german chocolate cupcakes

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I made cupcakes. And lemme tell you, they were goooood. After a long, hard last day of a long, hard week, all it took was some baking for me to de-stress. Yes, I’ve been away, but for legit reasons – we started seeing patients! A particularly noteworthy, much dreaded milestone was reached Monday morning when, at 9am, I led my first ever living, breathing human patient into my allocated little cubicle. Not gonna lie, for the entire appointment I thought I was going to shit my pants and run out crying, swearing to leave dentistry for good. It was extremely nerve-racking, which given the circumstances is perfectly normal, but I tried my hardest to put on my most professional face, instead of doing the whole eyes staring wide in horror thing that one tends to gravitate towards under extreme stress.

Other than a lot of waiting for my supervisor to come by and check every step, and a few minor brain-farts, it was fine – I did it! No manslaughter was committed, no one got jabbed by a bloody needle; although a nervous breakdown was imminent…

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Of the million things that Australia has yet to catch up to the rest of the world with, German chocolate cake is certainly one of them, in my experience. Ever since I heard of it, I’ve been intrigued by the supposedly amazing gooey coconut-pecan filling. I finally went down to business with them last time after spotting pecans that were on sale, and you can guess how many times I resisted the temptation and failed to sneak bits of that caramelly filling while I was making the batter. I even poked holes in the centres of each cupcake and filled them with leftover caramel from the marshmallows I made before (that recipe will eventually get up on the blog… one of these days… maybe), but even then they were overly sweet, thanks to the dark chocolate and the other complex flavours from the roasted coconut and pecans.

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German chocolate cupcakes (makes 12)

For the chocolate cupcakes:
125g or 2 extra large whole eggs
60g white sugar
20g brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
12g cocoa powder
60g just-boiled water
56g dark chocolate
75g unsalted butter, softened
100g flour
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
118g buttermilk (or 50% milk, 50% plain yogurt)

For the filling:
50g sugar
25g water
45g sweetened condensed milk
50g glucose1 tsp vanilla
25g butter
pinch of salt
25g toasted flaked/shredded unsweetened coconut
48g chopped pecans

For the chocolate buttercream:
110g unsalted butter
60g icing sugar
pinch of salt
40g dark chocolate
20g heavy cream

To mix the batter, whip the eggs with the sugars and vanilla until the foam barely drips down when you lift the whisk (ribbon stage). Pour the hot water over the cocoa and stir, then add the chocolate to melt. To the chocolate mixture, whisk in the soft butter until combined. Stream into the egg mixture while folding gently but efficiently, using big strokes from the bottom of the bowl, being careful not to deflate the eggs too much. Sift the dry ingredients together and add about 1/3 of it to the batter, again being very gentle. Add in half of the buttermilk, fold to combine, add 1/3 of the flour again, then the rest of the buttermilk, then the rest of the flour. Scoop evenly into lined cupcake holes and bake in a preheated oven at 175C for 21-22 mins or until springy to the light touch. Leave in pan until cooled enough to touch, then cool completely on a wire rack.

For the filling, boil the sugar, water, condensed milk, glucose and vanilla together until it thickens a bit, approximately 3 mins. Then add the butter and salt and boil for a further 30 seconds before adding the coconut and pecans. Cover and cool completely before using.

For the buttercream, whip the butter by itself for a few minutes until the colour lightens, then add the icing sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Boil the cream and add it to the chocolate to make a ganache, and add it to the butter-sugar mixture once it’s completely cool (can place in freezer for a minute to speed up process), along with the salt. Beat until the mixture is a homogenous, glossy, chocolatey, delicious cloud.

Scoop about a tablespoon’s worth of filling onto each cupcake, then pipe a ring of buttercream around it. Homemade chocolate sprinkles to serve.

