other better people, to rebuking and molding each other. And this list can go on and on.

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I’m doing okay, in case you’re wondering. It’s hard sometimes, but I know for a fact that it was the best route for us to take–to grow and to be molded separately. And I think that’s what brings peace for me: knowing full well that it was for our good and that it was faithfully ordained by God. It was worth the fight, because it bore fruit during and after the relationship.

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I asked for life experiences when I moved up so I could learn and better minister to others, and this is one of them. So here I am, persevering, praying, and fighting–literally through the love of others and the grace of God.

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Now, it’s a weird transition from talking about my life to talking about strawberries, but I’m going to do it anyway. Berry season is one of my favorite parts of summer, so it only felt necessary to use strawberries for the letter s. Other ideas, if you’re curious: sour cream and onion pretzels, sour cream and onion biscuits…yeah, really not that much.

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I’ve never made a pie before, so I admit that this is the closest I’ve been to making one. But I’m glad I picked hand pies, because they came out so much cuter and were easier to photograph. These pies turned out to be pretty much what you’d expect–sweet strawberries stuffed in a flaky, buttery crust, topped with crunchy raw sugar. The dough can be difficult to work with once the butter starts melting from the warmth of your hands, so work quickly. The trick to flakiness is to have everything cold before it hits the heat of the oven. I tried doing this by working quickly with the dough and leaving the hand pies in the fridge for a couple minutes before throwing them into the oven. Also, the recipe makes enough dough for two batches of hand pies. Don’t forget to cut slits on the tops of the pies to let the steam escape. Just don’t forget to make these delicious pies–berry season is almost over!

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Strawberry Hand Pies
Makes 6 hand pies
Adapted From Martha Stewart

Ingredients:

For the dough/pâte brisée (enough for two batches):
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup cold, ice water

For the strawberry filling:
1 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and cut in half or quarters
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

All-purpose flour, for work surface
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Raw sugar, for sprinkling

  1. For the doughCombine flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl (or in a food processor, if using). Add the butter, and, using a pastry cutter, blend until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  2. Add ice water, tablespoon by tablespoon, until the dough holds together without being wet or sticky. If the dough is still crumbly when you squeeze a small amount together, add a little more water. Be careful to not overwork the dough.
  3. Divide the dough in half. Flatten each half into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill the dough until needed.
  4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.
  5. For the filling: In a medium bowl, stir together the strawberries, sugar, and cornstarch.
  6. On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough into a large rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. At this point, you can either cut rounds (and fold them over to make half-circles or top them with another round) or rectangles into sizes you please. I ended up doing rounds topped with another round.
  7. Depending on the size of your round/rectangle, place the strawberry mixture onto the cut dough. Lightly brush the beaten egg around the edge, and either fold the remaining dough over to enclose or top with another piece of dough. Gently press the edges together to seal, crimping the edges with a fork if desired. Brush the tops of each pie with egg, and using a paring knife, cut slits on the top of each pie. This is to ensure that the steam can escape while baking. Sprinkle each pie generously with raw sugar.
  8. Bake the pies until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

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Until next time (hopefully before the end of the year),

Soli Deo Gloria, and Happy reading, eating, and baking!

Baking Through the Alphabet: R is for Raspberry Chocolate Tart

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If you’ve noticed on my Instagram posts lately, gracefulleats has a new friend: a marble slab. I’d been eyeing this slab since 2013 or so, but I was so hesitant because cheapo college kid me couldn’t imagine spending $50 on a piece of marble.

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Since I am now a full-grown adult with a real paying job and doing this whole “adulting” thing (poorly but surely), I bought it.

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Seriously, that $50 slab is a game changer. It does two things: keeps my pastries cold as I roll out dough, and 2) makes my pictures look soooo much better.

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I’ve been helping my recently-engaged friend V brainstorm for things to put in her registry. It’s been interesting doing that because I get a chance to think about what I’d want in a dream kitchen–marble countertops, double ovens, an island, etc etc. Add in a nice rack on the ceiling to hang my pots and pans, ceramic jars for my flour, a walk-in pantry, and an unending supply of ingredients. Maybe one day I’ll have a kitchen where the dishwasher doesn’t double as a dish rack. A girl can dream, right? This marble slab will just have to do for now.

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I bought the tart pan used in this post along with the marble slab. I also bought a bunch of other things–new measuring cups, new cookie scoop, etc–but that’s another story. It was a part of the “new kitchen, new things” mindset when I moved into my apartment.

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Anyways, the hardest part about this tart was the crust. I didn’t have a food processor, so my friends and I crushed the graham crackers with a rolling pin and ziploc bags, sifted the large crumbs, and repeated the process. Struggles came back when I had to press the crust mixture into the pan, but it was worth it because the crust paired so well with the sweet raspberries and the creamy ganache (which was literally chocolate and cream). Top with raspberries on top, and voila! You’ve got yourself a raspberry chocolate tart.

