Friday, June 26, 2009

(Coco)nutty for coconut.

Graduation season has just passed and the kids are all on summer vacation. I'm long out of that period of my life where I would be looking forward to graduating from an educational institution, but this time of the year does make me look back with some nostalgia. There was always so much excitement and anticipation, a world to discover, and I was in some ways eager to grow up, which would be marked by graduating from elementary school, junior high, and so on. Now I kind of wish I savored those days more.

About two weeks ago I went to my cousin's graduation party. He was graduating from junior high, and when I saw him, he was cool with hair like Adam Lambert and designer frames. When I was his age, I was geeky with braces, teased bangs and large round glasses that were more functional than stylish. Sometimes thinking about it makes me cringe, all the awkwardness of growing up and "finding yourself". (Although...I think I still haven't outgrown my awkwardness.) But despite that youthful blundering, the earnestness and hope seem to dissipate with age, often replaced by cynicism, and I wish I could recapture some of that innocence.

So what does coconut have to do with graduating and growing up? Not a whole lot except that one of the guests brought the most amazing coconut layer cake I had ever tasted. She said she got the recipe from Martha Stewart's (there she is again!) website--the Ultimate Coconut Cake, and it really did live up to its name. She (the guest, not Martha) told me she spent two days making it, which was a bit discouraging.

However, craving something coconutty, I settled with making coconut cupcakes, also from Martha Stewart. But I made the cardinal mistake that every baker should know not to make, and that was: I didn't read the recipe beforehand. This resulted in an extra half stick of butter mixed into the batter, which made it taste like a pound cake--not too bad, certainly denser. I made one or two other (intentional) variations, like adding almond extract instead of vanilla to complement the coconut, and it did well to satisfy my craving to have another piece of the cake. Definitely not the same, but close enough.

Coconut Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe
Makes about a dozen cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees, and line cupcake tin with liners.

1. Sift together in a bowl:
- 1-1/2 cups cake flour
- 1/2 t. baking powder
- 1/4 t. sea salt

2. In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer on medium, cream together until light in color and fluffy:
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar

3. Continue beating in the following, one at a time:
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1/2 t. almond extract

4. On low speed, mix in the flour mixture from #1, then add in:
- 1/2 cup coconut milk

5. Distribute batter evenly among the cupcake wells, and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on a rack.

To make the frosting:

Cream together the following:
- 8 oz. cream cheese
- 1/2 stick of unsalted butter
- 1-1/2 cup powdered sugar

After frosting the cupcakes, sprinkle shaved or shredded coconut on top.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Not Martha.

The nice thing about blogging is that the reader will never really know how something tastes. Pictures may look fabulous but for all we know, it could be like taking a bite out of a styrofoam cake--you know, the kind that's decorated so intricately and beautifully for bakery windows. I sometimes sort of take comfort in knowing that when I take pictures of my food, no one will ever know that the reward of sinking your teeth into it is nowhere close to what it looks like. Readers will just have to take my word for it. But when it comes down to it, I'm a terrible liar, and I could not with a clear conscious proclaim to you how wonderful something I've made is when it's nothing like that at all. So, yet again, such was the case for my latest attempt.

I recently received the June issue of Martha Stewart's Living and the magazine just exuded summer. A refreshing photo of blueberries resting on top of an ice cream and sorbet sundae graced the cover...mmm.... And of course, one of the headlines declared "20 Sensational Desserts"! I'm all over this one. Martha knows how to draw me in.

Flipping through the magazine, she's got all the usual crafty features--cool ideas that I could probably never replicate--and 10 variations on the classic pound cake! The basic recipe called for only 6 ingredients, and variations were simply add-ins. This looked like something that would not be too laborious, especially since I was making this on a weeknight after work. I halved the recipe (as best I could, since the original proportions did not divide perfectly) to make one loaf instead of two, and after baking it up and cutting a slice, I knew it was not going to be like Martha's at all. It did not have the same height that Martha's achieved, and it was dry and dense instead of "airy and rich". Martha does say that the recipe is "finicky" and to follow the instructions carefully, which I could very well have not done. I'll try to rewrite the recipe here with the original proportions (I didn't see this recipe on her website and the recipe there is different from what was in the magazine), and if you try it out, I hope you have better results than I did. At least the pictures don't look too bad.