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lemon opera cake

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Two days ago, walking home from doing moderately strenuous exercise at my old junior high, my sister and I caught a fruity scent in the winds. Much to our surprise, we looked down and found fallen, bruised star fruits on the pavement. There had been a wild fruit tree behind our house and we never knew for 10+ years. We (well, me) jumped as high as we could but could only literally get the low-hanging fruit, the baby ones.

 

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bottom to top: base chocolate, joconde biscuit, lemon buttercream, jb, lemon ganache, jb, lb, chocolate glaze

 

Having two homes on either sides of the equator is a curious thing. It means that instead of spending Christmas in the heat waves of Australia, we get to experience winter twice. Not that it gets particularly winter-y here for the best part of December and even January, but I am one that prefers slightly cooler weather. Something having to do with hot baths, I imagine, but it is also excellent conditions for baking. Instead of standing in 40C Australian kitchen watching room temperature butter melt and fighting away flies, I can do what I like most in peaceful solitude.

 

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look who’s mastering the art of cutting even pieces… not

 

The cake came out really well, I thought, the tangy buttercream refreshing against the dark chocolate and roasted almond. I could’ve just made the buttercream and be more than satisfied, but now there’s a whole cake to go with it! You don’t have to use roasted almond meal, of course, as it has a much more pronounced flavour than raw, I’m just going through an obsessive phase with that stuff right now.

 

lemony opera cake (6 servings)

For the joconde:
83g almond meal (I roasted mine beforehand, just to experiment)
50g icing sugar
80g whole eggs
16g cake flour
2 egg whites
12g sugar
13g butter

For the lemon ganache:
55g dark chocolate (or mixture of dark & milk)
35g heavy cream
10g fresh lemon juice
8g honey
10g butter

For the lemon buttercream:
2 egg yolks
80g sugar
15g heavy cream
30g lemon juice
150g unsalted butter
25g egg whites
vanilla extract and salt to taste

For the base chocolate:
60g dark chocolate
1 tsp flavourless oil

For the soaking syrup:
30g sugar
30g water
1tsp lemon zest

For the chocolate glaze:
100g dark chocolate
170g heavy cream
15g unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 180C and line an eighth sheet pan (or 24 x 34 cm). To make the joconde biscuit, sift the almond meal and icing sugar together, and whisk in the eggs, followed by sifted cake flour. Melt the butter and leave to cool. Beat the egg whites until foamy and gradually add the sugar to form medium-stiff peaks. Introduce the whites to the almond mixture in stages, trickling in the cooled butter, and mix until just even. Spread onto the sheet pan and bake for approx. 10 minutes until the centre springs back to the gentle touch. Lift out cake with parchment and cool completely on wire rack before slicing into 3 equal rectangles (cuts parallel with shorter edges).

For the ganache, boil the cream and lemon juice and pour over the chopped chocolate. Don’t disturb for a minute then stir to mix, add honey and butter, mix again. Cover and set aside at room temperature.

For the buttercream, whisk the yolks with half (40g) the sugar until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has turned pale and fluffy. Boil the cream and lemon juice in a pot, and slowly stream into the yolk mixture while whisking the yolks constantly. Pour everything back into pot and whisk on low heat until the mixture reaches 82C, or thickened to leave an open channel when you drag a finger through the back of your spoon/spatula. Put plastic wrap directly on the surface and cool completely. Beat the butter until lightened in colour and airy, then add in the cooled lemon curd and beat together. Make an Italian meringue with the egg whites and remaining 40g of sugar by beating the egg whites to soft peaks and slowly adding sugar syrup (sugar cooked with enough water just to wet it to 115C) while still mixing, and whisk further until stiff peaks form and the bowl is no longer hot. Fold the meringue into the butter and lemon curd mixture, cover and set aside at room temperature.

Add the oil to the melted dark chocolate to make the base chocolate.

Boil the water and sugar together, then add in the zest. Cool to room temp.

For a simple glaze (traditionally a mirror glaze but I’m opting for a ganache type glaze to make a pattern), boil cream and pour onto chopped chocolate. Stir to combine, add butter, stir again.