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Raspberry Chocolate Tart
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes one 14″ x 4.5″ or 9″ tart

Ingredients:

For the Crust:
32 chocolate wafer cookies (I used 8 oz chocolate graham crackers), crushed
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the Ganache Filling:
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream

For the Topping:
Fresh Raspberries (I used about 12 ounces)

Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, combine crushed cookies, sugar, and pinch of salt. Add butter, and mix until it comes together. Press the crumbs firmly into pan (either a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom or a 14″ x 4.5″ fluted tart pan with a removable bottom like I did). Place the pan on a baking sheet, and bake until the crust is dry and set, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

In a large bowl, add chocolate and a pinch of salt. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a bare simmer over medium-high heat. Immediately pour the cream over the chocolate, and let it stand for one minute. Whisk gently until the chocolate melts and is completely smooth. Pour the chocolate into cooled tart shell, and refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes.

To serve, remove the tart from the pan, and top with raspberries, as desired. Enjoy!Raspberry Chocolate Tart-2

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Baking Through the Alphabet: Q is for Quinoa-Pistachio-Apricot Biscotti

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The Bay Area is doing a really good job of winning my heart.

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I passed my one year mark a little less than a month ago, and I’m pretty sure moving up was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve learned and struggled a lot, formed plenty of new friendships, and shared life with people I’m pretty sure I’ll be friends with for a long time.

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I’m currently reading Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung with C. My sister encouraged me to read this book last year when I was still deciding if it was a good idea to make the move up to the Bay Area. I finally got around to it a year later, and it’s been a pretty encouraging book, pointing out a lot of the flaws in the way I think and make decisions.

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This quote stood out to the both of us: “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and then trust that He will take care of our needs, even before we know what they are and where we’re going.”

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And it’s true. I’m a bit of a planner, so I feel the constant need to know what’s going to happen in life for the next day, week, month, year. I’m always planning the next step in life but forgetting the tasks I have in front of me. Farsighted, I suppose? In any case, that’s my spiel, my current struggle, my lesson–whatever you want to call it.

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tl;dr: Happy one year, Bay Area. You’ve done a pretty swell job at winning my heart. One year down, hopefully many more to come!

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One more spiel, just for these little suckers. If you don’t already know, I bake letters based on the main ingredient. In this case, quinoa was literally the only thing I could think of. I research a lot for these things, and I finally settled on tweaking a biscotti recipe by replacing the flour with quinoa flour.

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Luckily, I found something that already had the work cut out for me; I just replaced the mix-ins with apricots and pistachios (which ended up being a lot tougher to chop up than I had expected). Overall, slightly nutty, a good mix of flavors with the pistachio-apricot combination, and not too rock hard (though that depends on how long you bake it for). Keep in mind though that quinoa flour can get a bit pricey, and slicing biscotti with a steak knife is definitely not ideal.

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Other than that…work team and roommates approved!

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Quinoa-Pistachio-Apricot Biscotti
Adapted From Power Hungry
Makes 16-20 cookies

Ingredients:
1 ¾ cups quinoa flour (I found mine at Whole Foods)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
⅔ cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
¼ cup olive oil
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the quinoa flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the dried apricots and pistachios.

In a large bowl, mix together the oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, and stir until well-blended.

Transfer the dough to the prepared cookie sheet, and shape the dough into two 2×12-inch rectangles, about¾ inch high. Damp hands are helpful with this. Bake until golden brown and set, about 23-25 minutes. Let cool completely.

Once the rectangles are cooled, use a serrated knife (in my case, a not-so-helpful steak knife–not recommended) to cut them on the diagonal into ½-inch slices. Place the biscotti on lined sheets cut side down, and bake 15-17 minutes until the biscotti is golden and dry. Transfer the biscotti to a rack, and cool completely. It’s okay if they’re not completely crisp; they crisp up as they cool.

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Until next time,

Soli Deo Gloria, and Happy reading, eating, and baking!

Baking Through the Alphabet: P is for Peanut Butter and Jelly Blondies

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It’s already April. And I’m not sure where all the time went.

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Happy belated 3rd birthday to this blog, too! I remembered but didn’t get a chance to make a cake like I usually do.

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It’s been a bit busy lately. 2016 has been really good so far, though, and I’m definitely learning and growing a lot. I’ve gone on my fair share of adventures, and I still have so much to explore.

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But you know those days where you’re kind of just sitting there–slightly upset but not really sure why, frustrated, confused, and an entire mix of emotions? Today’s one of those days.