Chocolate Chip Pound Cake
Makes 2 5in. x 9in. cakes

Preheat the oven to 325F degrees, with the rack in the center. Butter or grease the loaf pans.

1. Mix together by hand using a wire whisk:
- 3-1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 T. salt (I used kosher)

2. In a separate bowl, cream together on high for about 8 minutes:
- 2 cups (or 4 sticks) unsalted butter
- 2 cups sugar

3. Add in the following and mix in on medium:
- 1 t. vanilla extract

4. Beat separately then add into the butter mixture in 4 additions:
- 9 large eggs, room temperature

5. On low, add in the flour mixture in 4 additions, mixing until just incorporated after each addition. Fold in:
- 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

6. Pour the batter evenly into the pans, baking for about 65 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for about 30 minutes, then invert the pans to remove the cakes, and cool on the wire rack completely.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Yes I've been terrible at keeping up with my posts again. I've always got some excuse. But this time, I have a pretty good one. A couple of months ago, I think I must have been going through one of those mild premature mid-life crises where I was wondering where my life was headed, wondering what more to life there was, and maybe wanted to break from the routine. Don't get me wrong, I actually think I have it pretty good and am so blessed in so many ways, but every so often there is an itch for a little change.

A former roommate who now lives in Vienna, and who has always invited me to stay in her extra room, posted some photos of the city. After seeing them, I thought that was exactly what I needed. I booked a flight to Vienna, and a little more than a month later, I found myself walking through the Hofburg Palace grounds almost in disbelief that I was actually there. Everything was grand and beautiful, and the food... Preparing for the trip, I was looking forward to all the sweets--the strudels, the tortes, the gelato, the chocolate, and on and on. I made it a point to try different pastry shops and cafes to compare apfelstrudels and Sacher Tortes (the verdict: Oberlaa for apfelstrudel, Hotel Sacher for the Sacher Torte), and went to a market where maybe 20% the store was devoted solely to chocolate products (heavenly!). But though I've always thought Viennese food to consist of mainly meat and potatoes I found their food to be quite good.

Each day was full of new discoveries and experiences. Learning to navigate the tram, subway and train systems (within the city and getting out of the city--I visited Salzburg and did a day trip to Prague as well!), sharing a table for two with a complete stranger at an outdoor cafe (a very sweet elderly woman from Germany visiting her daughter and granddaughter in Vienna sat down at my table), forcing myself to remember to relax and enjoy the moment when it would take 30 minutes for my order to arrive (which I learned is typical--the service, I mean, maybe remembering to relax, too), seeing what amazing things we humans are capable of creating as demonstrated by the edifices and artwork (not me personally, but some other humans), and being reminded that there are those who are needy everywhere even in beautiful cities like Vienna (the homeless sleep in the subway stations at night but they seem to disappear during the day).

I'm back home now, and recovering from jet lag. It's beginning to feel as though it'll take the same amount of time as my trip to get readjusted again. I've been looking through all the photos I had taken and it all feels surreal. It felt surreal while I was there, it feels surreal looking at the pictures now. While I loved it there, and while the stark contrast of the concrete and freeways here made me want to get back on that plane and fly back over there, and while going back to work and staring at the walls of my cube made yearn for that freedom of exploration again--in spite of all that, I am also glad to be back. Sometimes, though these experiences are wonderful and exciting, in some ways, they remind me that I have much at home too. There aren't any palaces where I can make-believe I'm a princess, no lovely public gardens where I can idly sit in the shade and watch the water trickle in a fountain, but here, there is comfort in the familiar, and here, there are the people I care about.

So I have no recipe for you today. Snapshots of Vienna will have to suffice. I'm sure I'll be looking for another adventure in the not so distant future, but in the meantime, being here isn't so bad either.