Assembly: brush the bottom of one of the joconde strips with the base chocolate, in an even thin layer. Flip the strip upside down so the melted chocolate is in contact with a lined surface. Chill to set the chocolate. Then, brush the cake with lemon syrup, and spread half of the buttercream on top in an even layer, about as thick as the cake layer. Gently place a second strip of cake on top and chill to set the buttercream. Once set, brush the second piece of cake with syrup, and spread the lemon ganache on top (should be spreadable, not runny or solid). Place another piece of cake on top. Chill to harden ganache. Brush on syrup. Spread on the remaining buttercream (needs to be as smooth and even as possible, especially if just pouring glaze on top and not making a design like I did). Chill the entire cake thoroughly before pouring the glaze. Warm the glaze to about 44C, and pour over the entire cake. Quickly level out with a straight spatula twice (back and forth). Should set almost immediately if the cake is cold. Trim off the edges to reveal the layers and cut to desired sized pieces.

blueberry riviera

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Sometimes I feel I’m at the absolute mercy of parental authority, and sometimes I feel like a grown-up capable of making important choices. Like today when I decided to have nothing but lollies for lunch (with a few almonds thrown in, so not entirely junk food). Don’t tell my mum, she has this vision of me being some sort of super health-conscious, cringe-at-the-sight-of-fried-food, vegan wannabe, which I can be, but not when I’ve been chocolate-deprived for a week. I also picked up a bar of lemon chocolate, which is how the idea of making Pierre Hermé’s Riviera came to be.

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Dat non-existent food styling… I tried.

Chocolate is awesome, obviously. And unlike some I have no problem with a dessert made entirely with chocolate and nothing else to cut through the richness, which is why I was originally intent on replicating (crudely, for sure) Hermé’s Carrement. But there’s something about the combination of chocolate with lemon that is so enticing, neither overwhelming the other but existing in a mutualistic relationship. The lemon cream deepening the dark chocolate flavour, and the almost bitter 72% chocolate bringing out the tartness of the lemon.

An unprecedented rarity – blueberries are on sale for $5 for 2 pints. So of course I did the unnecessary thing and dotted as many as I could onto the lemon cream layer – I can never resist ̶r̶u̶i̶n̶i̶n̶g̶ tweaking a tried and tested recipe, from a master no less. I also swapped the flourless chocolate cake layer for the rich chocolate cake in Carrement, just because it uses exactly one egg and not parts of several eggs. Just to echo the lemon cream, I chopped up pieces of my lemon white chocolate bar (with bonus popping candy) and threw that in, as well as almonds for crunch. As the cake layer has a fair amount of butter in it, I didn’t feel the need to douse it with simple syrup.

I used to feel dismayed at not being able to try my hand at recipes requiring pastry rings for assembling different layers, particularly entremets. My baking cupboard is already cluttered as hell and my occasional $25/wk tutoring salary is never going to afford me every piece of equipment that every recipe calls for. So at first I tried stapling cardboard together to make a framework then covered with foil, but it wasn’t really stable and had to go on top of a tray, which is hard to fit in our perpetually bursting fridge. I think the way I did it this time – building everything in the tin I baked the bottom cake layer in, lined by clingfilm of course, then freeze the whole thing till solid before lifting it out by the clingfilm – was a bit more reliable and works just as well as a pastry ring once the edges are trimmed. A lot of improvisation is involved when you’re a broke student trying to replicate professional work in a home kitchen. Heck, I don’t even have a square tin, I literally just use leftover cardboard boxes from chocolates or whatever, it even prevents the sides from browning too much.