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And that’s one of the things that I’m learning. It’s okay to not be okay. There will be times when things are out of your control, and there’s nothing you can do. There are moments when life seems like a mess and full of unanswered questions, and there’s nothing you can do…but pray. The next month is about to get really hectic, but I’m excited for the new changes to come. AND, you can also expect this blog to be a little more active than it has been the past two years. Maybe I’ll get through more than two letters this year. Fingers crossed!

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Peanut Butter and Jelly Blondies
Makes one 8×8-inch pan
Adapted From Averie Cooks

Ingredients:

For the base:
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter, melted
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the top:
1/4 to 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 to 1/3 cup jelly (I used strawberry)
chopped roasted peanuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line an 8-by-8-inch pan with aluminum foil (spray with cooking spray) or parchment paper. Set aside.

In microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter (30-60 seconds). Add the 1/4 cup peanut butter, and microwave for 30 seconds to soften the peanut butter. Stir the melted peanut butter and butter together until combined. Add the brown sugar; stir to combine. Stir in the egg and vanilla. Add the flour and salt, and stir until just combined. Don’t over-mix, or the blondies can come out tough. Pour the batter into the prepared pan; smooth it out if necessary.

To the top of the batter, dollop the 1/4 to 1/3 cup peanut butter (depending on your liking) in 4- or 5-tablespoon-sized dollops. Do the same for the jelly. Using a knife, marble the peanut butter and jelly in a zig-zag and swirl pattern. Do not overdo it, or the surface will look really messy and ugly. Trust me. Been there, done that. Sprinkle the top of the blondies with the chopped peanuts, if desired.

Bake the blondies for 22 to 27 minutes, or until the edges slightly pull away from the sides of the pan, the center is set and golden, and a toothpick comes out clean. Let the blondies cool completely before slicing and serving. Enjoy!

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Here’s to 2016, a really belated 3rd birthday to this blog, and hopefully more letters.

 

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Soli deo Gloria, and happy reading, eating, and baking!

Baking Through the Alphabet: O is for Orange Olive Oil Sticky Buns

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I told myself I’d make at least one more letter post before 2015 ended.

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It’s still 2015. Thus, mission accomplished. Four tries later.

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I made these this past Thanksgiving when I went home to be with family. It’s been hard these past few months, so weekends when I get to go back to my familiar and happy places are always so sweet. I was reflecting on Thanksgiving the other day, and there are just so many things to be thankful for. To honor this post being my fourth attempt at the letter “o”, I’ll (briefly) list four things that I’m thankf-o for:

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  1. Family – my support system, the people who endlessly and unconditionally love and care for me. The people who lovingly call me out when I’m being stressed and difficult. The people who encourage me to trust in God, stay warm, and find a boyfriend…
  2. Church – my fellow race runners, the body of Christ that teaches me, rebukes me, shepherds me, and grows me. The people who open themselves up to me, show me around the Bay Area, and welcome me into their lives. One of the biggest blessings since moving, and I genuinely mean it. The body of Christ that teaches me what it means to love God, His Word, and His people.
  3. Work – my Bay Area version of Disneyland. The place where I spend 40+ hours a week, grab meals with coworkers, learn about the tech industry and the impact we have on social media. The place where I meet people left and right, am part of an amazing work culture, and have fun. The place where I have such a great team filled with people that I get along well with and have a good time together both inside and outside of work.
  4. Community – my other support system comprised of people from all my different life stages–high school, FCBC, GLMC, college, etc.–and overlap with the groups above.  People who check up on me to make sure I’m doing okay, show me around to places, and share life with me. People who genuinely care for me, keep up with me, have made me who I am today…and seriously make life fun :)).

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These are just four things that I’m thankful for. And there are so many other things to be thankful for…because God is gracious and good.

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As for these little suckers–think cinnamon rolls, but replace the cinnamon filling with orange sugar. The orange sugar was super fragrant, and it made the sticky buns, well, sticky. But the citrus-y flavors paired well with the soft rolls.

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Some recipe notes:
1) I was scared I didn’t have enough filling for the buns, so I increased the proportions. They’re reflected in the recipe below.
2) The glaze made the buns too sweet for my taste, though, so I’ve cut the recipe for that in half below. I also didn’t have milk on hand, so I used orange juice instead. Feel free to use buttermilk like the original recipe states.
3) I couldn’t taste the olive oil in my buns. It might just be the brand I used, though.

