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!

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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: 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: 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 :)
Birthday Cake-9Nutella Banana Cake
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!

Baking Through the Alphabet: K is for Kahlúa Crème Brûlée

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Hello, friends! It’s been a while (as usual). Things have been a bit hectic the past few weeks, sorry! But they’re good things, I promise.

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I started this post two and a half weeks ago. I still can’t figure out how to start this, so here I go with the bullet points again:

  • I’m graduating in less than two weeks, eeek! I’m ready for school to be over (senioritis level has been at 100% this past quarter…), but not ready for friends to move back home. I think that’s something I’ve been really thankful for this past quarter, the community of friends.
  • #glmcnation, that is all. More on this eventually.
  • The Office Project. Don’t laugh at me, but I started this project where I post something related to The Office every Wednesday, aka I either recreate the scene, or I do something similar to it. Probably makes no sense right now, but it’s a way for me to have fun, share my love for the show, and test my creativity. Maybe I’ll post a picture on here sometime.

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  • I’ve been listening to two things recently: 1) Kishi Bashi’s new album, Lighght, and 2) Ellensburg. Ellensburg is an album from Resonate Church, who also has this really good hymns album out, called The Hymns Record. Anyway, a few lyrics have been stuck in my head: “But God, rich in mercy…” / “He rolled away the stone, death has been dethroned” / “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, the sweetest Name I know.” These lyrics have stuck out to me because I think they hold so much truth–God’s unfailing love and unending mercies, the power of the Resurrection, and JESUS. There’s been a lot of uncertainty going on, not so much uncertainty in getting a job/grad school, but more so in what’s going to happen next in life for me. I’ve graduated college (or graduating, I should say), I’ve gotten my full-time job–so what’s next? It’s easy for me to be discontent in where I am, but I am reminded to not only be thankful, but also to just trust in God. He has a plan for me, and I don’t know what, but I know for a fact that He works all things for my good (Romans 8:28). He is merciful, He is just. He is good.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self  is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

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In addition to taking forever to come up with something to write about, it took me forever to figure out what to bake for the letter K. I settled on Kahlúa and was set on making Kahlúa cheesecake swirled brownies. It did not taste good (in the voice of Judy Geller when Rachel makes the trifle). I put too much Kahlua, and the cheesecake to brownie ratio was off…SUPER OFF. Round two, some other day.

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I partially settled on crème brûlée because I had extra egg yolks and heavy cream sitting in the fridge. And it worked out well! The Kahlúa flavor was prominent–so if you’re not a super big fan of Kahlúa, I would reduce it a little bit. It was creamy and silky, not too sweet, and had a nice kick at the end. I approve!

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Kahlúa Crème Brûlée
Makes 4-6 ramekins
Adapted From Being Suzy Homemaker

Ingredients:

2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup white sugar
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons Kahlúa (I used Hazlenut Kahlúa)
6 teaspoons sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Place ramekins in a roasting pan/deep baking dish at least 3 inches deep.

2. Stir together the cream and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until very hot, stirring continuously until sugar dissolves.

3. In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla extract, and Kahlúa until combined. Slowly add 1/3 of the cream mixture, 2 tablespoons at a time, while still whisking (you want to temper the eggs and not cook them). Stir in the remaining hot cream slowly.

4. Pour the custard into the ramekins. Fill the roasting pan with boiling water halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

5. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the custard is set around but still slightly jiggly in the center. Let the custards come to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for four hours, or until cold.

6. When ready to serve, let the custards come to room temperature. Sprinkle sugar on each to coat the top. Then, using a hand torch, melt the sugar until it forms a crispy crust. Serve immediately (or soon!).

Until next time,

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

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Baking Through the Alphabet: H is for Honey Cranberry Orange Scones

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I’m sick.

Headache, runny/stuff nose, slight cough, burning eyes (a little), fever, and slight nausea.

But after sucking it up at work for 7 hours and finally caving in at 3 to use my sick hours and to just go home, and after some meds and a good nap, I’m feeling much better! I think. Hopefully I’m well enough to go in to work tomorrow. (Edit: I didn’t make it to work. POO.)

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But seriously. Sick hours = :) :) :).

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I’ve been really slow with the alphabet recently because I’ve been baking other things outside of this alphabet project. I’ve made…thin mint cupcakes (which will probably be for T), chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes, baked parmesan eggs, Andes mint chocolate cookies, and other baked goodies just for friends and the apartment. Cream cheese was on sale at Albertsons for a buck again, so I’ll try to find things to make with those. I bought 10 blocks HAHA.

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I made these scones about 3 weeks ago. I knew I wanted to do something with honey for T, but I was having a reaaallly hard time finding something. I wanted to make some baked good that hasn’t been a part of this whole alphabet thing yet. I settled on this honey cinnamon scone recipe until Sam gave me the idea to make honey cranberry scones.

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I really wish the honey flavor stood out more though, but I love the citrusy combination with the fluffy scones and tart cranberries. I used this honey that Sam got from a farmer’s market, but take my advice, use honey instead of sugar. I made it once replacing the honey with 3 tablespoons of sugar, but they just came out so much drier. Also, the flour called for in the original recipe wasn’t enough; my dough was sooo sticky. Just keep adding flour until it’s manageable; I gave an estimate in the recipe below. Don’t add too much because the scones will turn out dry. Oh, I also used milk instead of cream to save some fat and calories. The scones still came out delicious! So yummy that I made them again three times after that. =)

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Honey Cranberry Orange Scones
From Inspired Taste
Makes 8 scones

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour (or 2 1/2 depending on how wet the dough is)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 cup cold milk, plus 1 tablespoon for tops of scones
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon orange zest (I used the zest from one orange)
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon coarse sugar (like Sugar in the Raw…I used
half of those packets you can get a coffee shops)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. I used my silicon baking mat and it got stained.