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Blueberry Riviera cake (makes one 12x20cm cake)
(adapted from Pierre Hermé)

For the rich chocolate cake:
62.5g dark chocolate (at least 60%)
62.5g unsalted butter
1 egg
55g sugar
17.5 flour
pinch of salt

For the dark chocolate mousse:
125g dark chocolate, chopped
60g heavy cream
1 egg yolk
20g sugar
1/2 tsp powdered gelatine
1/2 tbsp cold water
175g heavy cream

For the lemon cream:
55g sugar
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 egg
75g softened unsalted butter

handful of blueberries (~1/2 cup)

~1/2 batch chocolate glaze

Preheat the oven to 170C/350F and prepare 12x20cm (or similar capacity) baking tin (line, spray or grease & flour) or tray if using pastry ring later.

Melt the chocolate with butter gently in a microwave or on a bain marie. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Beat the egg and sugar just till combined, sift in the flour and salt, whisk them in. Mix in the chocolate mixture and bake for 10 minutes then leave to cool completely.

For the mousse, sprinkle the gelatine over the cold water evenly and leave to bloom for 5 minutes. In the meantime, heat the 60g of heavy cream in a decent-sized pot till just simmering. While heating, Beat the yolk and sugar together until pale and the sugar is dissolved, then stream in the hot cream a little at a time, whisking vigorously to avoid curdling. Return the yolk-sugar-cream mixture to the pot on medium heat, whisking all the time, until thick enough to leave an open channel when you draw a finger through it on the back of a spoon. Stir in the lump of gelatine, then pour the mixture through a sieve onto the chopped chocolate. Stir to combine and leave to cool to room temp. Whip the 175g of heavy cream to soft peaks, and fold it into the cooled chocolate mixture a bit at a time till homogenous. Cover and store in fridge.

For the lemon cream, rub the zest and sugar together until moist and fragrant. Put the egg, zesty sugar and juice in a bowl atop a pot of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t come into contact with the water. Whisk, whisk and whisk for about 5 minutes until pastel yellow in colour and substantially thickened (doesn’t drip when you dip your finger in to…quality control). Cool to room temperature then blend in the softened butter ideally with an emulsion blender but electric whisk is okay too (Hermé stresses the incorporation of air in this step to give the cream its light yet luscious texture). Put clingfilm directly onto the surface and store in fridge until ready for assembly.

To assemble, spread 2/3 of the mousse evenly onto the cake base. If the mousse isn’t quite thick, return to fridge to firm up or the layers will mix. Then spread on the lemon cream, and scatter over a handful of blueberries, pressing them to submerge into the cream. Flatten the top and chill if wobbly. Spread on the last of the mousse and smooth the top as much as you can as bumps and voids will show up underneath the final glaze. Freeze the whole cake until rock solid, preferably overnight before glazing. To glaze, transfer the cake onto a wire rack on top of a tray, warm up the glaze to about body temp. or 40°C and pour excessively over the top. Quickly flatten out the top with a flat spatula once or twice. Trim off the sides with a hot knife and eat.

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*Oh! In case by some miracle my changing the name of the blog has gone noticed, it was because the previous name felt pervier the longer I looked at it, so I made it the tagline instead. Fine, it also made me feel clever to make the world’s most obvious pun. Whether you noticed, whether you skip my text altogether, I want to thank you for tolerating me. Every single view, like, and comment means an enormous deal to me. I’m still learning and navigating through the dark, but I’ll keep trying to put as much truth and passion into my writing as I can.

compost cookies

Let it be known that I love our lab teacher/demonstrator. He makes a 6hr lab session not only bearable but actually enjoyable. In celebration of Mental Health Week, today he let us listen to the radio while we worked on our P K Thomas wax up (which none of us remembers how to do), tiny eyefucking things that are somehow therapeutic at the same time.

As I alluded to in the last post, we had an anatomy and histology prac exam on Tuesday. It was… better than expected in the sense that only 2 minutes were spent on each station so that nothing too in-depth was tested. Surprisingly I felt better about anatomy walking out than I did histology, as I could never tell between the 9237247 nerves, veins, arteries, muscles, bones, ducts in the head and neck region when we had gross labs. The specimen labeling was mostly the usual suspects, and the questions (to my huge relief) were short and straightforward. I screwed up the big question in histology though, as we were meant to do a sketch of some salivary glands, and I made it harder on myself by magnifying the original picture, which took up so much time I couldn’t label it properly. Worse was when I glanced sideways, as you do, everyone had filled their page with tight writing vs my giant ass drawing with spare labels. Sigh.