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Orange Olive Oil Sticky Buns
Makes about 12-18 buns
Adapted from Food52

For the Buns:
1 3/4 cups warm water
1 teaspoon bread machine yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
4 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup olive oil (I used Trader Joe’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

For the Filling:
1.5 cups sugar
Zest of 3 medium oranges
4.5 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice

For the Glaze:
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer with a bread hook, stir together the warm water, yeast, and sugar. Add the salt and half the flour, and stir. Slowly add the rest of the flour with the mixer on low until the dough comes together into a shaggy ball. Drizzle in the olive oil. The dough will come together as a wet ball; feel free to add a little more flour if needed, but be careful to not add too much to make the dough tough (err on the side of a stickier dough). Continue to let the dough knead for five minutes.
  2. Place the dough in a large bowl, and cover the bowl with either plastic wrap or a damp, clean kitchen towel. Put the bowl somewhere warm to rise until doubled in size (about an hour, depending how cold your place is).
  3. Make the filling while the dough rises. In a bowl, mix together the sugar and the orange zest. Let it sit for a few minutes, then rub it together with the orange and lemon juices. You might not need all the juice, so just add enough until it becomes like wet sand. You don’t want it wet; otherwise it’ll be too runny for the filling. Set aside.
  4. Grease a 9×13 baking pan (I used an 8×8 pan + one 8-inch cake pan). Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll it into a large rectangle that’s about half an inch thick.
  5. Spread the orange sugar filling mixture onto the dough, leaving some border for the dough seams to close later (about 1/2 inch). Roll the dough up tightly, starting at the long end. Slice into 12-18 even slices. Place the rolls into the greased pan. Cover and let the rolls rise until doubled in size, about 30-45 minutes.
  6. Once the rolls are doubled in size, preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake the rolls for 35-40 minutes until golden brown.
  7. While the rolls are baking, make the glaze by whisking together the orange juice and powdered sugar until it has a thick, but pourable consistency.
  8. When the buns are done, pour the glaze over the buns. Serve warm, and enjoy!

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Until next time,

Soli deo Gloria, and happy reading, eating, and baking!

Hello (Again)!

Hello, readers!

It’s been eight months since I’ve last posted. At this rate, am I still allowed to celebrate my 3rd birthday in January?

I’ll give you a million excuses as to why I haven’t been posting, but maybe it’ll be easier if I give you a recap via a list (my favorite) of important things that have happened. Three important things happened:

  1. My sister got married and I got a new brother (even though he was already a brother to me)!
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    Picture Credit: Kyle Ng Photography

    It was such a precious moment to witness my sister marry her other half, but even sweeter to see their wedding used as a testimony of God’s work in their lives. There were so many tears (I think I won in terms of amount of tears shed), but I promise you they were happy tears. It was definitely one of the best days of my life. Here’s a little excerpt from my maid of honor speech:

    “Jieh–I tell you this every time I’m home for the weekend, to which you always respond with “okay” or “gross”–but I love you. You know me inside and out, you’re always there to rebuke me and call me out when I’m being stupid. You have such a big heart for others, and you always put their needs above your own. I admire you so much, and I’ve strived for the past 21 years to be half as amazing as you are…and I don’t even come close. Thank you for being my sister, best friend, and unofficial discipler. You’ll literally be 10 minutes away from home–but I’ll miss you. ‘Roomies no more,’ as you call it. I’ll miss making Friends/The Office references with you, seeing you when I’m home, stealing your clothes and make up and ‘forgetting’ to bring them back home, having sleepovers with you (which really just end up being you falling asleep within the first five minutes and me moving back into my own bed because you’re totally knocked out), and my favorite–taking ugly pictures of you when you’re sleeping and posting them on Facebook. Thank you for teaching me what it means to love others like Christ has loved us. Thank you for your words of wisdom, for being such a great role model…for being my sister.”

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2. I turned 22! Cue something about not knowing about you and feeling twenty-two…
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3. I said goodbye to the better part of California (for now…just kidding) and moved up to NorCal. I said goodbye to my family, my community, my church, my job, my roommates–basically everything I knew in SoCal. I moved up here for two reasons: 1) work and 2) experience. I’m really having a blast up here, and I really do love the environment and culture in what people call “yay area” (and I can see why). But I’d be lying if I said it was easy. Things are a lot better than I had expected, but I still have those random days when I’m confused about everything that’s going on. “Why am I up here? What am I doing at work, and where will this job take me? How am I growing in church; how am I growing as an individual and follower of Christ?” etc etc. I know moving isn’t that big of a deal, but I think with my background and my personality, it’s hard moving somewhere 350 miles away with no family near you. Can you imagine if I had moved out of state, or even out of the country…?! Regardless where I am, it’s an experience that I am thankful for. My plans up here keep changing in terms of housing and church, and I know that they will continue to change, and I will forever be a nomad until I settle down. One thing that does remain constant, though, and you’ve seen me repeat that over and over again on this blog, is that God is faithful. I don’t know my plans, but I believe that He is sovereign and has a purpose for me every step of the way. Something I’ve been meditating on recently (and I’ll end it here):

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 
– 1 Peter 1:3-9

 

IMG_5275At the end of the day…this is still a baking blog, and I’m sure you’re all here on this site more for the baked goods rather than my life stories and trials, so here are some things I’ve made during the past eight months. For the record, I’m still going to try to finish baking through the alphabet. I had three failed attempts on the letter ‘o’, so maybe fourth time’s the charm?