2. For the dough, blend together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a food processor. Add the butter to the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal with a few small crumbles of butter the size of peas. Alternatively you can do this by hand in a bowl and cut in the butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips. I just find that a food processor makes it so much easier.

3. In another bowl, combine the milk, honey, and orange zest and stir until the honey is completely incorporated into the cream.

4. Pour the flour/butter mixture into a large bowl. Stir in the cranberries. Pour in the honey-milk mixture and mix until a dough forms. If it’s too wet, add a little flour just until it’s easy to work with, but not too much or else the scones will come out dry.

5. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough 3 to 5 times. Form it into an 8 inch circle and cut into 8 triangles.

6. Place the scones onto the lined baking sheet. Brush with the milk and lightly sprinkle the tops with coarse sugar.

7. Bake scones in the preheated over for 12 to 15 minutes until light golden brown. Scones are best eaten fresh, but they can keep at room temperature for a few days. Perfect for breakfast. Enjoy!

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Perfect with some coffee (sorry, I lied in the picture because I really don’t drink my coffee that black…), a journal, and the word of God. :)

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Happy Thursday!

Until next time,

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

gracefulleats is one! (plus Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream)

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I’m taking a break from my alphabets for today, because…

gracefulleats is one!

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It’s been exactly a year since I’ve started this thing, and I must say…it’s been a blessing. I know that term gets thrown around a lot, but I really mean it when I say it. It’s been a crazy year (both in and out of this blog), and I’ve learned so much about myself and about others along the way.

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In the past year, I’ve baked through over 60 recipes, made three birthday cakes, baked for a bridal shower, engagement party, and wedding, was featured on Welcome Home and on Rachael Ray magazine’s “#RRWhatchaCookin Featured Cook of the Week,” and made it to foodgawker (after 27 declines!). I’ve received so much support and encouragement from my family and friends, and I am thankful. But…

Soli Deo Gloria.

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Soli Deo Gloria means “glory to God alone.” I’ve been reading, researching, and racking my brain the past few days to find a concise way to explain this…but I can’t. It’s too difficult to define. The way I see it is this (with the help of John Piper and Mark Driscoll): the glory of God is the infinite beauty and worth of God publicly displayed. It is the “radiance of his holiness, the radiance of his manifold, infinitely worthy and valuable perfections (Piper).” It is His beauty and greatness, His infinite worth radiated for us to see. “God’s glory is the outward radiance of the intrinsic beauty and greatness of His manifold perfections (Piper).”

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You see, God deserves eternal praise. He should be our greatest joy and desire, and we should find hope and happiness in that fact that we have a God who loves us, knows us, and has sent His son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. We should delight in our salvation in Christ and in the fact that we get to live for His glory. HIS glory, not ours, and not that we have to, but because we get to. “We get to finally do the singular cause for which we were made: to glorify God (Driscoll).” God created us for His glory; therefore, as His children, we should live for the glory of God.

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If you’ve noticed, I always end my posts with Soli Deo Gloria. I do that for two reasons: 1) As a reminder to myself that all glory be to God; 2) because all glory really does belong to God. And this is true because we are called to glorify God in all that we do, as it is commanded in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (ESV). I know that was an abnormally long introduction, but a) it’s my birthday (kindasortanotreally) and b) this is important to me, and I pray and hope that this may be an encouragement to you as it is to me. You can read more here, here, here, and here.

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I’m celebrating gracefulleats’s first birthday with my favorite chocolate cake and vanilla buttercream. I first made this for a birthday cake I had to do back in September, and it was the best chocolate cake I’d ever made–I haven’t gone to a different chocolate cake recipe yet! The cake has a strong chocolate flavor, is moist, and isn’t too sweet. It pairs perfectly with the vanilla buttercream which is sweet, fluffy, and creamy. It doesn’t have that greasy taste that a lot of other buttercreams have. The recipe below makes a two-layer 6-inch cake (I cut my two layers in half so I had four) and enough buttercream to frost and fill the cake generously.

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Chocolate Cake
Makes two 6-inch layers
From Whisk Kid

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/8 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, lightly packed
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup sour cream, room temperature
2/3 cup hot coffee

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and line with parchment paper two 6-inch pans. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt, and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition. Add the vanilla.Pour in a third of the dry ingredients, mix until just combined, then add half of the sour cream and mix until just combined. Repeat–add the rest of the dry ingredients, mix, then add the rest of the sour cream; mix until just combined. Gently stir in the hot coffee, and pour the batter into the prepared pans.

4. Bake the cakes for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their pans on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans and let them cool completely before frosting.

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Vanilla Buttercream
Makes enough to frost and fill a 6-inch layer cake

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
5 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3-5 tablespoons heavy cream

1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar. Stir in the vanilla. Add the heavy cream, and beat until fluffy. You can add more or less heavy cream depending on how thick you like your frosting.

For Assembly: The Whisk Kid has a really good tutorial on assembling a layer cake. You can find it here! I promise it’s super useful! I really enjoyed it, and it was helpful for me too.

Enjoy!

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With all that said and done…here’s to another year. Whatever comes my way, I’m ready! I’m ready for the opportunities, the learning experiences, and the baking adventures. Thank you all again for your support! And as always…

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Until next time,

SOLI. DEO. GLORIA. (and happy reading, eating, and baking!)