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As much as I appreciate an intricately put together dessert, I will always have a special place in my heart (and stomach) for a good, simple cookie. Here are some reasons why:

  • They’re 99.9% foolproof. They’re like the Nokia of baked goods. The fat curdled when you added the eggs? No probs, the flour will bring it back. You overmixed the dough? Cool, just chill it a while. You forgot to put in the flour (cough)? Gooey cookies FTW. See, baking sins that would render many products unsatisfactory are all forgiven and forgotten by the mighty cookie.
  • Mixer to mouth in <30mins
  • They’re good on their own and even better incorporated into another dessert. Ice cream sandwiches, pie crusts, parfaits, cookies and cream ice cream and so on and so on.
  • There are just about an infinite number of combinations of mix-ins you can throw into a cookie dough, although the favourites revolve around chocolate. The classic chocolate chip, chocolate and mint, chocolate and orange, chocolate and hazelnut, s’mores, chocolate and salted caramel, chocolate and chilli, white chocolate and macadamia…
  • They are the easiest bakes. Someone who’s never baked can make as good a cookie with a spoon and bowl as a pastry chef with a stand mixer.
  • From the same batch of dough, you can make chewy cookies, crunchy cookies, half-baked cookies and cookies crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Compost cookies wholeheartedly embrace the above principles why cookies will forever reign. Easy and quick, tick. Substitute the mix-ins for literally whatever is in the pantry, tick. Chewy in the centre and crunchy on the outside, sign me the f*ck up.

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They were inspired, of course, by the esteemed Momofuku Milk Bar’s recipe. To my delight, it encourages creative freedom: “add your own favourite snacks”, and so I did. On this occasion I went for my third favourite dried fruit (after mangoes and cranberries), dates for chewiness; my favourite nut – almond for crunchiness; and chocolate, my favourite antidepressant.

Why are there no decent photos of the finished cookies you ask? Firstly, because half of them were consumed by one single mouth (not naming names) as soon as they were baked. Secondly, because my camera which isn’t even a camera, it’s my shitty phone that decided its glamour shots are not to be wasted on me and somehow went batshit grainy. By the time I found a substitute, all that was left was my test cookie and some crumbs. The definition of sad.

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Compost cookies (makes 17 8cm cookies)

100g unsalted butter, room temp.
50g brown sugar*
30g granulated sugar*
1 medium egg or 50g whole eggs
100g flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1T ground coffee/tea (I used earl grey, obviously)
40g rolled oats
35g toasted almonds, roughly chopped**
55g dried dates, chopped**
40g dark chocolate, chopped**

*I halved the amount of sugar to ease my own guilt and to compensate for the added sweetness from the dates. Also, I’m a lazy ass and don’t bother buying brown sugar so I added 1 tbsp molasses to 80g white sugar.

**Or any combination of mix-ins you prefer, of the same weight.

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F. Line baking trays.

Beat the softened butter and sugar(s) together until fluffy and lighter in colour. Add the egg and emulsify (batter glossy and thick) but don’t worry if it curdles. Sift in the flour, baking powder and soda and salt and stir on slow speed just until mixed in. Add the oats and mix-ins and stir briefly just so everything’s distributed and combined.

Scoop out ~1 tbsp of dough on the prepared trays, spacing them far apart (~10cm). There is no need to chill or flatten the dough, but of course that’s just my preference. Depending on the size, they take about 12-20 minutes to bake, or until your preferred doneness. Cool completely before serving (eating is an entirely different matter – I for one cannot suppress my lust for them as soon as they’re done).