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I’d really love to keep this thing going. I’m not resigning quite yet. But realistically, it’ll be hard for me to keep this going consistently, so my promise is that I’ll do my best. So to my friends up here, if you have an open kitchen to let me experiment in (caution: I can be a messy baker)…let me know :)

 

Until next time,

Soli Deo Gloria, and Happy reading, eating, and baking!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baking Through the Alphabet: N is for Nutella Banana Cake (and gracefulleats is two!)

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I’m two!

It’s been two years since I started this baking venture called gracefulleats…and I must say, it’s been a challenge.

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During this second year, I’ve: been featured in BuzzFeed, here and here; had my earl grey donuts with blueberry glaze featured in a German magazine called Sweet Dreams Magazin; finished seven letters of my alphabet, eight including this one (what a horrible record…); and you know, made the usual random cookies and cupcakes for bible studies, road trips, and friends/family. This year seemed so much more unproductive. The amount of posts on here seems to decrease as time goes by, and I don’t know whether or not I should contribute that to busy-ness or laziness. Perhaps both?

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There are times when I think about stopping this whole thing altogether. I tell myself, “It’s too much work, you’re wasting your money, no one really ever reads this thing, you’re not that good at this stuff anyway,” etc etc. But the amount of support and encouragements I get from friends and family is amazing. They push me to keep going, to keep doing what I love, to keep pursuing this hobby of mine. They send me links to help me with my photography and composition, recipes for me to try, and blogs for me to look for inspiration. They ask me why I haven’t blogged, then tell me that I need to finish the alphabet (and I will! Eventually). They tell me how they’ve used recipes from my blog, which always makes me a little nervous because I know I make grammar mistakes and typos all the time. But…you all know who you are–thank you.

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But as I was thinking about this post, I realized this: there’s a much greater purpose behind this blog. There’s a greater purpose behind sharing recipes with people who I’ll probably never meet. There’s more to just finding recipes, making baked goods, taking pictures, and writing blog posts. There is a far greater purpose as to why I do what I do on here. And it’s the gospel. The gospel–the story of how our Sovereign Creator sent His son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins. The story of unconditional love and everlasting joy. The story that, if we believe it, gives us eternal life in heaven to sing His praises forever. The story that gives us delight, hope, and peace…in His name and for His glory.

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My prayer is that as long as I keep living for Christ, for the gospel, this mindset may be reflected in my posts. As for how these posts will reach out to others, I’m not really sure. But I’m certain that God is good and faithful, and He will do what He pleases. I will continue to be His servant and a missionary for Christ, knowing full well that I am a child of God and that He does all things for my good. And I will continue to do this, as with all other things in life, for His glory…because that is what I was created to do.
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So, thank you, all, for your support and encouragement. Thanks for staying with me on this journey the past two years! Soli deo Gloria.

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As for this cake, this was probably one of the most troublesome cakes I’ve ever made…I practically messed up all the way through. First, I couldn’t find one of my cake pans, so I only had one 6-inch pan to work with, which meant I had to bake each layer separately, one after the other. Everything was all good, but then realized I put in two sticks of butter instead of one, which explained why each layer took almost an hour to bake and why it came out soo oily and dense (which, by the way, ended up being okay!). Then, I didn’t slice each layer in half evenly, so one of the layers was too thin and completely split in the middle while I was trying to assemble the cake. I had to pull that layer out, which became a great snack, haha. By the time I was finished, it was almost sunset–seriously, the whole day was a fight against the clock to get pictures in before the sun went down. Despite all the bumps, everything turned out okay, and now I have a cake ready for my post! The backstory behind this cake really reflects how I am in the kitchen–a klutz and a “messer upper”, but somehow things end up minimally okay.
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In terms of the recipe, the banana cake was good. It came out really dense, which may have been a result of using an extra stick of butter. The banana flavor was really strong, and it sort of overpowered the Nutella aspect of the cake. The buttercream wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it would be, considering how it required cooking the egg whites, but it definitely needed more Nutella. I really liked the chocolate ganache with the cake; my only thing is that it overpowers the Nutella, which is supposed to be the star of the cake. When I was layering my cakes, I spread a layer of Nutella, then the ganache, then chopped hazelnuts, then the buttercream. It did get pretty rich, though. I liked the crunch from the nuts, and I wanted more Nutella flavor, but feel free to do whatever works for you! I’d say this cake was a success despite all my bloopers–I definitely want to try this again. Hopefully you’ll fare better than I did :)
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Makes one 6-inch layer cake
Adapted from The Cake Blog

Ingredients:

For the Banana Cake:
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Chocolate Ganache:
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 ounces heavy cream

For the Nutella Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup Nutella (i didn’t think this was enough, you may want to add more)

1. For the Banana Cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two 6-inch round cake pans by spraying with cooking spray and lining the bottom with a cut out 6-inch parchment paper circle.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter until smooth. Add in the sugar, and cream until light and fluffy.

3. With the mixer on low, add in the vanilla and eggs, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl after each addition.

4. Add in half of the sifted dry ingredients. Mix in the yogurt or sour cream. Add in the rest of the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined. Fold in the mashed bananas until just combined. Don’t overmix.

5. Pour the batter evenly between two pans, and bake until golden, about 22-25 minutes. Let the layers cool on a wire rack, inverting them once they are cool enough to handle. Let the cakes cool completely before slicing them in half horizontally to create four layers of cake.

6. For the Chocolate Ganache:  Place the chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium-low until it starts to simmer. Pour the cream over the chocolate, and let it sit for 30 seconds before whisking together until smooth. Let the ganache cool before using.

7. For the Nutella Swiss Meringue Buttercream: Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk until combined.

8. Using a saucepan that fits the mixing bowl without the bottom of the bowl touching the water, fill the saucepan with a few inches of water and place over medium heat.

9. Place the bowl over the saucepan, making sure the bottom doesn’t touch the water. Heat the egg white/sugar mixture, stirring occasionally, until the egg mixture reaches about 110 degrees on a candy thermometer.

10. Once hot, remove the bowl from the heat, and place it on the mixer. Whisk on high until the bowl becomes room temperature, and the egg white mixture reaches stiff peaks.

11. Switch out the whisk attachment for the paddle attachment. Add in the vanilla, butter, and Nutella, and beat until smooth. If using the buttercream the same day, keep it at room temperature.

12. For Assembly: Spread a layer of ganache over the bottom layer of the cake. Remember, I also added a layer of Nutella, but this cake does get pretty rich, so it’s your call.

13. Sprinkle some chopped hazelnuts over the top of the ganache, then add a layer of buttercream on top of the ganache. Place the second layer of cake on top of the buttercream, and repeat until all your layers are done. Ice the cake with the remaining buttercream, and garnish with toasted hazelnuts. Enjoy!
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Until next time,
Soli Deo Gloria, and Happy reading, eating, and baking!
P.S. Extra thanks to Samantha Ho for editing my pictures!

Baking Through the Alphabet: M is for Mocha and Orange Sablé Icebox Cookies

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It’s been a while, WordPress.

I don’t even know where to begin. The last time I wrote one of these things was…July. It is now December and almost January. Oops?

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Sorry for neglecting this thing. It’s funny; I didn’t think people would actually notice, but some of my friends kept mentioning, “so what about the alphabet?” “what letter are you on now?” “Are you still baking?” To answer those questions, 1) the alphabet is still to be continued, I will finish eventually 2) I’m doing the letter M now; it’s been five months 3) Yes! I am still baking.

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So, within the past five months, I’ve:

  • moved to a new place with new roommates! You’ll meet them on here eventually. You already know one of them, though–Sam, who is part of a catering company called Lettuce 24. Shameless plug. OH, I also lived with a broken oven at the new place for about 2 months. It wasn’t super brutal, but it made me really restless.
  • joined membership at my new church! It’s great. :)) I am a blessed soul.
  • turned 21! It’s a big deal for the “About” section, because I am now a a “21-year old baker” instead of a “20-year-old student.” Heh, heh, I need to update that part, too.
  • learned to enjoy the deliciousness of tea. About time…
  • watched 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Lie to Me, Gone Girl, Hunger Games, Big Hero 6, and countless reruns of Friends and The Office. Woops, I clearly have too much time on my hands…

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  • started two new books: My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, which is a heavy book for me, and Now, That’s a Good Question! by R.C. Sproul. It’s been about three months, and I haven’t finished either book, but they’re good, I promise!
  • had way too many goodbye parties for friends who moved back home to NorCal. I miss you all; come visit soon!
  • learned so much more about God’s faithfulness, and it’s crazy! He has been so faithful in all my post-grad endeavors. People weren’t kidding when they said post-grad was hard, and I know I have it easy here. It’s funny, because when you’re in school, all you worry and think about is school. Your prayer requests at small groups are just centered around classes, grades, exams, etc…but once school is out of the picture, everything else floats to the top. Responsibilities, work, friendships/relationships, identity, contentment–everything that was blinded by the wordliness of grades and GPAs while in school–show up. Post-grad life is hard, and I’m not going to go into details here, but God. is. so. GOOD…and He loves us more than we’ll ever know.

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Blurbs over; cookies. I actually attempted this letter back in July, and I totally failed. I tried making these matcha rolls, but then I sliced the dough incorrectly and ended up with these weird, bitter-tasting rolls instead of a beautiful, marbled matcha dough. Yeah, it wasn’t pretty or yummy.

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I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this recipe, but it was interesting. I’ve never made icebox cookies before, and I learned something–they’re easy to make, but they take a lot of refrigeration time. Note to self: read the instructions all the way through before doing starting. I totally underestimated the amount of time the dough needed to sit, so just a heads up: give this recipe at least 3 hours in the fridge.

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Mocha and Orange Sablé Icebox Cookies
From Port and Fin

Ingredients:

For the Chocolate Espresso Dough:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tablespoon finely ground espresso beans (I used ground coffee)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts

For the Orange Sablé Dough:
1 1/4 cup almond meal
1 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons orange zest (~ 3 oranges)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon/orange juice
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup dried cranberries, chopped

1. For the chocolate espresso dough: In a bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and ground espresso (or ground coffee beans). In another bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in the flour mixture, then mix in the chopped walnuts. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and store it in the fridge.

2. For the orange sablé dough: Mix together the almond meal and powdered sugar in a bowl. In another bowl, beat together the butter and zest until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the almond mixture. Add the egg and lemon/orange juice, and mix to combine. Stir in the flour. Add the cranberries, and mix until just combined.

3. Line an 8-inch square pan with plastic wrap. Press the orange sablé dough into the bottom of the lined pan, and smooth the top as flat as possible. Cover the top with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for another hour.

4. Bring the chocolate espresso dough to room temperature. Remove the plastic from the top of the orange dough, and press the chocolate dough on top. Smooth the top as flat as possible while pressing it into the pan. Cover the top with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.

5. Remove the dough block from the square pan, and take off the plastic wrap from the top and bottom. Cut the dough into 2″x8″ bricks. If you don’t want to use up all the bricks now, you can freeze the unused blocks and save them for later.

6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. Slice each brick log into 1/4 inch thick slices, and lay the slices on the lined baking sheets, at least 1/2 inch apart. Bake until firm, about 10-12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Enjoy!

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Until Next Time,

Soli deo Gloria, and Happy reading, eating, and baking! (And HAPPY NEW YEAR!)

Baking Through the Alphabet: L is for Lemon French Macarons

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Guess what–

I’m officially a college graduate!

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(pc: Raymond Tay)

In the past three years, I’ve moved away from home, grown tremendously at a home church and found a new one along the way, built and lost friendships and relationships, met great brothers and sisters who’ve impacted me more than they’ll ever know, lived with roommates who I can’t imagine life without (holla, 1128!), learned a lot less about business economics than I would have expected, gone through probably 50 pounds of butter and hiked up the electricity bill, gotten a job which I’ll probably stay at for the next few years at least, joined an on-campus fellowship which I am very thankful for, had a strong support system back at home (and gained a future brother-in-law too!), hermit-ed and broken out of my shell (though it’s still a work in progress), started a food blog, and so many more things that I would like to say but shouldn’t list out here.

But if there’s one giant theme for my time in college, it is that God is faithful. He was faithful in bringing me to UCI, faithful in constructing every single second of my life, faithful in bringing me to where I am today. I am here today by the gospel, and it is by grace that I have been saved (Ephesians 2:8). Life is tough, but there is joy and comfort in the gospel. And at the end of the day, I have my salvation; God was, is, and will forever be sovereign over all things…and that is something to be thankful for.

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(pc: Samantha Ho)

ZOTZOTZOT forever.

This post is a special one–it’s the first collaboration project I’ve ever done with someone. And guess when I actually made these goodies…February. Yep, half a year ago. Laggy to the max, sorry! But Ryan Kim is one of the most down to earth people I’ve ever met. He’s incredibly talented, and that’s perfectly clear if you look through his portfolio. He took photos of the entire process step-by-step, from beating the egg whites, to piping the shells, to filling the macarons with lemon curd icing. He was patient even as I asked questions about all his camera equipment and life, I guess, and even when I spilled powdered sugar all over my kitchen. He definitely knows his stuff, and it was fun getting to know him with this project.

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Anyways, Ryan, if you ever read this, it was a joy collaborating with you on this one! Thanks for all the photos and for making my food look better!

Like I mentioned in my last macaron post, these things can be a little tricky, but there’s nothing to be scared about. I wrote my own tips on the other post, so I won’t be typing them again here. But you can definitely check it out here if you’re curious!

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Lemon French Macarons
(Photo Credit: Ryan Kim)
Makes about 70-1.5 inch shells (35 sandwiches)
Macaron recipe from Not So Humble Pie, Lemon Curd from A Baked Creation

Ingredients:

For the macarons:
120g almond meal
200g powdered sugar
100g egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
30-35g granulated sugar
4-6 drops yellow gel food coloring

For the filling (needs to be made ahead of time):
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
Fresh lemon juice from 1/2 large lemon (about 2-3 tbsp)
zest from 1/2 large lemon
1/2 stick cold unsalted butter, sliced

Note: For almond meal, you can grind up your old almonds, or you can buy the almond flour/meal itself. I usually buy slivered almonds in bulk at Winco and grind them myself, but sometimes I use the almond meal from Trader Joes–$4.99/lb bag.

1. For the macarons: Line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners. Prep a piping bag with a round tip. Place the bag into a tall drinking glass and cuff the bags opening over the top (this makes it easier to fill the bag).

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2. In a large bowl, sift the almond meal to remove any clumps, then weigh out 120g. Some people like to weigh then sift, but I always end up with so many extra lumps/chunky nuts that won’t go through the sieve that I don’t want to be inaccurate in my weights. Sift then weigh.

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3. In another bowl, sift the powdered sugar to remove any clumps, then weigh out 200g.

4. Mix together the powdered sugar and almond meal. You can sift both of them again, but I usually don’t, and my macarons turn out fine. Sifting it together makes sure that they’re evenly incorporated with each other, but I just stir with a spoon.

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5. Pour the 100g of egg whites into a large stainless steel mixing bowl. Add the cream of tartar. Begin beating the eggs on low speed. Once they are very foamy, begin sprinkling in the sugar as you beat. Increase the speed if necessary, and beat the meringue to stiff glossy peaks. Read here if you’re confused about what this means.

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6. If you’re using food coloring, make sure you are using gel food coloring. Add it in at this point (add more or fewer drops if needed), and whip for a few seconds.

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7. Add about 1/4 of the almond and sugar mixture; fold with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain (make sure you fold! Don’t stir. It’ll deflate the whites). Continue to add the almond and sugar mixture in quarters, and fold until you reach the proper batter. It is finished when you pick up your spatula and the batter flows steadily.  People describe this as lava-like or molten, but I never really understood what this meant… SO it needs to be thick enough that it will mound up on itself, but also fluid enough that it will melt back down after 20 seconds.

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8. Pour the batter into the prepared piping bag, and pipe rows of batter onto the baking sheets. Make sure you don’t pipe them too close to each other, because they may spread.

9. Rap the baking pan on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles. If you want, you can pop the air bubbles that come up with a toothpick.

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10. Let the macarons rest or “dry” on the counter until they are no longer tacky to a light touch. I know they are ready when I touch it and nothing gets on my finger. It usually takes at least 30 minutes for me, but it depends on the humidity and weather. Try to let them dry in a cool place.

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11. When your macarons are almost dry, preheat the oven to 290°F. Bake the macarons on the middle rack of your oven (this depends on your oven). I usually bake one tray at a time.

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12. Bake the macarons for 16-20 minutes. When they are done, let them cool completely on the sheets. Once the macarons are completely cool, peel them off by pulling back the parchment paper/silicone mat. The shells should come off easily. If not, put them back in the oven for 1-2 minutes.

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13. For the filling: Place the metal bowl on top of the saucepan and stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. The mixture will begin to thicken in about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat; whisk in the sliced butter. Wait for the slice to completely melt before adding the next one. Pour the lemon curd into a glass jar/container, and let it cool. Refrigerate overnight before using.

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14. For Assembly: Match up each shell. Fill a pastry bag filled with the lemon curd. Pipe a small mound of the lemon curd into the center of the shell, then sandwich each shell with its other half. Do this for all the shells.

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15. You have two options now: a) Eat them all. b) Put them in the fridge, and let the flavors develop overtime. I usually just leave them overnight, since I’m always baking at night. Leave the macarons in the fridge when you’re not eating them, then when you’re ready to serve/consume them, let them warm up a bit so the macaron can soften. Or eat them straight from the fridge, like me. Your choice =).

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Goodbye, college.
You went by a little faster than I had expected, but it’s okay.

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Now it’s time to grow up.

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(pc: Timothy Lam)

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(pc: Ce)

Until Next Time,

Soli deo Gloria, and Happy reading, eating, and baking!